The Problem with Freemium Games

The Problem with Freemium Games

There's always something a little incongruous, I feel, about my reaction to freemium games trying to stay funded.

Read Full Article

One thing that bothers me the most about Super Mario Run is people's comments about it. Stuff like "You have to pay for the game?", "What a sellout.", "Who is stupid to purchase it?" Like, the problem is not even the price tag or the DRM, is that the concept of paying for something is too much for these people.

I think that pretty much shows how the standards for mobile gaming are at an all time low, the idea of a free game there is that you can play the game at the inexistential cost of seeing an ad once in a while, but after Farmville and Candy Crush popularized the life system with a timer, things have been going downhill since.

Yeah, I had the same problem with Pokemon Picross. The game is a decent portable puzzle game. But the way the paywalls were implemented just turned me off. To unlock each area you required to complete the levels like in a normal game; but also it asked you to pay. Worst, each area had a steady price increment to the previous one. And that's without counting the paywalls for the mega-evolution levels and the alt-world (or limiting the number of spaces you can fill with an energy system that can be disabled by paying). It was absurd! I had no idea how much would be required to pay to unlock everything. Long time after, I found out that after paying a total of around $40, the paywalls were effectively surmountable, and you neither needed or were allowed to pay more.

In retrospective, it's a more innovative way of demoing the game that gets ruined by the unclear terms. How do you know you won't be asked for more money after paying $40? You don't until you pay.

CaitSeith:
snip

I figured that from day one, since I love Picross so much, I did the daily challenge that gives me around 10 of the currency. It took one year for me to unlock almost everything without paying a single penny. Then on what I calculated to be my last week with the game, my 3DS died... That was anticlimatic, but I liked the sheer challenge of it.

Hearthstone works well because you can have a lot of cards even if you don't pay, and they're drip fed at just the right rate.

The biggest problem with freemium games is that they are advertised as "free". If it was advertised that the game is a demo, then they asked you if you want to pay for the whole game. It wouldn't be a problem.

I checked out Saga games (Candy Crush, etc.) last year. I thought part of the challenge of these games was to complete it without paying for it. What they want you to pay for were cheats. Pay to keep from waiting until new lives are replenished. Pay to get power-ups that will make the game easier. If you play games for a challenge, then it was insulting to you for them to offer these things to you for a price.

It is this bait and switch with freemium games that make me hesitant to even check out most games in this genre.

You aren't doing anything "wrong" by not paying. Go watch the South Park episode "Freemium Isn't Free"

They are expecting 95%+ of the players to never pay a dime. You aren't even the target audience. You aren't stealing anything.

09philj:
Hearthstone works well because you can have a lot of cards even if you don't pay, and they're drip fed at just the right rate.

Not in the slightest. Hearthstone is one of the worst F2P experiences right now and pay to win through and through. As someone who has played Hearthstone for years and not paid anything - I would never recommend someone jump into the game at this point. You start so far behind the curve and there are no catch up mechanics WHATSOEVER for a new player besides dumping cash into a furnace to try and catch up.

Blizzard has not increased the reward rate in years. Think about that. A new F2P player even against another veteran F2P player is years behind and can never catch up.

Other CCGs have learned. Shadowverse and Elder Scrolls Legends give far accelerated reward and card accrual than Hearthstone.

Igor-Rowan:

CaitSeith:
snip

I figured that from day one, since I love Picross so much, I did the daily challenge that gives me around 10 of the currency. It took one year for me to unlock almost everything without paying a single penny. Then on what I calculated to be my last week with the game, my 3DS died... That was anticlimatic, but I liked the sheer challenge of it.

LOL. I found the game itself challenging enough. But being restricted to the daily currency challenge and not being able to do anything more than repeat the unlocked levels (and limited by the energy system) was too frustrating. I don't get buyers remorse from paying $40 upfront for a puzzle game like that, but the design had all the indicators of being focused on milking whales.

Yahtzee Croshaw:
The Problem with Freemium Games

There's always something a little incongruous, I feel, about my reaction to freemium games trying to stay funded.

Read Full Article

Freemium is diferent from the mario run demo. I think the problem is that it is down loaded.under false pretences.

I like your people who stand in doorways comment.

