The Sunday Papers

By Graham Smith on February 9th, 2014 at 10:30 am.

Bet there's chewing gum on the underside of this table.

Sundays are for visiting family in the frigid north, before the country detaches and sets sail to hang out with Iceland. They’re also for reading pre-prepared game writings from across the week.

  • OXM UK’s Edwin Evans-Thirwell takes to The Guardian to write about how videogames provide his brother, who has Down’s Syndrome, with a mechanism by which to escape the expectations placed upon him. “We expect “disabled” people – that’s to say, the vast spectrum of individuals branded as such for convenience’s sake – to be passive, unaware, content to live within tacit, carefully managed social nooks in exchange for support and guidance. We don’t expect them to recognise such overtures for what they are: well-meant, but limiting. We don’t expect them to break the rules. We don’t expect them to cheat. By contrast, most video games outright encourage you to misbehave, or at least refrain from bringing down the gavel when you do: it’s what makes them such wonderful, liberating escapism.”
  • Polygon give the long treatment to an oral history of Street Fighter 2. It needs a knife, but there’s enough interesting anecdotes to see you through. “At one point, [Yasuda] wanted to live a healthy life, so he said, “OK I’m going to drink milk.” So he’d always buy these little packs of milk. He’d be working, and then he’d reach down to his little milk packs and drink them. Around his desk, he had like 100 of these packs. So he’d grab one, shake it, and whenever he’d find one with milk in it, he’d drink it and put it back, without even looking at it. And he never knew what the expiration dates were. So he started drinking milk to be healthy, but he was always complaining he had diarrhea.”
  • Jonathan Blow tweeted this earlier in the week. I Want A Clone is a Tumblr displaying screengrabs of cloned or reskinned games, and of people who want to hire a developer to produce a clone. “i need someone to Remake the Same idea of Flappy Bird but with levels and In app Purchase , i also need a same graphic style . i want it for iPad & iPhone . I need the game to have Smooth and Good physics .”
  • Pete Davison on Eurogamer writes about how Dungeon Keeper’s mobile reincarnation, and its F2P gubbins, is a symptom of a wider problem. “Herein lies a serious problem with the mobile games industry as a whole right now: good game design is frequently sacrificed in the name of making something more likely to make money. Players are not respected as people who want to have fun; they’re treated as resources who need to be exploited. “Friction” is created by making players wait, or by not quite giving them enough money to do something, or, in some cases, by limiting the number of actions they may take in a single day through an energy bar or lives system, and the only way to alleviate the “fun pain” that “friction” creates is by paying.”
  • There are plenty of good examples of free-to-play models, but disappointingly few on mobile. I don’t buy the standard industry defence that this is ‘what people want’, either. I know people who aren’t gamers who play free games on mobile that they wouldn’t have tried if there was an upfront fee, but they’re just as frustrated by the waits and microtransactions as anyone else. They don’t want the model, either. The issue lies in marketing: how do you get people who don’t engage with the games press, and who are cautious purchasers, to pay a fee for games upfront? Corrupting the market and the games with exploitative mechanics is surely only a short-term solution.

  • It’s been a week for mobile games. Flappy Bird has flown to absurd heights, and ruffled some feathers in the process. I quite like the game, but Kotaku stick the knife in over its Mario-like art. In the same week, the creator announced he’s taking the game down. A shame. Key (funniest) quote: “Weird to think that some kids might grow up thinking these are “Flappy Bird pipes.”"
  • Ian Bogost writes a deeper piece about Flappy Bird for the Atlantic, acknowledging its limitations but celebrating its “squalid grace”. This is a good ‘un: “To understand Flappy Bird, we must accept the premise that games are squalid, rusty machinery we operate in spite of themselves. What we appreciate about Flappy Bird is not the details of its design, but the fact that it embodies them with such unflappable nonchalance. The best games cease to be for us (or for anyone) and instead strive to be what they are as much as possible. From this indifference emanates a strange squalor that we can appreciate as beauty.”
  • Professional tweeter/occasional game maker Mike Bithell, of Thomas Was Alone and Volume, writes On Success. This is the sort of thing you’re not supposed to say or complain about, so props to Mike for writing it. “The internet will hate you. Because you’re fat. Because you’re ugly. Because you’re hot. Because you are a woman, or god help you, a person of colour. They will believe you don’t deserve it. They will chase you down, find out personal info, the works. Journalists and bloggers might weigh in too, if they think it’s worth the clicks.”
  • A short but good ‘un from last year: Why Sid Meier’s name is on his games. It’s worth looking beyond the use of “addicting” in the first paragraph to learn it’s maybe because of Robin Williams.
  • I imagine the best feature about this has yet to be written, so news stories will have to do for now. The deaf composer of music for Resident Evil is neither deaf, nor a composer.
  • Music this week is Lullatone. It’s all good, but start with Soundtracks for Everyday Adventures.

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97 Comments »

  1. smoozles says:

    The link to Polygon doesn’t work

    • ajf0 says:

      music link does nae work either

    • FrumiousBandersnatch says:

      It seems to be an html mess-up which swallows a whole paragraph of text in the link.
      From the Source code:
      <li>Polygon give the long treatment to <a href="typically overwritten</a>“>an oral history of Street Fighter 2</a>. It needs a knife, but there’s enough interesting anecdotes to see you through. “At one point, [Yasuda] wanted to live a healthy life, so he said, “OK I’m going to drink milk.” So he’d always buy these little packs of milk. He’d be working, and then he’d reach down to his little milk packs and drink them. Around his desk, he had like 100 of these packs. So he’d grab one, shake it, and whenever he’d find one with milk in it, he’d drink it and put it back, without even looking at it. And he never knew what the expiration dates were. So he started drinking milk to be healthy, but he was always complaining he had diarrhea.”</li><li>Jonathan Blow tweeted this earlier in the week. <a href=">I Want A Clone</a> is a Tumblr displaying screengrabs of cloned or reskinned games, and of people who want to hire a developer to produce a clone. “i need someone to Remake the Same idea of Flappy Bird but with levels and In app Purchase , i also need a same graphic style . i want it for iPad &amp; iPhone . I need the game to have Smooth and Good physics .”</li>

