Ngmoco Sweden executive Ben Cousins opened the inaugural Free to Play Summit with a staunch defence of the freemium monetisation model that sometimes divides audience and industry opinion.
Addressing attendees at the Shoreditch, London event, Cousins said he’s often asked by journalists whether freemium pricing strategies are ethically sound.
“My response always is: Any business model where 95 per cent of people who don’t pay cannot be exploitative,” he said, referencing the common understanding that only about 3-6 per cent of customers will pay for extra goods in free games.
His comments come as the free-to-play model is increasingly utilised by developers and publishers – a trend which results in more customers playing such games and, in turn, more occurrences of people claiming they were ‘fooled’ into spending more than expected.
One of the most famous of such issues was with Smurfs Village; a game which made national newspaper headlines after an infamous incident where a young customer maxed out his mother’s credit card.
Such instances are too rare to represent the whole freemium model, Cousins said.
“I’ve never come across a big spender on a free-to-play game who has maxed out their credit cards. The big spenders I’ve met generally know what they’re doing,” he said.
“Even the $5,000 spenders are not being exploited, they are just people who have found their big hobby.”
It was clear that such a defence of freemium gaming is still required. Opening up the floor for questions, a student asked Cousins whether online games are immorally addictive.
Drawing from his own data, Cousins said the so-called ‘whale customers’ generally don’t play games the most.
“The big spenders tend to be more driven by their status,” he said.
“It’s the people who play for free who play the most.”
And if freemium games intentionally ‘fool’ players to pay, he said, then the model is ineffective considering that the overwhelming majority of people don’t spend anything for content.
Since 2005, Cousins has worked on seven freemium game projects at various companies, from Battlefield Heroes to Lords of Ultima. He is now working on his seventh.