It’s Mr Lovell’s usual evangelical pro-F2P…I was going to say “trolling” but that’s unfair. As he himself will freely admit, his writing tends towards the hyperbolic in order to draw people in and start a conversation in which all sides of the argument are welcome.
Indeed, I’ve written for Gamesbrief myself in the past, which was great.
My main problem with this post is that it boldly asserts that F2P will inevitably slaughter all of the other business models and emerge triumphant, brandishing their expressionless, sorrowfully hatless heads with furious gusto…
“…on a ten year view, I don’t believe it will be possible to charge for basic access to content at all. We will all expect to have access to all the music, all the books, all the television and all the games that we could ever want. Sure, someone could invest in content and tell me that I can’t have it unless I pay. But there will be so many alternatives, both legal and illegal, that the model of paying access will be close to impossible to sustain. “
There’s some noticeable hedging here: we go from “I don’t believe it will be possible” to “close to impossible” in the blink of a paragraph.
However, I’m going to take this at face value.
Then I’m going to say, respectfully, “Bollocks.”
Free-to-play is a juggernaut: we’ve just seen Valve take a very popular “core” game and convert it fully to F2P; we’re hearing rumbles about other platform holders bringing in F2P support; we’re all aware of the world-changing sales figures that titles like Moshi Monsters and developers like Zynga generate.
Fantastic! It’s great that the games industry has produced an exciting new payment model that can be used in all kinds of different ways by all kinds of different titles.
But what these trends don’t mean is that every game should be F2P, and they certainly don’t mean that every game will be F2P.
F2P titles rely on generating a very large audience of players, a percentage of whom are willing to pay for specific in-game experiences or status. Let’s say that percentage is roughly 10% of your total audience.
In order to make a free-to-play game in the traditional sense, a developer therefore needs to design an experience that lends itself to purchasing opportunities. Obviously, Farmville is designed around pushing players into paying money to maintain a pleasurable state. Valve have very cleverly identified that TF2 is now a large-scale social system in which people will pay money to express themselves.
But what if the experience you want to design does not lend itself to purchasing prompts? What if it can’t be supported by adverts? What if it’s targeted at an extremely small audience who want to forget about money for a period of time?
Then you can’t make that game F2P, and you shouldn’t try.
Say I’m creating a competitive game like Starcraft 2, or a deeply affecting experience like Amnesia…I don’t want to be badgering my customers for money every ten seconds. I do not want to display, “It looks like you’re doing a 2 barracks pressure build! Would you like to spend £2 to cut your bunker build time by half?”
It’s my belief that a significant number of people who play games do not want to buy hats, pretend money, carrots or magical ears: they want to buy a game once, as a product, and then leave it at that.
I think, actually, that’s one reason Steam is such a success. Steam itself is like a giant F2P game, and the “virtual items” are the individual experiences on sale in the catalogue. That’s the theme apparent here, proving that even Gamesbrief accepts there’s many different kinds of “high lifetime-value customers”…
Once you start thinking in this way, it might be possible to justify all kinds of hideously untrendy thinking, like setting a reasonably high price for an indie title, for example. If you’re offering a desirable niche experience that can’t be found elsewhere, a product that will make users stand out, then why not aim higher?
Let me now clarify a couple of things I do believe about free-to-play games:
1.) Free-to-play games will consistently make more money than “pay once” games
If you are an investor, and you are about to chose between a hypothetical brilliant “pay once” game developer and a hypothetical equally-brilliant “free-to-play” developer, you invest in F2P. Although, you’re probably too late now, but that’s a different story.
F2P games are for large audiences and they are designed around maximal money extraction.
While I think more “niche” F2P games will emerge as F2P development matures creatively, I still believe that the overall target audience required is larger than for a pay once title.
2.) Free-to-play games have lessons for all game developers
I think the key lesson that indie devs in particular need to learn from F2P is this: “Your fans want to pay for additional content that is meaningful to them.”
Many, many people have told me, for example, that they are happy to pay for certain additions to Frozen Synapse. So, naturally, we’re going to look into ways in which we can develop those additions, and release them for a sensible price.