    • phenom_x8 says:

      I’m reading through the article now, I’m fascinated by how extensive it was and the one who have wrote it must be spent years to get it right (its a years I reckoned… just read it in the 5th paragraph), it feels like reading an article from a magazine (ahhh… paper, I forgot how many years since the last time I read it).
      Top quality I guess.
      http://www.polygon.com/a/street-fighter-2-oral-history

      P.S. : And another history/documentary about Kaz Hirai (Gran Turismo series) for free

      I love how Playstation try to make video game a culture and not just make it another cash grabbing machine (like M$ did with XOne)

      One things Japanese developer are totally great is in something called attention to detail (reminds me with Outrun 2 interview in the dead end thrils series few months back)

    • Graham Smith says:

      Fixed. Sorry all.

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  2. CameO73 says:

    The “I want a clone” link should probably be http://iwantaclone.tumblr.com/

  3. subedii says:

    I think technically that Dungeon Keeper piece is “USGamer” (affiliated, but basically US based). Eurogamer had their own one:

    http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2014-02-08-console-developers-need-to-look-at-dungeon-keeper-and-learn

    Frankly though I’m appalled at all these articles and fanboys trying to sully the creator’s artistic vision. If you’ve got some incredibly brilliant ideas for making a video game, then here’s an idea: go make a video game. But no, you’re just going to loudly crap on about how impatient you are. So shut it.

    … Is basically the defense I expect now. Preemptively cynical I know. But really, ALL of these sites have spent so long defending these very practices for years, and it only really comes to a head now (I don’t think I’ve seen so many publications posting editorials on the same F2P game)? Because it’s Dungeon Keeper, and it’s following the Clash of Clans model? Because it’s EA? Because it’s safe to deride these practices now that everyone else has?

    • Pich says:

      Beacuse it’s fucking unplayable unless you shell out 100+ bucks, because it use the corpse of a classic game.
      it’s the straw that broke the camel’s back

    • Badgercommander says:

      I think sites have given F2P the benefit of the doubt in the hope that it’d evolve into something more palatable, rather than “defending” exactly.

      As others have said, this game pushed it a little too far because not only is it one of the worst examples in market where it only seems to be getting worse but it’s also sullying the name of a beloved series in the process.

    • Sam says:

      The great sea of pay-to-not-suffer mobile games are seen by most “core gamers” as not being for them. Instead they’re for all those fools that don’t understand how real games work, people who don’t even know what that the WASD keys are for. It’s fine for those saps to pay $100 to get through a series of match-3 puzzles; they deserve it for not putting in the time learning about proper games. But Dungeon Keeper is meant to be a game for real gamers, not these fake casual gamers. (Internet comment note: I don’t actually hold these views about game playing demographics, they are presented here as caricature.)

      Dungeon Keeper represents the possibility that the core gamer market’s games may be getting swallowed up by the more financially successful models used in mobile games. It is an existential threat to the existence of big budget core games. Who’s going to pay to make a Stalker sequel when you can make much more money from a free to play competitive shooter?

      • Shuck says:

        It’s partially about the two markets – the casual and core (the casual market having tolerated these kinds of revenue models, the core gamers not being exposed to them so much) – but it’s also about the increasing market share of mobile games. Mobile is becoming a major platform, and we’re seeing more games designed for mobile and then ported to PC. There’s also a hugely deflated pricing expectation for mobile, so some kind of free-to-play model becomes mandatory if developers want to stay in business. PC gaming is also seeing a deflationary pressure that’s made worse by ports of mobile games, as PC gamers (or at least RPS and its readers) get upset by paying PC gaming prices for mobile games (even when the free-to-play revenue streams have been stripped out for the PC release). So the possibility that the most abusive of the mobile-style free-to-play revenue models will end up in PC game seems quite likely.

      • NathanMates says:

        You still own any copy/copies of Dungeon Keeper you have. It doesn’t matter what EA does or doesn’t do with tangentially related games on other platforms, your copies — especially as it’s a 100% offline game that EA can’t ever revoke access or change a byte on your system — are still untouched. (And, keep your CDs & Gog installers well backed up to ensure that!)

        Yes, it seems that EA took a dump over that franchise. Not the first time, probably won’t be the last time. And if you think that getting mad will make EA change a damn thing, I’ve got two words for you: Episode I. Creators have the right to take dumps all over their franchises, and getting mad at that movie didn’t really get any sort of apology from Lucas. Because the owner is in control. Not the fans. As I said above, at least there is no way for EA to mess with your existing games.

        • Consumatopia says:

          “It doesn’t matter what EA does or doesn’t do with tangentially related games on other platforms, your copies”

          Who cares about my copies? The point isn’t whether you or I can play the original, or to change the behavior of foolish copyright holders. The point is our cultural heritage and history–letting people know that original Dungeon Keeper/Star Wars was better, keeping the original alive and inspiring future artists to learn from them.

    • Lone Gunman says:

      It is because people have this thing called ethics, a large amount of people like to complain about what they see as exploitative buisness practices.

  4. Viroso says:

    “Players are not respected as people who want to have fun; they’re treated as resources who need to be exploited”

    That’s cool. Imagine, there’s this big pile of money buried beneath tons of “unwillingness”. A bunch of scientists developing the best drilling method to get to the money, working on the most efficient methods to mine it. Like the games are a sophisticated drillers and the players are this solid, constant obstacle to the big piles of money.

