Posted by Ross

Free to Read

Hi everyone.   I hope you enjoyed reading about our thoughts on Minis in last week’s blog.  We’re still very hard at work on “Mystery Game X” and in fact, just opposite me as I type, someone is working on the creation of one of the game’s fiendish bosses…

Anyway, this week I wanted to move on to another topic that’s been a huge focus of our recent discussions here at Laughing Jackal and that is “Free to Play.”

As some of you may remember, our upcoming iPhone game Hungry Giraffe and the free to play model were discussed internally before we took the decision to offer the game for free with in-app purchasing.  As we mentioned in the previous blog, one of the disadvantages of the App Store compared to something like PSN is that it’s a lot easier for games - regardless of quality - to become lost amongst the vast quantity of games available.  As such, we really want to make it as easy as possible for those who do look at our games, to then give them a try.

Whichever way we choose to market and promote our games in this very competitive market, it is of course essential for us to look at the model from a gamer’s perspective too. We don’t want to take advantage of gamers with payment systems that are designed to exploit them, nor do we want people to feel like we are getting them hooked on a game before demanding that they dip into their wallets in order to keep playing.

Aside from advertising, currently the three most common ways of handling free to play are: i) the ‘pay to unlock’ system which works very much like a traditional demo; ii) the in-app purchase system, where you buy cosmetic or gameplay additions to your game and iii) an energy system which Hookshot Inc went into more detail about in a recent post.

In general, like the guys over at Hookshot Inc, I personally have a hard time seeing how an energy system can avoid being exploitative. However, outside of that, as long as the other two methods are applied appropriately and at a fair price then I think they can be fair for both developer and customer. 

While paying up front has the advantage of allowing the payment system to completely get out of the way of the gameplay (which is very important in some types of games, particularly those for which immersion in another world is an important factor) it is also useful for games that are not immediately accessible.  If the game requires the player to take some real effort to get into the game, then they are more likely to do that if they have already paid money for it than if it is something they have downloaded for free to try out.

However, for other types of games, free to play can provide several advantages; it allows players to see what they are getting before they have to decide whether to buy or not; if the game goes down the in-app purchases route, then it also allows people to only pay for the parts of the game they are interested in; it also allows developers to see exactly what areas of the game people are interested in buying which provides valuable information about gamers’ priorities when playing and will positively influence future game designs.

When it comes to gaming I tend to be fairly greedy.  I want to be able to play AAA games, indie games, Japanese games, western games and anything in between.  So I’m fairly happy to see free to play as an option for developers because, after all, it means more choice for all of us.  However, I do tend to see the predictions of some of the more enthusiastic free to play evangelists about all games becoming free to play as a window into some form of personal hell. I’m not sure many of the types of games I love would necessarily succeed in that type of environment.

That’s all for today.  Please feel free to use the comments here to tell us your thoughts on free to play. Are there any ‘free to play’ games you’ve particularly enjoyed or hated?  Do you see it as a viable future for some sectors of the industry? Let us know. :-)

I’ll be back next week with all the news from Laughing Jackal.  But until then, why not on join us on our Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Google+  pages?

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Illusion says:

A game like hungry giraffe has potential to do well in the app market on both Itunes and Android. The method of payment should not be that of a unlock method, it should work the same as Draw something, you can play the game for free and enjoy the experience whilest you are over encumbered with adverts which benefit the creaters of the game in payment, and then if you are bored of staring at ASDA's deals you can purchase the game for a reasonable price, £1-£3,then your adverts are removed, you can access to leaderboards and recieve some form of bonus for becoming a member of the paying community ( different looks for the giraffe or an extra level maybe )
JeremyR says:

I miss the old shareware model. Where you basically had the first 1/3 or so of the game as free, with the rest when you bought it. I'm not sure how well it worked, though. I remember talking to a guy who made a pretty nice RPG (whose name I can't remember) that he only had a few dozen sales, so there wouldn't be a sequel.
mrandrev says:

This could get so many different perspectives on what is best, because unlike illusion I actually prefer ‘pay to unlock'. Every console offers demos, you get a taste of the game and if you like it you buy it, no ads and no hidden costs, you know exactly how much you're spending and what you will get. When a game or and app has ads then I tend to stay clear of them, not even bothering to try them out, you hear too often of ads draining the battery. Games that use the energy system tend to be grinding games which never appeal to me in mobile game, and usually you know it will only allow you to get so far before you will be forced to pay in order to play more.

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