Low-cost MEANINGFUL DLC for your fans is not used enough by many, many indie devs. They are missing out on a lot of revenue; gamers are missing out on cool stuff. This should be corrected.
3.) A lot of F2P games are rubbish because F2P is immature: that does not have to be the case.
I think the crude, anti-player nature of many F2P games will largely diminish as talented designers become more familiar with its constraints.
I believe new audiences will come to F2P and it will grow significantly in the next few years.
I don’t think “pay once” games will ever be stamped out completely, though. Here are three examples of niches that are not going away any time soon that I believe require “pay once”…
- Titles that require discreet, uninterrupted narrative; “rollercoaster” games
- Competitive multiplayer titles for small audiences
- Experimental games that focus on a small subset of mechanics
Am I saying that those games can’t have large, innovative free demos, sell DLC or be marketed via the use of free products made by their creators? No. I’m saying that I don’t think they can be supported by advertising or microtransactions, and that audiences will always want them.
I have said rude things about free-to-play games in the past. I felt frustrated about being told that Frozen Synapse should be a free-to-play browser-based game so many times, so I vented my spleen.
That is not because I am anti-F2P; it is because I am anti-Evangelical F2P. I can imagine making an F2P game in the future, but I cannot imagine telling everyone else that they are stupid for not doing so.
Finally, creatively and commercially, sometimes it’s not sensible to aim at The Biggest Possible Amount of Money. That leads to exploitative, derivative, artistically-impoverished products that nobody wants. Equally, aiming for artistic brilliance can lead to self-important, inadequate drivel, so there is a balance to be struck here.
The rabidly pro-F2P camp and rabidly anti-F2P camp both come across as a bit silly. I think it’s time to be intelligent about F2P, with all its strengths and weaknesses.
If you want to aim at selling a singular experience, aim for “pay once”, because it’s not going anywhere.
Digital distribution is the MMO, your game is the Heroic Purple Moustache of Peacockhood.
Server UK1 (our most popular server by far) is now running the new server architecture.
I have done significant load testing in the office and it seems to be stable and functioning. I’ll be adding a couple of new features and optimisations over the next week (including ELO), and keeping an eye on everything. Fingers crossed this is the Final Solution – it definitely should be able to handle multiple thousands of simultaneous players.
Hopefully very soon we can integrate all the other servers and I can start working on the exciting new features we have planned for FS.
Also, due to huge demand, the soundtrack to Frozen Synapse has now been released as a standalone album.
The score by nervous_testpilot (aka Paul Taylor…yes, the same one who was bellowing above) has drawn widespread acclaim.
In an pioneering move for an indie game, Mode 7 are also happy to announce that the soundtrack has been licensed by boutique music publisher License to Thrill Music for use in advertising, TV, film and other media productions.
“We’re proud to announce our partnership with artist/composer/producer nervous_testpilot,” said Valerie Vickers, A&R/Licensing Manager for License To Thrill Music.
“Drawing from a diverse musical palette that’s fused with hypnotic, electronic soundscapes, trance, pop, and the modern technological landscape, the works of nervous_testpilot capture both atmosphere and melody, making for a unique musical experience with global appeal.”
As I have to re-write the matchmaking system to use the new distributed server architecture anyway, I might as well improve it while I’m at it.
The input to the matchmaking system is as follows:
- A list of selected game modes from the 10 types available. This defaults to just Dark Extermination and you change it in the “Modes” menu in the bottom left
- Your “traffic light status”, which is either Red, Yellow, or Green. Default is Red. Currently Yellow just means you’ll be matchmade as soon as someone else goes Green, and Green means that we will try to find you a match as soon as possible. If someone else is on Green/Yellow but doesn’t have an agreeing game mode, it may choose a game mode you didn’t select.
Here are the problems people have with matchmaking:
- “I get a game mode I didn’t select! STUPID GAME DEVELOPERS”
- “It keeps challenging me while I’m on red! STUPID GAME DEVELOPERS”
I will lay out a proposal here for what I’ll implement in the next day or so, and listen intently to any feedback I get on it in time.
Please note: I am somewhat limited by what I can do server side – I do not wish to change the client interface at this time.