    • TechnicalBen says:

      With anthrax and water torture… Yeah, “science” has no morals, It’s only a tool and not a person, so it can be problematic to find the “ideal” profit mechanism. As no doubt it will only benefit the company, and not the consumer.

      As we live in a world with more than one person, we tend to look at helping more than just the one person/company. Besides, it’s also suicidal for a company to run for those large profit margins, as it’s not sustainable in the economy.

      • GernauMorat says:

        TechincalBen- Well put

        • TechnicalBen says:

          Well the drilling example works when it’s a mutually beneficial product or service. Everyone is drilling the ground. If your drilling people though, that’s not nice! :O

          • Asurmen says:

            Tell that to your mum.

            Yes, I am immature. Thanks for asking.

  5. BooleanBob says:

    I don’t know why it’s taken the Dungeon Keeper furore to bring this to a head, but I’m glad it has, because until now much of the games media’s response to the problem – which has been brewing for several years now – has smacked of well-intentioned apologism.

    Terminology is at the root of it all, here. Yes, there are “plenty of good examples of free-to-play models”, and this is the line that always gets trotted out (usually by concerned journos, but with a concern equal parts 1) interests of their readership and 2) a fence-sitting inclination to not appear on the wrong side of history). But while completely true it is also unfortunately misleading, because the good examples are so functionally removed from the majority scenario, i.e. outright abuse of the user, as to no longer warrant sharing the same definition.

    Which is to say that the problem is the cover provided by the over-generously broad term ‘free-to-play’ itself. If the gaming press wants to help clean up this mess in its back yard, I’d suggest a good first step would be recognising that many of these games – really, the majority of these games – should no longer qualify for the descriptor. Call them something else. Paywall Games, Free-to-Wait Games, anything, as long as its accurate and different.

    At least then, if (and when) this sort of foul, consumer-hostile approach begins to rear its head in places it has no right to belong – like premium full-whack software – you’ll have positioned yourselves better to address it: you won’t have to tie yourself in knots with linguistic bamboozlement like talking about the presence of free-to-play mechanics in, um, pay-to-play games.

    Language shapes thinking, so we need to change the way we talk about these games in order to prevent sinister developers from practising their exploitative scams under the cover of the few games that respect their users and do free-to-play the right way.

    • unangbangkay says:

      But there already are plenty of terms to distinguish individual titles’ business models within the broader category of “Free-to-Play”. There are Energy Games, Timer Games, Pay-to-Speed games, Item Store Games, Hybrid F2P’s, Tiered Games, Click-to-Collect games, Idlers, and so on.

      The difference is that the terms are mostly unofficial (a sign of F2P’s relative youth), and unknown to people who don’t normally pay much attention to F2P’s (which includes much of the gaming press and core gamers who would rather look down their nose at it). The only thing different about Dungeon Keeper iOS is that it’s using a brand people cared about, which got them all riled up.

      As with the Machinima fiasco earlier, the only news here is that EA happened to be the ones who were dumb enough to let themselves get noticed.

    • Slazer says:

      Also, inside this terminology you still have to watch how strong these models are applied.

      While some games still allow you to do many things without paying a cent, and just boosting fun and progress once you throw in some cash, it seems like DK puts the Chinese Wall in front of you all the time

  6. PopeRatzo says:

    There are plenty of good examples of free-to-play models

    I disagree. There are some that are less creepy than others, but none that have produced a really good game.

    • Bremze says:

      Business models can make a game worse if they impact game design decisions too much but business models don’t make a game good nor do they make a game at all. Sounds like you haven’t played a game with the f2p model that you deem good or more likely haven’t played a game that you would deem good because you avoided it due to the business model.

    • SpinalJack says:

      These are some of the f2p games that are considered good:

      Team Fortress 2
      Defence of the Ancients
      League Of Legends
      World of Tanks
      Realm Of The Mad God (though it appears to be down)
      Tribes Ascend
      Path of Exile
      Warframe
      Planetside 2

      • Koozer says:

        Yeah, but apart from all of those, what have the Romans ever done for us?

      • unangbangkay says:

        It’s worth pointing out (and something many folks in this comment thread seem not to have noticed in their rush to pile onto the F2P-hating bandwagon), is that nearly all of the examples of “F2P done right” being cited in both the Eurogamer and USgamer articles as well as the one on Baekdal and still others, including this very comment thread are almost all PC-based.

        The doomsaying and camel back-breaking is occurring mostly on a platform that’s not even technically in RPS’ scope of regular coverage.

        This isn’t to say that the PC gaming master race is safe, but folks using these articles as stepping stones to deride F2P as a concept are reaching.

      • Vinraith says:

        TF2 began life as a paid game, DoTA was a mod (unless you mean DoTA 2).

        • shaydeeadi says:

          Pedantry aside they are still examples of F2P games that aren’t completely designed to plunder your bank account.

          • The Random One says:

            Sorry, but I’m going to stand by that pedantry. Ratzo’s point is that if you design your game to be F2P you’ll allow monetary concerns to overcome gameplay concerns. A game that wasn’t designed as F2P will likely not have these ingrained at such a deep level. The fact that TF2, for instance, ends up having despicable gambling boxes is not a steering defense of the model.

            Realm of the Mad God, conversely, is perfect, and I’ll slap anyone who claims otherwise.

          • shaydeeadi says:

            But TF2 had keys and chests a long time before it went F2P, and they were completely optional. You never fell behind the rest of the playerbase as a result of not paying £1.49 a time to open them. (At least when I used to play it) you got enough through drops to keep yourself in a flow of new equipment and I think the direct hit, which I got in my second game of TF2, was the most fun rocket launcher, the lifesteal one was ok and I crafted that.

            DOTA2 is a game that shines as an example of F2P done right in the extreme, all drops and purchasable items are cosmetic and everyone has access to the same pool of heroes and in game equipment.