I thought switch was designed for people who cannot put the game down so take it to the toilet with them.

Holy Robins, Batman! An actual *new* Extra Punctuation?!!!!
If this doesn't mean the heavens are falling down I do hope to see them back more frequently!

OT, then:
I personally found it very enjoyable to play Candy Crush Saga to level 401 or whatever without paying a dime. It had been out for a long time by then, but I finally picked it up just to see how far I could get without paying. That was my exact goal and my personal challenge. It made the ABSURDLY difficult levels -that got mega hate online, because they were very clearly just made neigh impossible to milk money from frustration- feel like Bossbattles to me. And it felt great to get through so many of them!!! I played that and Ridiculous Fishing on my tablet for many an hours in public transport.

And Mario Run........ it's not freemium at all, that's poppycock. It was stated ages before it came out that the first 4 levels would be a free demo. Then you do the ONE TIME payment (which makes it NOT freemium!) to buy ALL the rest. So it's a game that you 1) buy or 2) not buy and NOT spend a dime on it. You cannot buy continues, boosts or shit.

Too bad it is just waaaaaaaaay too short to be worth THAT much cash!!! You can buy like 5-10 mobile games that are *each* much longer than Run for that amount. Hence all the 1 stars.

WHOOOO!!! Look at that long post; you really got me fired up there, Yahtzee!
Now finish me off by announcing your third novel for me to buy! ;)

This is exactly the same as the problem with DLC and micro-transactions, though, isn't it? Sure, you don't strictly *need* those Commanders for CoH2 if you're good enough, you don't need the extra ammo and extra items and single-use stuff that micro-transactions typically buy you. You can enjoy the game without, but the BALANCE is still affected by the presence of micro-transactions, isn't it? Because, if it were not, nobody would pay.

This is why I have a very simple policy: it's either free, completely, or paid once-off. If I can't be sure of what I am getting for my money, I'm not interested. If it's not once-off paid and not Free-as-in-Dwarf-Fortress, I'm also not interested.

Maybe the solution to this problem would be to "sell" a free base version of the game (kinda like Demos from back in the day), and if you like the game enough, you could pay for extra levels, extra challenges to try and get #1 on some scoreboard somewhere, or something. Like freeware with theoretically endless amounts of DLC content. There's still a base game, but you pay for extra stuff.

Life is Strange now does this where the first episode is free and you only pay for episode 2-5

I'd love to buy a lifetime subscription to World of tanks/warships as a way of buying the game. But they don't allow that, and the prices they do charge for their temporary premium accounts (which are the only non-frustrating ways to get past the mid-tiers in my opinion) are too high, probably because they feel they have to compensate for all the non-paying players.

I believe Jim has raised a fair point about this in one of his vids once - a freemium game will inherently (so long as it's selling convenience or power and not just straight up cosmetics like TF2 or something) feature elements designed to frustrate the player to the point where they're willing to shell out money to improve their user experience. Being a core business element, this is generally integrated as a core game mechanic too.
As such, given that an important part of the game is designed to work against the player and their enjoyment, it could well be argued that no game that features "micro"payment options that go beyond purely cosmetic could not be improved, often substantially, by removing the premium element and going buy to play (or possibly sub/buy+sub for online games, though that has proven to be a major barrier of entry).
One case where I've recently seen this solved in a novel and interesting way was a rather quaint mobile shmup, Sky Force Reloaded. It's pretty standard shmup fare, a lot like Tyrian (with fewer customization options, admittedly, but better polish, as is natural given Tyrian's age. Also, SFR is noticeably more arcadey than classic Tyrian story mode). The game itself comes free, with ads after each mission (nothing too intrusive), a list of upgrades that get a little grindy after a point and limited "lives" that allow you to play again from the beginning after failing a mission and regen over time (so the rate at which you use them up depends on both player skill and if you're trying to punch above your weight - this isn't a big deal since lives can be bought quite cheaply with the ingame currency earned for completing missions, or earned by watching ads). Microtransactions provided include an immediate boost to ingame currency, but also an option to permanently double the mission earnings (making the immediate boost kind of unnecessary unless for some reason you really want to get all the unlocks but you hate the game and don't want to play it), permanently remove ads after a mission and permanently boost the regen rate on your lives, making it more or less impossible to run out. It all adds up to 7,50 or so for all permanent upgrades, which is a decent price for what the game itself offers and if you can't pay, staying F2P is viable and I imagine it will still earn the creators a little dosh with the ads. Basically, you can pay to have freemiumness removed from your game.

