Free-to-play hate threatens health of the industry at large
Increasing negativity around F2P tars both good and bad games with the same brush
Free to play has an image problem. It’s the most influential and arguably important development in the business of games in decades, a stratospherically successful innovation which has enabled the opening up of games to a wider audience than ever before. Implemented well, with clear understanding of its principles and proper respect afforded to players and creativity alike, it’s more fair and even, in a sense, democratic than old-fashioned models of up-front payment; in theory, players pay in proportion to their enjoyment, handing over money in small transactions for a continued or deepened relationship with a game they already love, rather than giving a large amount of cash up-front for a game they’ve only ever seen in (possibly doctored) screenshots and videos.
While that is a fair description, I think, of the potential of free-to-play, it’s quite clearly not the image that the business model bears right now. You probably scoffed about half a dozen times reading the above paragraph – it may be a fair description of free-to-play at its hypothetical best, but it’s almost certainly at odds with your perceptions.
How, then, might we describe the perception of F2P? Greedy, exploitative, unfair, cheating… Once these adjectives start rolling, it’s hard to get them to stop. The negative view of F2P is that it’s a series of cheap psychological tricks designed to get people to spend money compulsively without ever realising quite how much cash they’re wasting on what is ultimately a very shallow and cynical game experience.
“Unfortunately, the negative image that has been built up by free-to-play threatens not just the nasty, exploitative games, but all the perfectly decent ones as well – from billion-grossing phenomena like Puzzle & Dragons to indie wunderkind like Crossy Road"
I don’t think it’s entirely unsurprising or unexpected that this perception should be held by “core" gamers or those enamoured of existing styles of game. Although F2P has proven very successful for games like MMOs and MOBAs, it’s by no means universally applicable, either across game types or across audience types; some blundering attempts by publishers to add micro-transactions to premium console and PC titles, combined with deep misgivings over the complete domination of F2P in the mobile game market, have left plenty of more traditional gamers with a very negative and extremely defensive attitude regarding the new business model. That’s fine, though; F2P isn’t for that audience (though it’s a little more complex than that in reality; many players will happily tap away at an F2P mobile game while waiting for matchmaking in a premium console game).
What’s increasingly clear, however, is that there’s an image problem for F2P right in the midst of the audience at whom it’s actually aimed. The negative perception of F2P is becoming increasingly mainstream. It gets mass-media coverage on occasion; recently, it spurred Apple to create a promotion specifically pointing App Store customers to games with no in-app purchases. I happen to think that’s a great idea personally, but what does it say about the feedback from Apple’s customers regarding F2P games, that promotion of non-F2P titles was even a consideration?
然而很明確地，免費遊戲模式正正在他所瞄準的目標客群中，也有形象上的問題，對免費遊戲的負面態度逐漸變為主流意見。媒體偶爾會大量關注這個現象，甚至促使蘋果公司去舉辦針對無內購遊戲的推廣。我個人當然認為這個是件好事，但是 Apple 竟然會須要去特別推廣非免費遊玩遊戲，這對 Apple 用戶群針對免費遊玩遊戲的反應意味著什麼呢？（顯然他們面臨必須做些甚麼來扭轉局面）
Even some of the most successful F2P developers now seem to want to distance themselves from the business model; this week’s interview with Crossy Road developers Hipster Whale saw the team performing linguistic somersaults to avoid labelling their free-to-play game as being free-to-play. Crossy Road is a brilliant, fun, interesting F2P game that hits pretty much all of the positive notes I laid out up in the first paragraph; that even its own developers seem to view “free-to-play" as an overtly negative phrase is deeply concerning.
The problem is that the negativity has a fair basis; there’s a lot of absolute guff out there, with the App Store utterly teeming with F2P games that genuinely are exploitative and unfair; worst of all, the bad games tend to be stupid, mean-spirited and grasping, attempting to suck money out of easily tricked customers (and let’s be blunt here: we’re talking, in no small measure, about kids) rather than undertaking the harder but vastly more rewarding task of actually entertaining and enthralling people until they feel perfectly happy with parting with a little cash to see more, do more or just to deepen their connection to the game.
問題是，這些負面評論有一定程度的根據；App Store 上確實充斥著那些真的非常不公平、剝削的免費遊玩遊戲。最慘是，糟糕的遊戲還往更墮落的方向前進，更加愚蠢，更加無腦及貪婪地想要從輕度顧客口袋中掏錢（就直說是孩童好了），而不是從困難的挑戰中讓玩家付出一點費用來取得回饋，享樂，及精彩內容，讓玩家與遊戲產生連接。
Such awfulness, though, is not universal by any measure. There are tons of good F2P games out there; games that are creative and interesting (albeit often within a template of sorts; F2P was quick to split off into slowly evolving genre-types, though nobody who’s played PC or console games for very long can reasonably criticise that particular development), games that give you weeks or months of enjoyment without ever forcing a penny from your pocket unless you’re actually deeply engaged enough to want to pay up to get something more. Most of F2P’s bone fide hits fit into this category, in fact; games like Supercell’s Clash of Clans or Hay Day, GungHo’s Puzzle & Dragons and, yes, even King’s Candy Crush Saga, which is held aloft unfairly as an example of F2P scurrilousness, yet has never extracted a penny from 70 percent of the people who have finished (finished!) the game. That’s an absolutely enormous amount of shiny candy-matching enjoyment (while I don’t like the game personally, I don’t question that it’s enjoyment for those who play it so devotedly) for free.