      • Steven Hutton says:

        For every game you mention on that list (that I’ve played) the business model is harmful to the quality of the final product.

        • Jenks says:

          Absolutely agreed. Every F2P game has pay for cheat codes, its just up to you what kind of cheat codes you find acceptable. I’d change “F2P done right” to “F2P done less offensively but still awful.”

          • malkav11 says:

            I think cheat codes, as you put it, are not the sort of thing that matters unless the game design is intentionally skewed in order to make you buy them just to have an enjoyable experience, or they are competitive games in which the competitive balance is skewed by payment. I can’t really comment on the latter because I don’t enjoy competitive games pretty much at all regardless of the payment model, but I can vouch for neither Realm of the Mad God nor Path of Exile requiring any sort of financial investment for enjoyment and would add Marvel Heroes to the list, as well as Fallen London and The Kingdom of Loathing.

            That said, I feel like there’s an unrealistic mindset at work that expects these games not to have any business model at all. Like the use of the word free means it should just be free, full stop, and not have any way to make money on it at all. And while that’s feasible for individual creators or small teams, if they have some other source of income and are doing the games as more of a hobby project, it’s not a realistic expectation for mainstream games. That doesn’t mean I’m not disgusted by a lot of the more grossly exploitative models, like are rife on Facebook and mobile (paying for stuff in Mafia Wars is basically lighting money on fire for all the benefit the consumer is actually deriving), or that I’m wild about cash shops turning up in games that cost up front as well, but I am okay with spending money on games I enjoy. I just want reasonable pricing, a strong core design that’s not compromised by the business model, and I want that money to have a permanent effect on my game experience. (I will not ever pay money for time limited boosts or one off refreshes or whatever. Fuck that.)

        • bleeters says:

          I do wonder which ones you’ve played, then. I can’t speak for most of them, but Path of Exile’s f2p model doesn’t affect the actual gameplay in any way that I noticed. Paying to make your sword glow or have a frog follow you around is about the extent of interference microtransactions have on that game.

        • drvoke says:

          Since its too far down the comment tree, i am replying to malkav11s comment above. The problem with f2p games isn’t that they charge money at all, all of us here are happy to pay for games that are actually good. The issue with f2p is that it is manipulative. Games have a business model already: you pay an up front cost for access, and if you’re some kind of craven addict, you can also pay a monthly subscription for access to certain games as well.

          The important distinction is that all of the associated costs are up front with the traditional business model. A prescribed price is presented to the customer/player who can then make an informed decision about the value/money trade off and if that makes sense for you. It’s been quite successful for countless games over the ages. But f2p hides costs from players obfuscating them by the use of in-game currency or real money shops you don’t know you will need or visit until you’ve already spent time in a game.

          They do this because they know that this works to get people to pay more money for a game than they otherwise would have if the value for money comparison was visible up front. Many people who would scoff at paying $15 for one of these little games will end up paying $30-$100+ without realizing the true cost beforehand. They are preying on actual, known psychological mechanisms to take advantage of peoples innate vulnerabilities in order to turn a profit. They are worse than casinos for the most part, becuse they’re unregulated and there isn’t even a chance you can “win” your money back.

          If you think manipulating people for personal gain is okay, then I don’t know what else to say, but in case you were really as confused about why this concept is so odious as your post suggests, I hope this reply has brought some clrity

          • Max.I.Candy says:

            “Many people who would scoff at paying $15 for one of these little games will end up paying $30-$100+ without realizing the true cost beforehand.”

            Yup. I am one of these people its targeted at, and its happened on several games this year already (where amount paid has exceeded a one off cost).
            As the cost is spread over time, its easier for me to throw money at it, and that’s what they are exploiting.

          • malkav11 says:

            There are real, valid reasons to explore business models that aren’t the traditional large up front cost, including the phenomenon you mention – people balk at that cost and never even try it, but when they can play it for free, they discover it’s something they’re willing to spend money on. You see that as exploitation, and certainly sometimes it can be (I expressed my disgust at that sort of predatory business practice in my comment, which you seem to have ignored), but it isn’t necessarily, and what it definitely does do is open the game to a significantly wider audience. Other reasons include the difficulty and expense of creating standalone demos, the perceived threat of piracy (if they want your game for free, well…that’s one way to give them that in a way that still offers a revenue stream), funding ongoing development in a way that’s more opt-in and case by case than the subscription model, etc.

            There are also reasons to be leery of it as a business model, including the obfuscated pricing, the rarity and penuriousness of sales, etc, but these aren’t inherent to F2P as a business model, merely some issues with how it’s been implemented in a significant number of F2P games. And one of those reasons is certainly not “but it says free and then wants money”.

          • P.Funk says:

            My biggest problem with the business model is that F2P guts the core of the game. TF2 arguably has the most benign F2P structure yet even that game suffered horribly thanks to F2P. Rather than a group of committed regular players who paid up front you end up with a transient group of hat collectors who have no notion of game strategy or class balance and simply suck ass.

            In the old days TF2 free weekends used to be groan worthy spiteful affairs as the servers were clogged with morons who wouldn’t coordinate for shit. Then F2P came and that became every day.

            That is a model which has zero effect on gameplay design, but which deeply affects the audience it draws. Basically the wide draw of F2P guts the quality of play.

            Its my opinion that F2P creates a half committed playerbase who don’t invest deeply in the game they play because its free.

          • malkav11 says:

            I hate to break it to you, but a lot of people that play videogames are not hardcore, committed, or skilled, and putting money down on a game doesn’t mean you’re going to play it or stick with it – I know I sure don’t stick with the majority of games I buy and it may be months or years before I get around to playing them at all. It’s possible that in some cases the F2P business model is creating less of a sense of investment and that’s decreasing the level of commitment some players make to a given game, but I strongly suspect that what you’re seeing is much more down to F2P creating a larger audience for the game with a longer tail and that most of those people are not the kind who master one or two games at a time. This doesn’t strike me as a bad thing, personally, but then, I’m not the kind of person that plays competitive games or masters a game or two a time, nor do I play multiplayer games with random strangers at all if I can help it.