The FS server is designed to allow a vibrant playing community even when there are very few people on the servers. Obviously that isn’t a problem right now, but I believe it will be incredibly important in five years time. The reason I challenge people, even when on Red, is that the thought of some poor person wanting a game and not being able to get one makes me very very sad.
(Please note – some shards have few players on at the moment. When the servers are reintegrated this will not be a problem – everyone will be on the same server).
But right now, with usually between 100 and 1000 people online at any one time, it just isn’t necessary.
If there are fewer than 10 people online, people on Red will still be challenged.
If there are more than 10 people online, you will only be challenged in the menus. If you are in a match or in single player you will be left alone.
Red players will only ever see challenges for game modes they have selected.
Yellow users will *only* get the game modes they request.
I haven’t decided yet whether yellows should show challenges to people in the menus.
Green stays much as it does now, but with a couple of modifications. If there are any yellows, we will first look for yellows who agree on game modes. If there are none, the Green player will play the first Yellow player’s mode of choice.
If there are two Greens who do not agree on modes, they will still be match-made. If you care strongly about modes, go to yellow.
There is my proposal – all feedback hugely appreciated.
Here are details of what I plan to implement and start testing this week.
- We have been working very hard on optimising the servers so that a single server can hold 6000 simultaneous players. It’s very difficult to test these things but that is my aim – 6000 people able to play at once.
- The single server will work exactly as FS intended – you will be able to play against anyone else online; all features (archiving, friends, stats, rankings) will work seamlessly.
Now, some more explanation of what this means.
- For the vast majority of the time I think there will be fewer than 6000 people online at once. No matter how successful FS is, I do not think that there will be more than 6k simultaneous players for more than a couple of days during “big events”. If we get close to this in general (something, again, which I think is very very unlikely) then by renting a *very* expensive server I should be able to get up to 8 or 10 thousand.
- So this solution will work for all times except for specific, one-off events that cause a massive surge in popularity. During these times we will simply operate a sharding system almost identical to the one now.
A test server utilising our new concurrency code will go up this week, and you will be able to select the server as something like “TESTDANGER1″. There may well be some hard to find bugs to start with and I will really need as many people to play on the server as possible to really make sure it’s ready.
Finally, when the new server code has been tested thoroughly it will replace the existing system. Syncing the 150,000 matches played into a single server is not going to be especially easy, and I’ve still not worked out the best way of doing it. (Stats and rankings are already synced – it’s just the matches themselves).
Hello! Here’s what’s happening “under the hood” of Frozen Synapse right now…
Quick Work Shout
If you’re an experienced freelance coder and you’re interested in working with us (initially on a non-games project), please do drop me a line with your CV (paulmode7 at gmail dot com).
Ideally, you’ll be able to drop into the office in Oxford one day a week, but we’ll look at people who are further afield. UK-based would be good, but I’m currently just looking to broaden our network of freelancers in general.
Very strong C++ is essential; Torque experience is beneficial.
Hopefully, you’ve seen substantial improvements to server speed and continued to experience very high general uptime recently.
Ian and I met today to decide various things – we’re currently looking at usage patterns for the servers to come up with our long-term solution. The reason that this is taking us a while is that it’s quite a complicated problem, and rushing in a bad solution is not the right way to approach it.
Work is going on right now to improve the capacity and speed of each individual server; we’ll make an announcement about the eventual solution as soon as we can.
As I mentioned, you should see ongoing server improvements to the existing situation, while we’re figuring all this out.
Many of you have asked for a separate soundtrack product – that’s going to come out as soon as humanly possible – I really expect that it will be out next week. This has been held up by a few factors beyond my control, but it is incredibly close to being out.
There will definitely be a patch coming out within the next few months – we’ll be working on the list for that shortly.
There should be additional content available to purchase for Frozen Synapse; we hope to have something out this year…not announcing what that will entail until we finalise plans.
Other platforms are being actively considered right now.
We’ve been really happy with the launch of Frozen Synapse, now the servers are in a stable state.
The critical reaction has been huge (9/10 from Destructoid, Eurogamer and Edge; 95% from bit-gamer; other very high-scoring reviews from many other sites; comments like “best indie game of the year so far” from Honest Gamers). …this has been far in advance of anything we’d hoped for.