09philj:
Hearthstone works well because you can have a lot of cards even if you don't pay, and they're drip fed at just the right rate.

I wouldn't call it "just the right rate". Compare it to any other digital card game and Hearthstone is far stingier than any. Also the new player experience is awful even when paid since there is no guarantee you will get anything good. Every good deck now needs a legendary or more. Even aggro decks. Reno decks, the only alternative, has a bunch of legendaries and epics. Legendaries have a ridiculously low drop rate, epics are guaranteed only one in 10 packs. They are extremely expensive to craft, with epics feeling much worse than legendary cards. Probably because you usually need 2 copies and more epics than legendaries

Just starting out Shadowverse gives you 38 packs, each pack having 8 (I believe) cards and you're guaranteed a legendary in every 7th pack according to some info online (apparently Japanese games now need to give you the precise probability of getting something like from packs or their gatcha or whatever machines). On top of that you have an every easy way of rerolling your account, starting a new, skipping the tutorial and opening new 38 packs until you get the core cards you want.
Duelyst on the other hand has a similar rate as Hearthstone but guarantees you no duplicates.

HS is one of the worst f2p experiences that I've experienced. Other games at least don't lock me against veterans almost from the start and have a much smoother entry where the start feels easy and great but then slowly it forces you to buy. Hearthstone is just a slap on the face and a wall right in front of you. Pay up or leave, that's how it's now.

Kenjitsuka:
And Mario Run........ it's not freemium at all, that's poppycock. It was stated ages before it came out that the first 4 levels would be a free demo. Then you do the ONE TIME payment (which makes it NOT freemium!) to buy ALL the rest. So it's a game that you 1) buy or 2) not buy and NOT spend a dime on it. You cannot buy continues, boosts or shit.

The problem with that is that it's not painfully obvious in the Apple store that that is what you are doing, a lot of people weren't aware of it, downloaded it thinking they were getting the whole thing, and then got pissed when the surprise "give me ten dollars" thing popped up. Hell even my own flesh and blood sister, who is pretty up on vidya games news, didn't realize she had to pay for it.

This was a great and witty article. The bit about sitting down for an evening of culture resonated with me. I hate that we have tipping in the United States instead of flat rates like most other countries. It's an outdated and sinister practice.

South Park did an episode of freemium games. That, coupled with my own growing experience with them, (the final fantasy ones) helped me finally quit freemium games. I just don't like being manipulated nor like the feeling of a game, for the most part, depending on my money to let me do well. It feels like a chore or job to play. And I don't like endless and unfinished products.

I think we need a complete revision to our economic system to it's less based on what sells, because that is frequently manipulated, and instead what is ethically good and of decent quality.

Yahtzee Croshaw:
Buy Uncharted 4 for the fixed price and you know that your contract with the developer is fulfilled, and you're free to sit down and get nice and immersed in the full intended experience, knowing you won't get bugged by popups waving a donation cup in your face, which is no way to experience art. Showing your tickets to the man at the door and settling down into your comfy theatre seat is a magic moment, knowing you've gotten the formalities out of the way and are now free to relax into an evening of culture; that would be broken if the lights came up twenty minutes later so that someone can go around with the collection plate.

Yeah, exactly. But since we all know gaming "needs" to be so darn interlectual a pursuit these days, it's better to couch the obvious in some "theoretical heft", lest it be dismissed as just more backwards "gamer entitlement". Like, dunno, something about "meta monetization cues violating the Huizingan Magic Circle of ludic engagement".

A game that is designed on soliciting real world money in order to enjoy is just a promise of a game, masking a scam. That's why we as a civilization rescued the promise of electronic gaming from the arcade model.

The mention of coin-op arcades intrigues me, having spent a lot of my youth playing just such games. I can distinctly remember a similar evolution (or de-evolution) occurring there. Simple games that could be played for hours if the player knew their patterns well (Centipede, Pac-Man) became more complicated games with definite end-states (many of Capcom's beat-em-ups and platform shooters, games like R-Type) eventually becoming, by and large, games that only a steady stream of quarters would really allow one any real chance of playing more than three to five minutes at a time (Sunset Riders, Time Crisis, etc.)