          • P.Funk says:

            @malkav11

            Well I “hate to break it to you” as well, but I’m not some hardcore gamer who sits at home all day grinding out some esoteric skill set that applies only to some virtual hierarchy of frag measured success. I’m just a guy who plays games for fun. I loved TF2 because it was brilliantly balanced and the community was really really solid. Those who played regularly in the first few years weren’t mostly hardcore either.

            I’m not talking about competitive play here, I’m talking about run of the mill, selected at random public server play. Back then a random sample of the average quality of play on a given server was brilliant compared to what it is now. People didn’t have to be godlike, they just had to know their class and bother to coordinate. Even those who didn’t use mics would often heed the talkers and there’d be typers who coordinated as well.

            The measure of a successful TF2 team was its Heavy-Medic combo, or whether the medic(s) had any skill for building then triggering Ubercharges at the right moment to break the defender’s defenses or for a defending medic to trip his own Uber to counter that of the attacker’s. This all happened with randoms on random server, no special skills, no uber time commitment, just run of the mill TF2.

            F2P has changed the face of TF2. The draw of hat collection, the “economy” and now the asinine add on content directed at the “casual” player, the weird COOP versus Bots stuff for those petrified at the prospect of human versus human play, etc etc. Wouldn’t bother me if not for the fact that all these F2P randoms all desperately hump the Spy class and often you get no medics and most players don’t have a clue about their class because they don’t play it enough to care or to learn.

            I don’t care what you analysis of your own spending habits do to your play habits, but the effect that F2P had on TF2 is self evident to anyone who played before, during, and sadly after that transition. There are still great servers and communities, but you can’t just log in and find any old server and expect even a modest level of decent teamwork. That is something I have observed and experienced, not as a hardcore, but just as a dude who loved the game and who played it frequently.

          • malkav11 says:

            I’m not disputing the effect you feel it’s had on the community of the game. Anecdotally, the couple of times I dipped into TF2 post F2P transition drove me away because the level of play I found was high enough (and the maps being played were laid out such) that I couldn’t reliably play any role other than Medic and even then I almost never survived long enough to enjoy myself at all. I had much more luck back at launch. But I certainly haven’t played it enough before or since to have an informed opinion on that subject.

            I would, however, suggest that being “a dude who loved the game and played it frequently” makes you “hardcore” in comparison to the average gamer and that most people have never played any given competitive game nearly that much. So again, my theory is that it’s not that the business model leads to people not caring about the game, but rather that the business model allows a great deal more people to spend time with the game in passing that would probably not have cared enough to buy the game before. And the unfortunate consequence is that the folks who are passionate about the game are diluted by dilettantes. It happens. It’s only a bad thing if you’re in the former category, and alas, that is a minority, and not one that’s particularly profitable to cater to most of the time, especially with a game like TF2 that was a single one-off fee for infinite play.

  7. zachforrest says:

    ‘Success presents its own complications.’

    Fascinating stuff.

  8. dE says:

    I feel like there is a much scarier discussion at the heart of Dungeon Keeper and Co. These games aren’t just innocent games or simply bad games. The scary part is how they’re specifically tailored to how our brain works. They’re based on research about how to trigger certain reactions in the brain, how to tease the reward mechanism and induce self doubt, how to manipulate emotional states and strike when players are at their weakest.
    It’s easy to say “then don’t buy into it”, but I feel like that misses the scary part of these games. They’re explicitely crafted to bypass the conscious thought process and prey on weakness. It seems to me like these games are more like Drugs. First induce an emotional height, a rush of joy, then pull that away and demand money to experience that again. They’re set up so the blame always lies squarely at the feet of the player when it’s actually clever psychology and gameplay mechanisms set up as a paywall.

    There’s a noteworthy lecture about this by Ara Shirinian about the Deconstruction of Free To Play.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cQfv7ogLAqg#t=532

    It doesn’t go into the games as drugs argument, so if you want to lambast me for that, it’s still safe to watch the video. It however does make a few interesting observations about how Free to Play works in these kind of games.

    • Blackcompany says:

      The people behind this always make me think about the Sith in Star Wars. Seriously. Psychology is a brilliant field. It exists in order to enable us to help our fellow humans, often in their time of greatest need or hurt or sorrow. Psychology is a powerful tool intended to help us overcome hard times and emotional turmoil and make the best out of bad situations.

      Except when it isn’t.

      The people behind these games have perverted not only game design. They have perverted the field of psychology as well. For this pair of crimes – and I feel they actually ought to be criminal acts – I truly, deeply despise them. On a primal level. Its sickening to watch people who spend their lives learning in a field intended to help those most in need, who may be suffering quietly, turn around and inflict further suffering. Its a criminal act, in my mind.

      And it will also be the death of the games industry, if something isn’t done about it. Sooner of later people will cotton onto the fact there exist a segment of games that are developed as, essentially, electronic drugs. That these games mostly target vulnerable children and youth. When this happens, people will become angry. When people become angry, they cease to think and reason. When it reaches this point, all game developers are at risk of being lumped into one vicious, malevolent group through public outcry, and suffer heinous legislation that many do not deserve. The reckoning will come; the only thing I fear is that it will target all games makers, and not just those that deserve it.

      Were I the head of a publisher of big time games intended to legitimately entertain as opposed to addict, I would do all I could now to bring attention to this Sith-like element of gaming. To expose it. To cripple it. Because sooner or later the hammer will drop; the shoe will fall. When this happens, in the eyes of an angry public, if you’re not actively part of the solution, you are part of the problem. American is seeing this right now with health insurance companies who had years to make health care more reasonable being villainized in the eyes of the many even as government regulations choked their ability to function properly, while government steps in in the guise of the great protector and slowly expands its control over personal lives.