這樣糟糕的情況並非一體適用。有很多很優秀的免費遊戲，不僅充滿創意又有趣。即使有種可能性是免費遊戲就是給那些沒玩過桌機與家機的玩家玩，所以他們也無從挑剔起。那些遊戲依然能給予數周到數個月的歡樂，特別還是免費的。除非你真的熱愛這款遊戲願意得到更多的體驗。大部分的免費遊戲都是這樣的框架。事實上Suptercell的Clash of Clans與Hay Day，GungHo的龍族拼圖，King的Candy Crush Saga是免費遊戲的經典模式，但是還是有很多沒花一毛錢的玩家能破關。難怪這糖果配對的免費熱潮無法擋（當然我本身並不喜歡這款遊戲，但我並不質疑它所帶來的樂趣）
Unfortunately, the negative image that has been built up by free-to-play threatens not just the nasty, exploitative games, but all the perfectly decent ones as well – from billion-grossing phenomena like Puzzle & Dragons to indie wunderkind like Crossy Road. If free-to-play as a “brand" becomes irreparably damaged, the consequences may be far-reaching.
A year ago, I’d have envisaged that the most dangerous consequence on the horizon was heavy-handed legislation – with the EU, or perhaps the USA, clamping down on F2P mechanisms in a half-understood way that ended up damaging perfectly honest developers along with two-bit scam merchants. I still think that’s possible; companies have ducked and dived around small bits of legislation (or the threat of small bits of legislation) in territories including Japan and the EU, but the hammer could still fall in this regard. However, I no longer consider that the largest threat. No, the largest threat is Apple; the company which did more than any other to establish F2P as a viable market remains the company that could pull the carpet out from underneath it entirely, and while I doubt that’s on the cards right now, the wind is certainly turning in that direction.
一年前，我就已經預見最慘的情形就是在對應重度手持遊戲的立法，在歐盟或美國，由於對免費遊玩機制的一知半解而造成的非黑即白分類會對誠實的開發者造成傷害，同時會造成極端的兩種商業行為。我現在仍認為這結局很有可能降臨；在日本或歐洲有些公司已經開始規避或遊走一些法律地帶（或是逃避被罰款），但終究會有公司會被懲罰。但我認為前者已經並非最嚴重的發展。我所謂最嚴重的發展就是助長免費遊玩遊戲的蘋果， 他們完全有能力來個釜底抽薪（意指完全砍掉 F2P 遊戲），當然我並不認為這個已經迫在眉睫，不過風向確定開始往那方向吹。
Apple’s decision to promote non-F2P titles on its store may simply be an editor’s preference; but given the growing negativity around F2P, it may also be a sign that customer anger over F2P titles on iOS is reaching receptive ears at Apple. Apple originally permitted free apps (with IAP or otherwise) for the simple reason that having a huge library of free software available to customers was a brilliant selling point for the iPhone and iPad. At present, that remains the case; but if the negativity around the perception of F2P games were ever to start to outweigh the positive benefits of all that free software, do not doubt that Apple would reverse course fast enough to make your head spin. Reckon that its 30 percent share of all those Puzzle & Dragons and Candy Crush Saga revenues would be enough to make it think twice? Reckon again; App Store revenue is a drop in the ocean for Apple, and if abusive F2P ever starts to significantly damage the public perception of Apple’s devices, it will ban the model (in part, at least) without a second thought to revenue.
蘋果的決定是推廣非免費遊玩的遊戲，這只是用偏好來推廣；但從對免費遊玩逐漸提升的負面印象來看，這也許只是因為蘋果想要安福客戶對於免費遊戲的怒潮。一開始蘋果允許免費應用程式的原因是希望商城上有一堆免費的函式庫，這樣對產品的銷售有幫助。現在仍是如此；但當對免費遊玩遊戲的負面評價持續提高，超過正面帶來的利潤，我絕不懷疑蘋果會迅速翻臉。龍族拼圖與Candy Crush Saga百分之三十的回收能繼續讓蘋果默不作聲嗎？若進一步看，當商城的回收開始降低，免費遊玩遊戲開始打擊蘋果的名聲時。它鐵定會為了利潤開始清除這種模式（當然只有一部份）
Some of you, those who fully buy into the negative image of F2P, might think that would be a thing to celebrate; ding, dong, the witch is dead! That’s a remarkably short-sighted view, however. In truth, F2P has been the saviour of a huge number of game development jobs and studios that would otherwise have been lost entirely in the implosion of smaller publishers and developers over the past five years; it’s provided a path into the industry for a great many talented creative people, grown the audience for games unimaginably and has provided a boost not only to mobile and casual titles, but to core games as well – especially in territories like East Asia. Wishing harm on F2P is wishing harm on many thousands of industry jobs; so don’t wish F2P harm. Wish that it would be better; that way, everyone wins.