Mentions on blogs we love like Dubious Quality, being name-dropped in news posts about other strategy games, being wrapped up into amazing company with other fantastic indie games, being in a national newspaper (The Independent) and on a national radio station (BBC Radio 5, on the Game On segment…not sure when that airs) are things that get a whole new group of people to notice you, and that’s really cool. Also my mum was proud, and that’s important!
I want to say thanks again to everyone who has covered the game – I’d like to give a quick special shout to TotalBiscuit who did an absolutely amazing job of presenting the game – just so cool.
We’re genuinely just glad people like the game so much - it was our childhood dream to make a “90% game” one day, and that’s now been realised. That’s the kind of thing you look back on in your life and say, “I was part of that.”
Commercially, the game has lived up to our expectations, and then some – we’ve made enough to keep working on the things we want to work on: we’re doing well enough to make sure FS hits its full potential and then start up the next game.
I think there’s a bit of an assumption that if an indie game has a good launch that the money-hats immediately are donned and that everything is, in some way, completed: that’s only true if you’re Notch! This is really just the beginning of the journey for FS in my eyes.
The future of Mode 7 as a “real company” has been cemented: this is the right path and now the goal is to stay on it, making sure we do justice to our community.
Loud vs. Quiet
We’ve been a bit quiet because we wanted to make sure our existing community are happy and that things are working ok. With the new updates we’re preparing, we’re confident that the situation is in hand.
We don’t tend to announce specifics on things very early (as anyone with us from the beta will know) – there tend to be gaps and then a lot of announcements at once. This is a conscious decision by us, as we want to be certain of things before we say anything in public.
However, you should see a lot more coverage of the game around the place soon, and we expect the community to keep on growing. We want to celebrate the incredible support we’ve received so far for our crazy indie game!
You are really great
Part of me – and this is slightly silly – was concerned that we’d lose the nice vibe around the beta when we got a lot more users. In fact, now things have settled, the opposite has happened: we now just have a much larger community of nice people.
We’ve tried REALLY hard to make sure you get fast and good support if you have any kind of problem. In fact, today, I’m working on a system that will help us get responses to you even faster. It’s really important to me that everyone is able to get the game working in the way they want, get their key out to a friend etc.
It’s now a lot harder for me to communicate directly with everyone in the community at once, and we’re working on this.
Minor bugs (i.e. bugs which don’t stop you from playing the game) need to be posted in the forums.
So do feature suggestions / ideas / thoughts about other platforms etc.
To be considering new features, or doing a bugs pass, we have to be in a specific mode of thinking. We really want to hear about these things, but we have to take them in at our own pace at specific times. If you mail me with a bug or feature suggestion, there’s a good chance it will get swamped in the huge amount of email I receive every day.
My priority on email, as it should be, is support. If you have a serious support problem, you can email me and we will try to get you sorted out as quickly as possible. To maintain that process, the forums have to be used for the correct things.
I hope you guys can be understanding about this – it’s a question of priorities. We definitely still want to hear from you about all your thoughts on any topics, but the Forums help us keep that organised.
Other communication means:
If you want fast, regular updates then do follow me on Twitter – if you ping me on there, and I’m around, I’ll try and get back to you. Again, I’m not likely to reply quickly if you say something like, “It’d be really cool if there was a unit that did X and Y” – just stick that in the forums and we’ll read it when we’re thinking about such things.
Twitter is for the day-to-day updates – I might occasionally let slip about what we’re working on; I’ll flag up interesting coverage of the games and things that’ll happening. I’ll probably also rant irrelevantly about my love of watching competitive Starcraft from time to time – sorry about that.
Facebook is also really useful to us, and if you use that particular social outlet, please do become a fan. The community there recently voted that only I be allowed to make posts, so it’s a place to get updates and comment on specific things we’re doing, rather than an open forum to discuss the game.
If you want to send me a nice message, talk about business or press, or you really want immediate direct attention for something, I’m still here on email.
SUPPORT: support at mode7games dot com
ANYTHING ELSE: paulmode7 at gmail dot com
Cheers! So many recommendations and the growing community are what really keeps the game alive – that’s down to you and we appreciate it.