      So don’t think it can’t happen. If this sort of thing continues, one day, we will be told what we can or cannot play. At a given age. At all. We either fix this now or suffer serious consequences for our preferred hobby/past time down the road.

      • Koozer says:

        Sadly any field of science will be used for evil at some point or another. See: spears, poisons, bombs, mustard gas, Brainiac.

      • Sunjumper says:

        The same knoledge and techniques are also used in marketing and advertising and because it can be waved away by the ‘just don’t buy it then’ it gets ignored when it should at the very least be regulated.
        At the very best these practices are deeply unethical.

      • subedii says:

        Very relevant article as well, it runs through and categories all the key styles and how they’re meant to work on you (basically the less you realise it’s happening, the better).

        http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/RaminShokrizade/20130626/194933/The_Top_F2P_Monetization_Tricks.php

        This is a good one:

        Reward Removal

        This is my favorite coercive monetization technique, because it is just so powerful. The technique involves giving the player some really huge reward, that makes them really happy, and then threatening to take it away if they do not spend. Research has shown that humans like getting rewards, but they hate losing what they already have much more than they value the same item as a reward. To be effective with this technique, you have to tell the player they have earned something, and then later tell them that they did not. The longer you allow the player to have the reward before you take it away, the more powerful is the effect.

        Arguably Dungeon Keeper is an ‘ideal’ F2P game in context of monetization. It does all those things that most of these other phone games do. It just didn’t go far enough with the ‘obfuscation’. Not enough line before trying to reel them in.

  9. bill says:

    Dungeon keeper still seems to have a rating of 4/5 on the play store. And over a million downloads.

    So either it’s fixed, or the majority of mobile gamers seem fine with those kinds of practices. sigh.

    • Sam says:

      There’s a quite hilarious bit of design in the game, where if you try to rate it from within the app as anything other than 5/5, it simply doesn’t let you. By hilarious, I of course mean soul crushing.

    • dE says:

      Or you still haven’t heard about how they actually achieved that rating. The game actively funnels out people that would rate it lower than 5 stars by obfuscation of how the rating works. There comes a point in the game where you are offered a reward when you rate the game. You’ve got two options to go about this. Rate the game 1-4 Stars and be instantly dropped out of the voting process with some obscure “send an email to our support instead of rating, thanks”. Or click the option to rate the game 5 Stars. At which point you’re forwarded to the actual storefront where you actually get to rate the game.
      At this point, it is still possible to rate the game 1 star, even though you clicked 5 stars within the game. If you know how the storefront works and that the Developers have no way to check what you as an individual voted. Most people don’t and assume they have to stick to their 5 Star Rating. That’s how the 4.5 Stars happened, that EA likes to throw around.

      P.S.:
      The game is down to 2.5 Stars, so no, they are not that okay with it after all.

      • Stardreamer says:

        I’d heard DK mobile was bad but today’s report has shocked me with just how bad.

        But what you’ve just described…that’s fucking insidious. Trust EA to out-zynga Zynga!

  10. rokmek says:

    A person go to the market where he sees a lot of vendors, so he approach one.
    Person: Hi, what are all these stalls?
    Vendor: We are from a [product] making company, answers the man. What do you need?
    Person: Nothing really, thank you but I will be going.
    Vendor: Wait. Here, it is for free, just try it out. If you don’t like it you are not obligated to pay us anything.
    Person: How can I know you are a trustworthy person?
    Vendor: Please, just read all these positive customer testimonials about our [product].
    Person: It seems like a very good [product]. So I won’t have to ever pay for it?
    Vendor: Indeed we will always supply you, free of charge.
    Person: That is an awesome deal, thanks a lot. If there is anything I can do for you let me know.
    Vendor: Well there is one thing, after you try it out, just as your customer testimonial about what you think of it.
    Person: I will, see you later.
    That person tries the [product] and it is amazing, this is all he wanted for and it is free, he must let everyone know about it. He then proceed to write a positive testimonial. Sadly after a couple a hours the [product] runs out.
    Person: I must go to the vendor for more of it, he said it was free of charge. Hi vendor, I’m here for more.
    Vendor: Aren’t you the one that tried it out yesterday? I’m so sorry, I forgot to tell you that we can only supply you once per week.
    Person: What? You said free of charge.
    Vendor: Of course, free of charge once per week. If you want it today you will have to pay a fee, you know to fasten the process.
    Person: I have really enjoy it, and I want more, I don’t think I will be able to wait for a week. Ok, here is the money so I can have it faster.
    Vendor: A pleasure doing business with you, come here anytime.
    And so the vendor made millions of dollars with his business. No one can blame him about anything, after all he is just giving all those people what they want and those people love the [product].

    The [product] for this story are drugs that cause substance dependence. What? why would anyone think that it was free to play games.

    • dE says:

      Yeah. I feel like this is a discussion we need to have. Because the media will have it at some point and the connection to Drugs isn’t as far fetched as it may seem. And since we all know, Drugs get politicians scared, it’s better to load up on arguments now, than when the whole thing will blow up.

      • unangbangkay says:

        Even participating in a discussion of “F2P = Drugs” argument is a slippery slope no one wants to slide down.

        • Blackcompany says:

          Hadn’t read this far down when I made my post above. But I truly do believe it will happen. And in a world where corporations are made the villain in the eyes of the populace by Saint Government (in the name of control, usually) this conversation – and the consequences it brings with it – may not be as far off as we would like. I fear for what becomes of gaming when it reaches this point.

          • Koozer says:

            Why not liken it to gambling instead? It’s a much closer fit. They even use the same psychological tricks to make you keep paying.

