Thar She Blows: An Editorial on Free-to-Play Games

by 10/24/2016
Hey guys, Eric here. Been a while since I did one of these... let's see if I can remember how to do this. Ahem. Welcome to the Wraith Blog! Wait... no, no... this is a topic much too serious for all the joking around I'm usually known for when I do these. This is about the current direction that free-to-play puzzle games, but really all free-to-play games, are going in lately. So yes, this may come across a little preachy on my end, but I promise I bring this up out of love for the industry.


For about six years now I've been what one could consider a “developer.” I think Jay may think I should claim a bit longer, but I wouldn't feel comfortable with that. But six years in not really a long time if one thinks about it. But when something is in one's life as much as design can be in an indie dev's life things become all the more noticeable, and when one project has been one's focus as long as some of ours have been the other titles our game would be compared to seem to grab my attention all the more.

Now, I'm a believer of the sentiment of “don't bring a criticism up if you can't suggest an alternative.” So when I begin to say that the current trend of how most free-to-play games using its “stamina” system or “lives” system is a poor way to monetize a game, I've thought long and hard of alternatives. These systems drain a bar or counter generally that must “recharge” over time... that is unless you want to drop real cash on their shop to refill said bar or counter. An amount of real cash that has NEVER once seemed fair in value. By the time a consumer has had to buy a recharge once or twice it generally amounts to one of the premium titles, if not more! Even trying to be wholly objective on this idea, I simply cannot see how this is at best borderline anti-consumer, or at worst something even put into a game so that the player will need to “recharge” often... or be forced to wait sometimes an entire day before being able to play again.

As I said before, I have suggestions... suggestions Wraith even considered before we decided Collapsus would simply be a low-cost premium title. Most of the suggestions I'll give generally has a means to implement no matter a game's engine or suite used to design it.

The first I would say is how about having an ad play every few stages or puzzles completed? It can be done while the next stage loads, so there's no down time in play. Such ads could even mask long load times if your game is having them, it all depends on the API used. Next I would say why is it so horrible to take a small portion of the screen, no more than ten percent, and allow banners to roll? Yes, it may be annoying to the player, but it would only be an issue at the start. The human mind if HIGHLY skilled at turning out of information not wanted. Besides, I think we would all agree that a small banner out of view from the game's main focus is much more enjoyable than the constant use of time gates being used in most games today. What about solely cosmetic DLCs? I've even seen a game on Steam that is free-to-play but once fans wanted to give the developers SOMETHING, the devs implemented content-less DLCs for their players to buy. The DlC literally does nothing, but it's a way the player can play the game and objectively “pay what they want.”

Too often games design themselves for the “whales” of indie game... the players with more money than time. These whales drop hundreds, and even thousands, on a single game and the developers know it. So they design the game around the smallest minority in mind and bring the largest population of their game to holding naught much else than by annoyance and even contempt for the devs and even other players.

We all want our games to survive and make it out there in the wild. To be successful... and yes, to bring income. But can't we do things a little more consumer and industry friendly? Games are becoming more and more scrutinized by critics and news shows. We need to have our best foot forward when addressing the public and growing our industry. It takes more than on company doing this... we need to stand united in building the industry and indie scene!

In short, stop with the whale hunting. Let the game be itself...