The myths and legends of free-to-play games

August 20, 2019

Like everything related to pop culture, the world of free-to-play videogames is full of ‘facts’ that are not entirely true. In some cases, they’re things taken out of context, while in others they are pure myth and legend.

After 13 years in the videogame industry developing titles such as Respawnables and Afterpulse at Digital Legends, Álvaro Rico not only knows the industry like the back of his hand, but also knows how much myth and legend there is in everything people say about the world of free-to-play videogames.

Myth #1: Pre-production

In many videogame development schools and talks, pre-production is spoken of as the time when you ask yourself all the questions and discover all the answers, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Good games don’t only come from good pre-production and there are times when the best decisions are made at the last minute. For example, major hits like Toy Story and Donkey Kong changed the design of key characters at the last minute. So don’t feel bad if you’re in the middle of production and you have to make a substantial change.

It’s easier to make the right decision when you have a lot of information.

Myth #2: Sell only cosmetic or vanity items

Some say free-to-play games should only sell cosmetic items. It’s a good strategy, but it doesn’t work for all games. Vanity items only work in games with intense social interaction, with lots of players and social media pull. But what about small one-player games? Who’s going to want to buy a skin in a game like that?

Myth #3: Usability

Another fairly widespread myth is that UX can make a big difference to the sales of a game. “Players and users may appreciate high-quality interfaces, but in my 13 years of experience I still haven’t seen any cases where improving UX has significantly increased revenue,” Rico says.

A great improvement in your game’s UX can increase your income by 1%. This can make a huge impact if your game has billions of players but if you have a medium or small game it’s not worth the effort.

Myth #4: Monetization

Last but not least, there’s the monetization myth. Many players despise free-to-play games because they think the business model affects game design. They think they are not fair and that many developers are evil.

Console players are not used to this kind of monetization and that’s why they complain so much,” says Álvaro Rico. However, there’s not so much difference between the way free-to-play games work and the way arcade games used to. In fact, many used difficulty, bosses and a continue feature as systems to control the maximum time each player played on average. “The gamers of the future will see this type of design and monetization as a natural thing,” Rico says.


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