          • bleeters says:

            Perhaps Saint Government would have a harder time villanising poor old big business if the latter didn’t keep handing the former justification for that claim on a silver platter.

        • dE says:

          Yep, it’s a really uncomfortable discussion. But I’d rather have it now, when people are still calm about it, than when it blows up and everyone is in their emotionally ubercharged state of “won’t somebody think of the children?!”. This also isn’t meant as Doom and Gloom but rather: The storm is coming, time to build a shelter.

          • unangbangkay says:

            My point is even participating in the discussion is conceding the point, and equating F2P with chemical addiction is NOT a point you want to concede. AT ALL. This isn’t “a discussion we should be having”, because IT’S THE WRONG DISCUSSION. By conceding that point you concede the argument and start from a position of WHERE TO REGULATE THESE DASTARDLY F2Ps, when the position is if they need regulation at all, or what the best practices are.

            Starting from that position isn’t like having a friendly football match, it’s giving your opponents possession of the ball and going so far as to tie up your goalie and place the ball right in front of your own goal for them to kick straight in.

            REPEAT: F2Ps ARE NOT DRUGS

          • Sam says:

            Are we allowed to equate free to play games to gambling?
            Gambling follows a similar pattern of it just being a bit of fun for most players, but some small percentage will find themselves losing more money than they can afford to. The moral difference is that a significant sub group of F2P games are designed expressly to encourage that “problem” behaviour. What in the gambling world is called an addict, in the F2P world is called a whale and is your target demographic.

            In some cases the gap between gambling and F2P games is vanishingly small. It was amusing to see the “good guy” at the start of the recent Candy trademark kerfuffle was a slots game where you can gamble with real money, but of course only win virtual currency. A video slots machine where it’s actually impossible to get a pay out. What will those design geniuses think of next!

          • AngelTear says:

            @unangbangkay

            F2P are not drugs, but they’re built with the purpose (and the psychological/marketing knowledge to back it up) to be addictive. They’re like other addictive things. Like drugs for instance. Or gambling. Do you like the gambling parallel better? (damn, ninjaed by two people D:)

            By conceding that point you concede the argument and start from a position of WHERE TO REGULATE THESE DASTARDLY F2Ps, when the position is if they need regulation at all, or what the best practices are.
            This is only true if you automatically believe that the one and only position about drugs is that they should be regulated. Not to go off-topic, but except maybe for forbidding them to under-14/16-year-olds, I for one don’t think they should be regulated too much, especially the lighter ones.

            I don’t think F2P should be regulated at all, but it’s still a discussion worth having, between “no they shouldn’t be” and “Yes, they should be regulated in this way or this other way”

          • unangbangkay says:

            The actual particulars of the argument for or against drug legalization is essentially irrelevant, as is my or your position on legalization, because attempting to equate f2p games with the drug trade, no matter how well intentioned, is rhetorical suicide, not to mention largely inaccurate as f2ps do not “intoxicate” in the same manner drugs (legal and illegal) can cause chemical dependence. This argument is as ineffective and wrongheaded as the movie industry’s “you wouldn’t steal a car” anti piracy campaign.

            The argument for gambling is actually a much more salient one, and many f2ps employ psychological techniques inherent to gambling. As for the idea that there should be the same stigma attached to gambling addiction as to being an f2p whale (a term originally derived from casinos, so you’re getting your causation chain wrong) is problematic. One, because some f2p models aren’t like gambling at all in the traditional game of chance sense (see dungeon keeper), and two because gambling stigma is cultural, even regional in terms of tone and intensity, making sentiment difficult to establish on a societal scale, unlike substance abuse, whose impact can be empirically measured. The line between bad and good in substance abuse is easier to discern because substance abuse results in actual health issues, whereas f2ps carry very little material risk or even reward (unlike actual gambling).

            I mean look at it this way. Even now when talk about abusive f2p is at the most negative and apocalyptic it’s ever been, the only thing at stake is a bunch of shit games on the App Store clogging everything up and some youngsters not knowing what good games is (a false concern considering how many other ways there are to get alternative examples of good games, even within the same supposedly doomed mobile industry).

          • rokmek says:

            Obviously I was exaggerating when I wrote the story, there is no way to say F2P equals to drugs, and also there is no way of throwing all F2P in the same sack. Some say that it is more like gambling. Well in my opinion the F2P (not all F2P, I will focus on the type exposed in the article) are something between gambling and drugs.

            Gambling uses the promise of getting a lot of money to keep you spending money, winning a little between loses tricks you to think you are winning or have a chance to win big. Lights and other psychological exploits are also present but I won’t enter in details.

            F2Pscams only difference is that they don’t offer you any monetary rewards. They are blocking or stopping the sensation of enjoying the game and winning within it, and it is being used to take more money away from you. In other words exploiting your addiction to take money from you. If you take in consideration that no real rewards can be gained from the F2P addiction, that it is not regulated and has no age restriction, it would actually make it worse than gambling.

            The drugs comparison is only from the point how the drug dealers give the first one for free, expecting to create in you a dependence to these so you come back and spend money on the next ones. That is all. Of course anyone can exaggerate and say “F2P = Drugs” or “F2P cartel” based on this, after all that is why I used my exaggerated story to bring my point. I wasn’t sure on the attempt of sensationalism, but I knew the people here won’t disappoint and would bring a nice discussion and analysis on the topic.

            Now the problem here is that those kind of F2P are not regulated, even when they are approaching those levels of exploiting peoples addiction. It is like some kind of experiment about how far can they push it before it becomes illegal and I’m really surprised this issue was not brought, or at least at this scale, by all gaming journalist before. Now people think that is the norm of F2P games and that is has always been this way so it is okay. This go both for those playing them and those reading about them.

