Dungeon Keeper creator slams free-to-play as UK devs welcome new rules from Office of Fair Trading

Molyneux: F2P studios cannot continue ‘grooming children’

Fable creator Peter Molyneux has warned that “brutal” and “greedy” free-to-play mechanics are inviting government legislation, something he believes will be detrimental to the industry.

Speaking to Develop, the veteran developer once again discussed his disappointment at the “brutality” of the free-to-play mechanics in the new Dungeon Keeper, a reboot of one of Molyneux’s past projects.

“We cannot continue to be obsessively greedy with our consumers, grooming children for hundreds of pounds from their parents’ accounts,” he told Develop.

“I hate the term ‘free-to-play’, and I hate the way the model is burning through our consumers and the tender shoots of new gamers. I think the world is ready for a new way to approach that whole angle. What we’re doing with Godus is ‘invest-to-play’. When players spend money, whatever they receive must feel like an investment not a cheat – that feels like a more responsible way of monetising free games.”

His comments follow the release of new rules concerning in-app purchases in kids’ games following an investigation by the Office of Fair Trading – something that has been welcomed by UK developers.

UK games companies have been told they have until April 1st “to get their house in order”, and must now be upfront about all associated costs with a game, such as if they include microtransactions or whether they use in-game advertising.

Failure to comply with the new principles could result in enforcement action from April 1st onward. The OFT claims it has worked closely with international partners to ensure new principles are "consistent with the laws of most key jurisdictions to help raise standards globally".

“Targeting children with aggressive free-to-play monetisation tactics is irresponsible,” said Simon Hade, founder of Samurai Siege developer Space Ape Games.

“As a parent of two young children and a games developer I’m pleased to say I see very few examples of developers who do engage in the kind of conduct the OFT is concerned about. It’s good to see that these guidelines largely reflect the best practice of successful app developers anyway.”

We’ve got to be responsible with our consumers, and for me basing your revenues off consumers spending hundreds of pounds on an app just isn’t right.

Peter Molyneux, 22cans

BigBit studio head Nick Baynes also welcomed the principles, and said transparency from the games industry could only be a good thing, both in terms of goodwill and “what’s morally right”.

“The biggest impact I can see coming from these rules is that I suspect we’ll probably see a shift from free-to-play as a viable model for games aimed solely at kids – pushing IAP more softly in a child-focused free-to-play game will of course most likely mean lower revenues so a pre-set fixed price could become the best business choice for that market,” he said.

Seb Long, user researcher at Player Research, added: “Many of the OFT’s principles have crossover with best practices in game usability. Developers will need to work carefully to avoid unintentional breaches as a result of latent usability issues – especially in games for children. The new OFT guidelines could assist developers in not only making games that meet their fair trade obligations, but should also result in games with better usability, understandability, and which deliver better experiences for players of all ages.”

While others support the new rules, Molyneux worries that this will set a precedent for much harsher legistation.

““If we’re not very careful, we’ll be in the same place that gambling apps are now,” he said. “Those go through unbelievably strict legislative requirements.

“We’ve got to be responsible with our consumers, and for me basing your revenues off consumers spending hundreds of pounds on an app just isn’t right. That’s treating whales as addicts, feeding their addictions by requiring unbelievably high amounts of money for them or letting them quit, and then we lose them.”

Molyneux will reveal more about Godus’ ‘invest-to-play’ plans at GDC this month, teasing that it will be “completely different” to any previous monetisation model.

In his full interview with Develop, the Fable creator teased that Godus could come to Vita and described Fable IIII as a ‘trainwreck’.

[This article was first published in the March 2014 edition of Develop magazine, which is available through your browser and on iPad]

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