Finally for this look at the video game market we turn to the F2P market. While it’s considered the “youngest” compared to the other topics for this series, the impact F2P design has had cannot be understated.
The F2P market includes everything from browser based titles, to mobile and social games and the market has caused a lot of developers to rethink how they design and sell games.
Free to Play:
Free to Play refers to titles that are sold without any upfront cost to the consumer, as long as they have the means to download and play it they can try it out. The profit comes in with how F2P games make use of micro transactions on a variety of content to get someone to spend money. Talking about the psychological aspect or different means are important subjects but is beyond the scope of this post.
The Free to Play market originally started as browser based titles back in the early 00s with games people could sign into from any online accessible computer and play. These titles made their money via microtransactions of content and speeding up play. While simple, they were an effective time waster and some boasted depth to their gameplay.
We also saw numerous F2P titles from the Korean market that made their way over to the US. These titles were more complex and had to be downloaded, but they never achieved mass success like retail games.
It wasn’t until 2009 when we saw the first major success of a game that was free to play and brought the market to the forefront.
League of Legends:
League of Legends’ success is still considered the poster child for the free to play market. Developed by Riot Games, the title boasted deep competitive gameplay with no cost to play or compete. Everything gameplay related could be earned by playing the game with the bulk of their profit coming from varying degrees of cosmetic items.
Unlike the browser based titles and other F2P games of the early 00s, this was the first massively successful title that could stand with retail releases. Riot Game’s attention to fostering the brand paid off as League of Legends is now a popular E-Sports title and the game has been constantly updated and expanded since 2009.
This was the first time that developers really saw the benefits to the F2P market and we soon saw F2P titles from major developers, MMOs, mobile games and on social networking sites.
The biggest advantage that F2P has is that the genre has the lowest barrier of entry out of any other in the Game Industry, making them very appealing to casual or the non-gamer market. All you need to do is download the software or simply log into Facebook and you can play these titles.
Good F2P design is about providing a great experience at no cost and then giving players more via IAPs or microtransactions. A F2P game that takes off like League of Legends, Farmville or Candy Crush Saga can become a massive success and profit maker for the developer.
There is so much we can go into detail about in terms of design philosophy of a good F2P game but that is beyond the scope of this post. For the developers, the advantage of F2P design is that you don’t need to create a massively complex title, you only need a good foundation that is easy to pick up and play.
Angry Birds was not complicated to play, but the simple controls turned it into a major success and brand for developer Rovio. Once that foundation is set, you can then expand on the game while providing value to your customers and as we’ve seen with League of Legends, be rewarded through consumer loyalty and profit.
However with that said, the F2P market is showing signs of trouble in the eyes of hardcore gamers and in terms of sustainability.
The F2P genre includes a variety of games — From the complicated hits like League of Legends, to simple games like Farmville and everything in between. The problem is that there are a lot of developers who aren’t interested in creating a viable brand and instead want to get as much money out of their audience as possible.
We are seeing issues of cloning, poor microtransactions and games that are more about making money than they are at providing a great experience to the consumer. Whenever a F2P game gets success, you can bet that there will be companies attempting to clone the game in attempt to confuse the fan base and dilute the original game’s success.
This creates an issue of the bad games spoiling it for the rest as there are now plenty of gamers who ignore any F2P game due to the poor examples.
Because of not having an initial cost, F2P games can be very misleading due to IAPs and not properly educating the consumer base. This recently was seen when the developer of Monument Valley angered their fan base by asking for money for new content. Monument Valley’s problems also showcase some unique issues for the mobile market which we’ll revisit in another post.
Many developers tend to either hide or not present clearly what microtransactions are in their game and this can lead to trouble for the whole market.
And while there are successes like Angry Birds, League of Legends and Team Fortress 2, there are far more examples of developers trying and failing with their F2P games. Either the developer is not making enough to sustain the title or poor microtransactions and word of mouth are keeping customers away.
Because of how easy it is to play a F2P game, it makes retention very hard as once someone gets to the point where the game is about microtransactions or they get annoyed for any reason, they can simply switch to any number of other F2P titles.
These issues cast a lot of doubt as to whether F2P titles as a genre can keep going.
A Shaky Market:
The F2P market is a lot like the MMO market of the 00s: dominated by a few big hits with everyone else trying to be the next success story.
And for MMOs, there was too much saturation and low quality titles released that we saw it implode for all but the major successes, IE World of Warcraft. While titles like League of Legends, Team Fortress and Candy Crush Saga are here to stay, we will have to wait and see if the market will become sustainable for everyone else.