          • dE says:

            You’re trying to lessen the blow by calling it different names. The blow has to be made though. These titles are bad. As in, seriously bad. The things these companies do, go far beyond what gambling does and as such gambling really isn’t a fit comparison at all. If you’re unsure as to what methods these companies apply, check the link I posted above (I won’t repost it, because it’s hard enough to get a link in without the comment section eating entire posts).

            They’re using emotions and psychological triggers to unbalance the chemical balance in the brain. They explicitely build their software in a way that circumvents conscious thought and manipulates the subconscious. The gameplay mechanics are carefully crafted to elicit and control reactions in the player, by directly communicating with the pleasure and reward sections of the brain. These titles work by dosing joy and euphoria in a constant push and pull of success and failure. Pleasure, is not derived from playing but from paying. You pay money to get a short rush of enjoyment from the title. To progress a few steps.
            Maybe you’re arguing based on traditional F2P Titles and not mobile F2P? Perhaps that’s why you underestimate just how bad it has become? This isn’t just a few cosmetic items or slow progress because you’re paying for ultimate plus one component of whatsoever. That’s child’s play. These buggers have perfected the art with all tricks of the psychological trade and directly prey upon the weak by controlling emotional heights and lows. You say calling them drugs is conceding the point, I say this is precisely what they’re intended as. They’re copying methods of your average dealer and use psychological tricks to utilize phenomena previously only known from substance abuse.

    • Gap Gen says:

      I think people’s objections to drugs are the effects, not the business model. And yet, there are quite a few informed voices arguing that by banning drugs we admit that we can no longer regulate their sale, causing crime and unmanaged health problems, and like alcohol in the Prohibition, banning their sale is ineffective at tackling the root problem, and always will be. In fact, banning their sale actually encouraged their uptake, if you believe the opening chapters of Flat Earth News.

      So the issue with the drug trade is that society has decided not to regulate it (an ironic result of banning them), while at least with in-app purchases pressure can be brought on Apple and Google to clean up their marketplaces.

    • The Random One says:

      Where’s this guy that gives you free drugs once every week? I’m asking for a friend.

      (Also, a closer analogy would be free software that is limited in some way unless you pay a fee, like the undeleters I downloaded lately after my mom’s phone’s memory card went kaput. Many of them have a limit on either the amount of data they’ll recover or the amount of times they’ll work for free. That doesn’t seem to be too different but no one is up in arms against those.)

      • InnerPartisan says:

        That doesn’t seem to be too different but no one is up in arms against those.

        Because that approach is much more honest and transparent. You’re told from the outset that what you get is a limited version of the product, and that you’ll have to pay if you want the full functionality. Like a Demo for a video game, essentially.

  11. boundless08 says:

    I really enjoyed that guardian piece. My little brother has aspergers and playing games has really helped him through his life. He didn’t talk till he was 4 but then he started playing games with me and my dad and now h never shuts up about them! Its literally all he talks about but I’d hate to think what he’d be like without them

    I really wish politicians and news reporters could just lay off the game bashing and from reading stories like that guardian piece maybe put some proper research and funding into seeing how beneficial games can be to people.

    • Gap Gen says:

      Eh, the media is mostly underfunded and malign, feeding a vicious cycle of petty suburban fascism. The games=evil thing will die off once people who play games edge out non-players from the voting pool and then find new things to panic about in their teen children. I’m putting 10 internet points on Oculus Rift porn.

  12. Baines says:

    Two articles about Flappy Bird, one about its Mario-like art, but none about its similarity to Piou Piou vs Cactus (supposedly released in 2011)?

    http://www.pocketgamer.co.uk/r/Android/Piou+Piou+against+cactus/news.asp?c=57203

    • Sam says:

      There’s an extremely long lineage of games where you control a sprite as it moves down a random narrow passage. In that lineage there have been basically every imaginable form of control used, including plenty where your only input is to make the sprite accelerate upwards in response to a keypress. I made one in BASIC some time in the 90s, and it certainly wasn’t an original concept then.

      Flappy Bird’s success is a story of the bizarre confluence of apparently random events that can lead to popularity in the current games marketplace. And of the the response to that amazing luck being a bunch of people then cloning the game, wrongly assuming it’s the game’s design that led to its success.

      • TillEulenspiegel says:

        I’m borrowing this analogy from someone else, but Flappy Bird’s success is almost exactly like the Macarena or Who Let The Dogs Out or whichever godawful pop music hit you can think of.

        It’s not good, it’s not remotely unique, it just’s kind of catchy (“addictive” or “addicting” in game terms which I absolutely despise) and it benefited from some form of promotion to get it out there in the first place. The explanation really isn’t much deeper than that.

      • AngusPrune says:

        There’s certainly a history for such one button games to go “viral.”

        My guess for the most likely ancestry for Flappy Bird would be The Helicopter Game, a flash game that enjoyed a fair degree of fame around 2002-2003.

      • Baines says:

        Yes, they are all clones, but it is still worth noting.

        The bird in Flappy Bird looks as much or more like Piou Piou than the Mario enemies that the article offers as well.

      • meepmeep says:

        I’m pretty sure I played something along these lines on the Apple II in the late 80s.

    • Frank says:

      This game must be at least thirty years old, you know.

  13. Steven Hutton says:

    It’s really disappointing to see Hearthstone used as an example of good F2P.

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  17. psepho says:

    On the F2P discussion, it is worth revisiting Tim Rogers’ piece: Who Killed Videogames?

    http://insertcredit.com/2011/09/22/who-killed-videogames-a-ghost-story/

    It dates from 2011 but I was re-reading it a couple of weeks ago: it is still as relevant, insightful and hilarious as ever.

    • tormos says:

      I was thinking about that while reading the Guardian piece. Good to see that the ideas are finally getting some traction in the broader press.

  18. bill says:

    I think we should get some simple legislation saying that all F2P type games need to display your:
    *Total Spent on this game to date
    *Total Time spent on this game to date
    in big letters on the load-up screen.