Yahtzee's right about how "freemium" attitudes invade aspects of game play. In some ways, what's scarier is the way it cross-infects games that should never have such "features" to begin with- even those that don't try to double-dip into the cash pool with DLC or conveniently close-to-release "expansions". There's an argument to be made that the steady steam of "rogue-likes", good, bad, and indifferent, owe a certain amount to the same principles- they're just making the player pay in extra run-throughs to get access to the unlockables, rather than actual money; and the developers are being paid back by stringing out a smaller selection of content over a longer period of play time, aided and abetted by randomness and a compulsion-inducing game mechanic.

normalguycap:
...and instead what is ethically good and of decent quality.

Oooh, now here's the fun part: Who decides that?

KissingSunlight:
The biggest problem with freemium games is that they are advertised as "free". If it was advertised that the game is a demo, then they asked you if you want to pay for the whole game. It wouldn't be a problem.

I checked out Saga games (Candy Crush, etc.) last year. I thought part of the challenge of these games was to complete it without paying for it. What they want you to pay for were cheats. Pay to keep from waiting until new lives are replenished. Pay to get power-ups that will make the game easier. If you play games for a challenge, then it was insulting to you for them to offer these things to you for a price.

It is this bait and switch with freemium games that make me hesitant to even check out most games in this genre.

And for me Asphalt. Make no mistake, i compare the hobby to RC cars. Sure you can rent out your kid cousin's crappy hand me down car and wait patiently to work your way up. Higher end cars are like expensive models with better transceivers and sleeker models. I think i paid about 500 total into this hobby.

But those event races with free cars if ypu are in the top 100 you have to deal with despite being the best you are soundly trounced by a bunch of foreigners who you know cheats and runs an extortion racket

The chinese played a heavy hand in this since their whole gaming industry is mostly freemium mobilw games or mmos and they acquired companies like Jagex and Riot and lo and behold microtransactions

Ah, freemium: where the "-mium" is Latin for "not really".

Igor-Rowan:
One thing that bothers me the most about Super Mario Run is people's comments about it. Stuff like "You have to pay for the game?", "What a sellout.", "Who is stupid to purchase it?" Like, the problem is not even the price tag or the DRM, is that the concept of paying for something is too much for these people.

Is it fair to say that I think Gamers these days are very stingy with their money.

I mean I to have standards of what I will and will not pay for, but jeez not buying something that cost say 3 dollars at least, now your just being Mr. Krabs.

I mean in the end they just have to accept that Gaming is and has always been an Expensive Hobby.

The only freemium game I play these days is Warframe. I did play DC Universe: Online for a good long while; free to download and play, but certain classes are locked behind dollar signs. That's fairly reasonable - there's a good amount of classes to select from in the beginning anyway and the rest of the in-game restrictions were all pretty negligible

Warframe started off similar, with most everything being attainable by simply putting the time into the game, but after building a third weapon just for the hell of it I discovered that to even add the weapon to my inventory I would have to purchase a new weapon slot. The same went for all three weapon types. I kind of get where the guilt Yahtzee mentions comes from, as I was having a blast with the core gameplay of Warframe until I hit that monetary roadblock and got angry. I did feel like a mooch at that point and I got mad at the game for making me feel that way when it's totally reasonable to spend money on a game I put way more time into (and was having a lot more fun with) than some games I've actually bought recently.

I did end up buying some Platinum because I figured the game was worth some spare cash from me, but it was bloody expensive compared to some other freemiums out there.

I don't mind paying for games, I don't even mind paying a lot for them. It is paying for games advertised as free that I have a problem with. You want my money, you set up a toll booth at the entrance. Otherwise, it feels like you're changing rules as you go ("free? Of course it is free as long as you pay for it!") and I can't even be sure anymore what I get for my money.

The thing about Freemium games typically is that what you end up paying for is typically cheating in some way. If you pay for a continue you didn't earn it in game. You did absolutely nothing deserving of a continue and yet now you have one, and you can keep buying more as long as your cash holds out. Doing so ultimately taints the experience the same way entering a cheat code would, you didn't REALLY win on your own skill and effort, you just bought a victory screen.

