Posted by: seanmalstrom | March 27, 2015

Email: Iwata dislikes the “Free to play” model

I’m sure you’d like this article.
Free to play really is a misnomer because it’s not free.  When you start out, you can play free for a while but eventually you hit a pay wall where you either have to wait for lives or whatever to reload or pay to continue.  Now not all games do this horribly.  Nintendo themselves rolled out two free to play games on the 3DS: Rusty’s Real Deal Baseball which I haven’t played and Pokémon Shuffle which is really just Candy Crush with Pokémon faces.  I’ve played the latter and basically you get five lives and when they’re out you can either buy more on the eshop or just wait a day for them to refill.  I expect these two games to show up as their first mobile games.
But I don’t like how a lot of companies have abused the Free to Play model.  Some of the greatest offenders are the ones you see advertised a lot.  EA abused the name of Dungeon Keeper to try to cash in on some nostalgia to make an awful game designed to take everyone’s money and Square Enix abused fans love of the old sprite based Final Fantasy with All the Bravest.
This describes Final Fantasy All the Bravest for you:
But of course the worst one is Clash of Clans.
I downloaded Clash of Clans out of curiosity and deleted after a couple days. No way in hell I was spending money on it and I didn’t feel like sitting around waiting for stuff to refill or making the mistake of not logging on for too long and having all my troops die and I kept thinking “how is this popular?  Sure it’s free but surely people realize this is a scam and delete it?”  Then I saw a recent South Park episode that  had a good idea that the makers of the free to play games use the same strategy as casinos in that they use a lot of flashing lights and such and make it just fun enough to hook people in and that small amount gets addicted and throws money away. That and making money off kids whose parents forgot to lock out in app purchases.
Maybe if Nintendo does start making mobile games with the same quality they made stuff like Wii Sports, it will take revenue away from Supercell and the like.


The more I look at this, I think it is wrong to blame the software companies for the casino based pricing.

The real problem is the hardware companies such as Apple and Samsung. Both of them get their money from the hardware. They have NO INTEREST in making software expensive just as Microsoft had no interest in making hardware expensive. Microsoft convinced so many companies that computers should be as cheap as possible. All the computer companies bankrupted themselves by competing at the bottom. Now everything has flipped around with software companies bankrupting themselves by competing at the bottom.

The reason for the casino model, for in app purchases, is entirely due to the expectation that software be free. Who made this expectation? The hardware companies such as Apple and Samsung.

You know what Nintendo is saying? They are saying, “Fuck you. You should pay for software too. There is no free lunch.”

Iwata is right to avoid the phrase ‘free to play’ because it gives the expectation that the game is free, that the game is freeware.

So many problems of gaming business are solvable in gaming history. For example, the Wii came from looking at the Atari 2600 and NES which analysts, not enthusiasts, ignored which is why they missed the boom.

Has gaming always been paid for like a box in a retail store? The answer is a flat out NO!

This is from the wikipedia of Akalabeth:

When the game reached version D&D28b later that year (where “28b” refers to the revision), he demoed the game – now renamed to Akalabeth – for his boss at a Clear Lake City, Texas-area ComputerLand, who suggested he sell the game in the store. Garriott consented and spent $200 to package and sell the game for $20 inside Ziploc bags, with photocopied instructions and a cover drawn by his mother. It warned “BEWARE FOOLISH MORTAL, YOU TRESPASS IN AKALABETH, WORLD OF DOOM!!”, and claimed to offer “10 different Hi-Res Monsters combined with perfect perspective and infinite dungeon levels”. California Pacific Computer Company received a copy, and contacted Garriott to publish the game. Garriott flew to California with his parents and agreed to receive $5 for each copy sold. The retail price of the California Pacific version, with cover artwork by Denis Loubet, was $35; Garriot claims that the game sold 30,000 copies, with him receiving $150,000, and that Akalabeth had the best return on investment, with later games “all downhill from there”. The company suggested that for marketing purposes “Lord British” be credited as the author, and organized a contest for Softalk readers to figure out his true identity.

This is just one example out of many to show how PC games were sold. They were sold in a zip-loc bag.

I am actually currently in Clear Lake City, Texas, right in the area of the Space Center, writing to you this post. This is one reason why I chose that example.

Gaming looked to other industries for inspiration such as board games and music albums.

I remember some games being packaged like record disks. You had a huge square which opened up and the floppy disks were inside.

I don’t want to focus on the packaging though. The reason why games were sold at stores was because of distribution. However, disk systems meant games could be easily copied. This brought about copyprotection schemes.

But copying was used to some game companies’ advantage.

Ahh, Scorched Earth. It is the MOTHER OF ALL GAMES. “How do you know that, Malstrom?” It said so in the title screen:

Scorched Earth is a WORLD OF TANKS (does this sound familiar?). The game was ‘free’. You could pay to get a better tank. The point is that everything new has precedent before.

In the 1990s, there was FREEWARE which was software or games that were free or SHAREWARE which were games that were free but you paid money for more episodes and levels.

Doom, one of the most genre defining games ever, was FREE TO PLAY because it was SHAREWARE.

Epic was also making FREE TO PLAY games because the games were shareware. Jazz Jackrabbit, Jill of the Jungle, and Epic Pinball were shareware games. Above is Epic Pinball’s menu because the music is so damn awesome.

Here is the origin of how shareware and freeware for PCs came about in the first place. Interesting read.

One of the reasons why it says shareware became so popular is because of CLUBS. Clubs meaning like computer clubs where the nerds would meet at the library. With shareware, they could all use that software and play together.


Evil id! Evil Epic! How dare they! They ought to be flayed alive!

“What now, Malstrom, is the problem?”

They only gave me one episode for free. They refuse to give me the rest of the game for free. Outrage! Outrage!

The only people who acted like this were eight year old kids. No one thought they were getting ‘screwed’ because only part of the game was free.

I don’t think these ‘Free to play’ companies are trying to do something sneaky. Due to the hardware market forces, this is the only way they can make a sustainable business.

Iwata’s ‘free to start’ comments coincide perfectly with shareware.

Did shareware destroy gaming?

Did id destroy gaming?

Did Epic destroy gaming?


I think gaming is going to be OK. Free to play is not a new phenomenon, it is AN EXTREMELY OLD ONE. It is putting games in boxes and placing them on a store shelf which has less precedence.




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