EA-owned free-to-play games publisher Chillingo claims that the business model is the “fairest in the world” because it is the most empowering for consumers.
Speaking to Develop, general manager Ed Rumley (pictured) pointed to the freedom for players to invest as much – or as little – time and money into whichever titles they choose, and that ultimately it’s a choice that lies solely in the hands of the consumer.
“Free-to-play games are a fantastic way to introduce and engage players who once upon a time never considered themselves ‘gamers’,” he said.
“It’s a natural fit for mobile and tablet games since consumers generally always have the device with them and are constantly seeking new forms of entertainment.
“The model allows people to have the variety and freedom to choose what they want and how engaged they want to be with a game or app. It’s the fairest model in the world with so much choice.
“In the coming years, I do feel that players will become more discerning about the games they download. They’ll continue to recognise brands and associate quality gameplay experiences with certain publishers and developers.”
It’s a bold view given the controversy that often surrounds the microtransactions attached to free-to-play titles. The European Commission is currently investigating the use of in-app purchases in mobile games following complaints from “all over Europe”.
It follows a similar investigation by the UK’s Office of Fair Trading that concluded developers and publishers must give fair warning if a free title aimed at children involves costly microtransactions.
Such actions by government bodies stimulate talk of free-to-play games ‘nickel and diming’ consumers with pay-to-win titles. But Chillingo claims this stigma is not as widespread as you might think.
“That perception may still be there with the group you would have once considered gamers,” said Rumley. “But when you look at the huge mass market audience on mobile games, that perception isn’t necessarily there.
“People are playing these games for fun and if correctly executed, that’s more powerful than the business model.”
As Rumley observes, F2P titles are often consumers’ first experience of video games if they haven’t been traditional console or PC gamers. And he says this places a great deal of responsibility with studios creating new F2P titles, as they essentially define the gateway into the industry.
While many devs concern themselves with refining their monetisation model, designing titles for first-time players is more important than ever.
“Free-to-play provides the opportunity to introduce millions of new players to the world of mobile gaming,” said Rumley. “It’s the responsibility of developers and publishers to ensure that their experience is positive.
“Starting from the ground up, it’s important that titles are developed with the appropriate gameplay design and right monetisation model in mind. Striking the right balance is the key to success.
“We firmly believe the player is king – therefore, we emphasize that the gaming experience should first and foremost be fun. If you have that foundation established and maintain that focus throughout the development cycle, then the free-to-play aspects will organically occur.”
That responsibility doesn’t stop at launch, either. Rumley says Chillingo has become as much a live services organisation as it has a developer and publisher, claiming the shift to F2P has “impacted our DNA”.
“Servicing a free-to-play mobile game is just as critical as designing it correctly,” he said. “Ensuring that players constantly receive an engaging experience is fundamental. This means having reliable servers and continuously delivering content that players want.
“I’m proud to say that our team has adapted its practices and are leveraging our decade’s worth of mobile gaming expertise and the resources of EA to advise developers on how to navigate through this shift in the industry. There are endless opportunities ahead, and we pride ourselves in being nimble enough to help indie games developers continue to find success.”
Rumley will be discussing more on the free-to-play model at this year’s Develop Conference in Brighton, which will be held from July 8th to 10th.
Find out more at www.developconference.co.uk.