Besides, if the creators are offering to sell you a way to "skip" some element of gameplay then that implies that they themselves think that element isn't worth playing. Why the hell should you play a game that's so bad that it's own developers think it would be worth spending money to not play certain parts of it?

Igor-Rowan:
One thing that bothers me the most about Super Mario Run is people's comments about it. Stuff like "You have to pay for the game?", "What a sellout.", "Who is stupid to purchase it?" Like, the problem is not even the price tag or the DRM, is that the concept of paying for something is too much for these people.

I think that pretty much shows how the standards for mobile gaming are at an all time low, the idea of a free game there is that you can play the game at the inexistential cost of seeing an ad once in a while, but after Farmville and Candy Crush popularized the life system with a timer, things have been going downhill since.

Super Mario Run does deserve flack for having the balls to charge for a mobile game that has fucking microtransactions in it, reminds me of FF: All the Bravest.

darkrage6:
Snip

Uhhhhh, no, it does not have microtransactions, it only has the option to buy the entire game from the demo. They said from day one there would be no microtransactions.

Igor-Rowan:
One thing that bothers me the most about Super Mario Run is people's comments about it. Stuff like "You have to pay for the game?", "What a sellout.", "Who is stupid to purchase it?" Like, the problem is not even the price tag or the DRM, is that the concept of paying for something is too much for these people.

I think that pretty much shows how the standards for mobile gaming are at an all time low, the idea of a free game there is that you can play the game at the inexistential cost of seeing an ad once in a while, but after Farmville and Candy Crush popularized the life system with a timer, things have been going downhill since.

As someone who owns basically the whole suite of Kairosoft games as well as dozen of other mobile games that I've happily shelled out for, this is what upsets me the most. If it's a game demo and you can unlock the full thing by paying, all for that. No different than computer game demos back in the day but freemium is almost a 100% guarantee that the game is going to be some kind of scam. No matter how much you spend, it's never going to be enough and seeing as how most freemium games survive due to whales, there is almost no point in playing them whatsoever unless you have that kind of disposable income. My patience to grind is stronger than my desire to pay exorbitant amounts of cash for the chance win, at least until I get fed up and uninstall it.

What's getting worse are the ones you pay for that then have the fucking gall to charge for stuff afterward. Kairosoft seems to be tragically marching down that road so there is a good chance they and I are done. Freemium and whatever the hell you call this garbage, needs to die so that the rest of the industry can flourish but only if people are willing to be reasonable about buying games. Sadly, I fear the wheels have already come off and judging by how much dodgy crap there seems to be in the Play store, I don't see them going back on any time soon.

Chewster:

Igor-Rowan:
One thing that bothers me the most about Super Mario Run is people's comments about it. Stuff like "You have to pay for the game?", "What a sellout.", "Who is stupid to purchase it?" Like, the problem is not even the price tag or the DRM, is that the concept of paying for something is too much for these people.

I think that pretty much shows how the standards for mobile gaming are at an all time low, the idea of a free game there is that you can play the game at the inexistential cost of seeing an ad once in a while, but after Farmville and Candy Crush popularized the life system with a timer, things have been going downhill since.

As someone who owns basically the whole suite of Kairosoft games as well as dozen of other mobile games that I've happily shelled out for, this is what upsets me the most. If it's a game demo and you can unlock the full thing by paying, all for that. No different than computer game demos back in the day but freemium is almost a 100% guarantee that the game is going to be some kind of scam. No matter how much you spend, it's never going to be enough and seeing as how most freemium games survive due to whales, there is almost no point in playing them whatsoever unless you have that kind of disposable income. My patience to grind is stronger than my desire to pay exorbitant amounts of cash for the chance win, at least until I get fed up and uninstall it.

What's getting worse are the ones you pay for that then have the fucking gall to charge for stuff afterward. Kairosoft seems to be tragically marching down that road so there is a good chance they and I are done. Freemium and whatever the hell you call this garbage, needs to die so that the rest of the industry can flourish but only if people are willing to be reasonable about buying games. Sadly, I fear the wheels have already come off and judging by how much dodgy crap there seems to be in the Play store, I don't see them going back on any time soon.

