“Who wants to pay a cover charge for a club if there isn’t a huge party going on inside!”
David Chang, Executive Vice President of Business Development and Marketing at GamesCampus (Asda Story), and previously of PlaySpan recently spoke to worldsinmotion.biz about the term ‘free-to-play’ and why the genre needs a rebranding makeover.
“…the term “free to play” rings hollow and in many cases is completely inaccurate. In calling our games “free to play” I think our industry generates a lot of unnecessary cynicism and calls our product quality into question.”
Acknowledging the previous ‘poor quality’ stereotype that free-to-play, microtransaction based games have received over the years during the business model’s developmental phase, Chang states, “there is a significant portion of people that feel like the term free to play is a bait-and-switch.“
To define the free-to-play industry as a whole, Chang points out that it’s important to think of the industry as a service provider; a service provider that needs to be uniquely in tune with how their client base is learning how to, and what to pay for. Perhaps not a 100% perfect comparison, but Chang references Google, in so much as they are a service provider that provides most of their useful services for free. Sort of. Google does not charge a fee to use their most popular product: search, nor for their free email service. So it’s all free, right? Wrong. Don’t forget how Google does make money: massive traffic combined with paid search sponsorship and other value added services. Generally, 9.9 out of 10 of us don’t even give a second thought to the fact that the world’s largest, and arguably best, internet search provider is free. Chang also takes his comparison one step further, and points out that most people don’t even think/know that by using a gmail account, they’ve given Google permission to read their email, which Google then uses to deliver targeted marketing/advertising to said email recipient.
Tailoring this comparison to fall in line with Games Campus, Chang states, “In both situations, people receive a valuable service—free search or a free game experience, however, both services do need to make money eventually otherwise they would not be able to provide these great services for free. This is where I feel the “free to play” label does more harm than good. I can tell you honestly that my company exists to make a profit—and we do hope that the people that play our games buy in-game items eventually!”
So what does it all mean? What this means is that the term ‘free-to-play’ is not really an accurate description of that’s really going on in the ‘non-buy it in a box, pay for your playtime with a subscription card’ world. Chang proposes rebranding and using the term “MTS” – micro transaction service – or “MTG” – micro transaction games. He feels that this term would remove, or at least lessen the ‘poor quality’ stigma that has haunted the genre for so long. Chang even takes the message one further, and states that to be considered an MTS, a title or service would have to meet the following three conditions:
- Requires no purchase to download and play the game
“…a lot of the dissatisfaction about micro-transactions stem from the fact that many publishers require one to purchase the game at retail (or download) and then charge them again to experience additional content. In my opinion, this strategy is actually the most consumer-antagonistic as they require an upfront fee and then charge people again when they want more content.”
- Does not have a level-cap or content-cap beyond which you need to pay
“People end up investing time and emotionally connecting with a game only to find out that if they want to continue they need to pay an admission fee. It is counterproductive. Not only will you lose most players at the pay-gate, the community on the other side (the paying side) will also suffer because of the lack of community—who wants to pay a cover charge for a club if there isn’t a huge party going on inside!”
- Is at least partially monetized by sales of in-game goods
“The last part of what defines an MTS game is that it is at least partially monetized by the sale of in-game goods. I say partially because I do think that there is room here to supplement revenue through ads or perhaps sponsorships if they are appropriate and fit the game property.”
I’m not quite sure if I’m really willing to let the term ‘free-to-play’ go, but Chang does make some very compelling points as to how and why we not only need to define the genre properly, but present it in a clear and logical light that all can understand. Remember, free-to-play (or should I say MTS?) games are not here to ‘nickel and dime’ you to death as is so oft the cry against the genre, but rather, here as a relatively new business model providing a free service with purchasable options that only serve to enhance the player’s experience. And really, at the end of the day, wouldn’t you rather have a choice, than no choice at all?