Dear Master Malstrom,
It saddens me to send this to you because I love this developer’s two games, but the iOS developer, One Man Left, has written a post about their newest game, Outwitters, that has been out for 3 months and is facing some cash flow issues due to the free to play model. Wired online also put out a story about its troubles. Thought you might find it intriguing since it shows some faults of the free to play model.
In my opinion, they tried to make an “honest” free to play game that did not force the user into purchasing content since the only purchase-able items are extra teams and an upgrade to increase the number of concurrent games a user can have (although the latter was added in August after they started seeing the funding trouble arise). They also did not put any ads or consumable game currency into the game in an attempt to force the user to buy into the experience. So in essence, they gave the game away for free with no serious limitations on it. It will be interesting to see what changes they choose to make to make the game profitable.
Anyway, if you get a chance, try One Man Left’s Tilt to Live for iOS. The classic and code red modes do a great job of capturing the “one more game” mentality of some of the old arcade games. I am sure that it is a game that you will enjoy.
Also, on the Wii U front, the developers behind Little Inferno are under the impression that the Wii U e-shop will be opening in November. Really wish Nintendo would put out some info about the online store so that we could decide if it is worth the money. I’m still holding out hope that the Wii VC games will update to include gamepad support.
Finally, I wanted to back up your claim about kids and Minecraft. I teach computers and technology for grades 5-8 and I must say the number 1 game that the kids want to play when I give them free time is Minecraft. I’m trying to think through some ideas on incorporating it into class. Right now, for 8th grade, we are going to do a Hunger Games reenactment :) It runs laggy on our old 2004 computers in my lab but I think an upgrade is on the horizon for the lab (fingers crossed). If not, I’m going to try to acquire some AGP cards. We have a slightly better lab that we got from free from the state surplus but Minecraft gives the bad video card driver error on them.
Thanks for writing all the informative articles. It has been great reading your stuff.
2005: “Everyone will love Xbox 360 for its HD graphics!”
2012: “Minecraft, with its N64 graphics, dominates Xbox 360 usage.”
Back when I fell in love with Minecraft when it was in its Alpha, I remember writing much about how it felt like how Zelda or Metroid did during the 8-bit generation. It felt like you had so much you could do. There was so much freedom. And we know Minecraft wasn’t specifically designed for kids which blows up the typical Game Industry group-think. Minecraft is a game that people of all ages can play and enjoy just as with the classic arcade and 8-bit games. Once upon a time, games were made with the free-wheeling ambition of Minecraft. Then came the Game Industry. And after that, there came the ‘hardcore gamers’ which were brainwashed gamers by the industry (A hardcore gamer protests, “Brainwashed, how?” Don’t look, Mr. Hardcore, but a new ‘best game ever released in the industry’ has come out and collector’s edition boxes are selling right now. If put down $100 now, you get special DLC from Gamestop. “Oh noes.” The hardcore runs off to Gamestop. Totally brainwashed.)
About the F2P model, I’m very uncomfortable with game makers obsessing over ‘business models’ these days.
“But don’t you say we all should learn more about business?”
Yes. But all business revolves around sales. Let’s say you make a video game that has dead babies in it. I would say, “You want to sell your video game. You might consider dead babies to be an expression of your creativity or whatever, but they will make people not wish to buy your product. Since the dead babies don’t add anything to the game, it is for your own self interest to remove them.”
The response tends to be, “What!? Self-censorship!?? Damn you, Malstrom! I will FORCE everyone to acknowledge my dead babies as an indicator of my creative genius!”
This isn’t a good attitude to take. Has anyone seen the movie Rudy? In the movie, there is a black football player who eventually tells Rudy to not give up because he did. He said that he got an attitude, believing he wasn’t being played because of the color of his skin, and that attitude made him so angry that he gave up on his dream.
What I see going on in young game makers (or young people who want to be game makers) is an attitude that selling, or business interests, is at odds with their ‘creativity’. It’s as absurd as saying the computer is at odds with their ‘creativity’.
We hear about the game makers who made great and classic games, but we do not hear about the game makers who sat on the bench as wallflowers as time marched by. In the early 80s, there were many ‘how to make video games’ type books. For every game maker that made it, there were at least ten times as many that failed. The most common reason is that they never tried. Imagine someone saying, “I can’t make a game because computers are too primitive.” While Miyamoto is making Donkey Kong and Namco is making Pac-Man, these people are sitting around declaring how creative they are and how they aren’t ‘sell-outs’ while others build the future. As we know today, the limitations of computers didn’t hurt creativity but enhanced it. Mario would not be what he is without the limitations of computers.
In the same way, the obstacles that business interests represent should serve as inspiration. So what if the gaming audience is a bunch of kids? PC game makers sneered at the NES because it had a ton of kids playing it. They weren’t playing the ‘real games’ on the Commodore 64 and other PCs. Today, everyone knows about the NES classics yet those ‘great’ games of the PC in those times are forgotten. If I mentioned them to you, the reader would not know what I was talking about. The game makers who said, “Oh, a kid audience. This should be interesting in how it influences what I make,” found success (one example is the company Rare). And then they make something that everyone loves and remembers.
Out of all I’ve seen, the business talk you hear is an artificial barrier to confuse people from getting serious about business. It’s the same reason why schools are set up to teach people how to get a job but not how to make their own company. They don’t use ‘normal talk’ on purpose because many in the business world are selfish and don’t want you to realize how to make your own wealth. So don’t think of words like ‘customer’ to be some sort of ‘business word’. A customer is actually your neighbor or friend. What is a game maker but a hobbyist who says, “I will give you my game for X money.” They very much respect the person’s act of giving them money. What could be better? You do what you love, and people give you money for it. As long as you keep your delusions of godhood away (which is a healthy exercise for all), people will keep buying.
All these ‘new business models’ the game makers are conjuring have something in common: all of them are running away from the art of selling. Free-to-Play removes selling. Sure, people might buy hats or something, but they aren’t buying the game. There is no art of selling about the game. It is like giving away books for free and charging for covers. The only reason why I can think someone would do that is if they were so scared of rejection. Rejection is never fun, but it is necessary for growth. The only way to not get rejected by the market is to not do anything.
I fear game makers are going to turn into that creative writing class where no one sells anything and everyone’s mission is to get into touch with their ‘creativity’.
How did gaming get to this point where we GIVE games away for free? Do you know the most famous Free-to-Use model? It was in the early 1990s when the Internet began to be popularized. The newspapers put their news online on the Internet for free. A decade later, the newspaper business was destroyed. Today, no one believes they should pay for their news.
The same might happen with gaming.