Problem's not with the concept, it's with whale hunting. There are sane games that start free but add, say XP boosters, or hats you don't have to save up for in exchange. Hell I've bought the PvE hearthstone adventures because they're fun while my friend saved gold for them.

Problem is you get the games where if you aren't a whale, the game despises you for it. Sometimes accidentally, like early F2P MMO conversions (SWTOR was famous for this, but LotRO had, well, more restrictions), but then there are the pure malignancies that happen when a developer has been bitten by a radioactive advertising executive that are the worst. The Dungeon Keepers, the games with energy bars, the ones where you only rent your unlocks unless you pay, the racing games where the only cars that can win are paywalled.

Some talk of Warframe in the thread. Did they not give you free plat early in the game? I've got 5 frames and a dozen weapons and haven't run out of the "free sample" yet

I don't know why you're still so angry about Nintendo, Croshaw. You finally got everything you wanted.

The majority of the company's been exiled to the prison of half-assed, freemium mobile gaming with all those unworthy non-gamers[1] you despise, Iwata is dead and replaced with a wet blanket of a CEO, the evil Wii dynasty has been slain, and you self-proclaimed "true gamers" have finally retaken control of the industry as what remains of Nintendo in the console race has fallen back into meekly following in the footsteps of Microsoft and Sony, "dropping the gimmicks" in favor of a half-measure of a console with paid online, an utter lack of any backwards-compatibility, a larger reliance on barren open-world games and increasingly generic multiplats, and yet another bog-standard "PC lite" featureset just like the "real" consoles, rather than doing anything to stand out whatsoever.

Once again, they've resorted to uselessly trying to appeal to "true gamers" like you, just as with the GameCube... which got mercilessly stomped on sales- and partnership-wise while you laughed from afar with your "god console" the PS2, as you so gleefully pointed out in your Capcom Five video. But now that they've "come crawling back" like an abused housewife after enough blackmail, why continue to rant about them? Or is this simply the post-return scolding of that "disloyal bitch"? But hey, now that you finally got the PS4 clone you pissed and moaned for, I imagine the next logical step will be a resurgence of the "go third-party" whinging now that their new system has no USP that justifies its existence, after which will of course come the taunts of "how far they've fallen, just like SEGA and Atari", and you'll have successfully made them serve as a warning to those who would dare question the rule of you self-proclaimed "true gamers" ever again in this industry.

You and all the other cynical douchebags got your wish, and you poisoned my industry to do it. Have fun with your goddamn neural-jacks and sloughing off your worthless meatsacks to "ascend to VR Valhalla."[2] Meanwhile, I got to watch a good man give an apology to a jeering gamer culture as his final public communication two years ago, in what was a far more bitter end than he deserved.

It's my turn to be pissed off.

[1] "You've got to dig your heels in and show these changes who's the bitch before everything we've worked for all these years sells itself wholesale to the kinds of Bejeweled-playing, child-having twat-mackerels who spent the last decades nodding meaningfully to each other every time a Sega Genesis is found in the home of a murderer." -E3 2010
[2] "When the gaming kids of today become the hairy, whinging twentysomethings of the future, they'll be declaring that Halo 3 was miles better than a game of interstellar bum pirates on the astral thought planes of the universal overmind, and they'll be just as wrong then as you are now." -XBLA Double Bill

I just think it's fascinating how society broke free from Arcade coin-suckers thanks to a variety of home consoles and gaming PCs... and now we're right back to pay-to-play more. People are such suckers.

Necrozius:
I just think it's fascinating how society broke free from Arcade coin-suckers thanks to a variety of home consoles and gaming PCs... and now we're right back to pay-to-play more. People are such suckers.

"We're back to pay-to-play"? It was a steady transition from the arcades to the home! You argue that they spent the last few decades focusing on the "get the game into the homes" part of arcade machines, and now they're focusing on the "get every bit of their pocket change" part.

 

Reply to Thread

Log in or Register to Comment
Have an account? Login below:
With Facebook:Login With Facebook
or
Username:  
Password:  
  
Not registered? To sign up for an account with The Escapist:
Register With Facebook
Register With Facebook
or
Register for a free account here