Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The High Cost of Playing For Free.

I've been a gamer since my mid/late teens(almost 40 years now). I started out with an Atari 2600 playing Pong and other titles, moved on to the quarter Arcade games in the late 70's and early 80's and bought my first Commodore 64 in the mid 80's after joining the Military. I've also owned or played many of the other consoles that came out during those years including the Sega Saturn, Nintendo 64, Playstation 1, 2, 3 and 4. Up until the the last 5 years or so, most games were a stand alone, one time purchase. Meaning that you paid a one-time, fixed price and enjoyed a complete gaming experience for that price without having to worry about additional costs.

Today, things are much different.

The development and making of video games is an expensive process, and in an effort to offset those costs, game developers are seeking new ways to generate revenue in an effort to remain profitable. As I mentioned above, the old school process of making a video game and selling it for a fixed price has sustained the video game industry for over 30 years, but in the last few years game developers have begun using different revenue generation models in how they design and market their games.

One such model is called Free-to-Play, F2P or Freemium, where you can play a game completely for free for as long as it exists. Sounds like a good deal, right? Well, there are pitfalls associated with this revenue model that merit a strong warning to those who play these games. First, a majority of these F2P games are designed with what are known as "paywalls", meaning that even though you can play for free, there are certain design elements incorporated into the game which limits how fast or how far you can progress in the game without having to pull out your wallet and pay to overcome this purposefully designed limitation. Remember Facebook's original Farmville, and the fuel for your tractor limitation?

One of the reasons for the rise of the F2P concept was that many gamers did not have an abundance of time in order to keep up with friends in terms of how far they could progress in a given game. A "time-versus-money" debate soon erupted where gamers who had more "money" than time, demanded that the playing field be leveled to where they could offset their lack of time with being able to pay money to be able to progress as fast as their "time rich" counterparts. Developers struggled to find a solution that would satisfy both groups and the F2P concept is what eventually became the most popular revenue model.

Remember the warning I mentioned above? In order to satisfy both groups, many F2P games incoporate what are known as "micro-transactions", which are offered inside the game in what are known as "item shops". These micro-transactions are called such because of the small prices typically associated with these types of purchases.

Most gamers do not have an issue with rewarding a developer when a game is fun for them to play, and so they happily purchase these in-game items. They do so with self control and without any financial ill effects to themselves.

Which brings me to the point of this post...

Since the advent of the F2P concept, many developers have jumped on the bandwagon of purposefully designing these games with certain "psychological" design elements that lure unsuspecting gamers into a world where they are soon manipulated into parting with their hard earned cash at almost every twist and turn inside the game. The gamers who play these games for free are viewed as "fodder" for the cash spending "whales" of these games. These "whales" have been reported as spending tens of thousands of dollars on these games because the game is designed to addict them into doing so.

The developers of these games rely on a certain "conversion" factor, in which they purposefully design these games to convert a certain percentage of the free players into ones who will use their credit card to overcome the purposefully designed paywalls. It has been reported that roughly 1-3% of the players of these games are actually converted into paying customers, meaning that if the game lasts for any length of time(more than a year), these converted members of the player base are spending millions of dollars of their hard earned income to support and play these games. Studies have shown that of these 1-3% of converted players, many have "addictive tendencies" that these games are designed to psychologically target.

Edited to add: Some games boast a much higher conversion rate, such as Candy Crush, in which nearly 8% of its player base spends money on the game.

I'm not going to debate which of these games are more "fair" or use less manipulative psychology than the other, nor am I going to provide a list of which ones I consider to be most egregious, but rather I will submit a simple warning to anyone who might come across these types of games on Facebook PC, IOS, Android and other mobile platforms.

Hopefully, this post will provide a little more information to enable a bit more discernment for those who might consider playing these F2P games. Be sure to check out the supporting links I've provided by clicking on the highlighted text(s) above.


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