Ethical Criticisms Of Free-To-Play


Casual Connect Europe kicked off with Thorsten Rauser’s rehash of some long-standing ethical criticisms of the free-to-play model as it relates to casual games. Has free-to-play become any more or less ethical in the last year?

Chris: Free-to-play has won out as the premier business model because the players have spoken, not because developers have become more crafty in their ability to deceive their players.  I give casual gamers more credit when it comes to their understanding of the F2P space than I think Thorsten does. In his talk, he mentions the increase of lawsuits and policy changes as a reason why people may abandon free-to-play games, which I strongly disagree with. Players are going to continue to flock to this model because the barrier to entry is low and they enjoy the types of games that are available.  Regulation will eventually take hold through platform policies along with continued updates to hardware and software controls, but it certainly won’t make free-to-play go away anytime soon.

Rhett:The number of developers who feel they can capitalize on the success of the free-to-play model has increased, and with that comes lower quality offerings. It’s most often these low quality titles that try to exploit players while providing them no real value. Thankfully, they rarely succeed. The app store is an indifferent crucible for the industry and low quality apps will quickly fail where higher quality games thrive, no matter the pay model. The long term success of games like New Star Soccer and MMX Racing is a testament to that.

Evan: Ethics in free-to-play are a non-issue. Games have always been about paying for emotionally and intellectually stimulating content, a.k.a. “fun”. Free-to-play distills that exchange down to its most granular form, where it becomes necessary to closely examine what it is we consider “fun” and its relationship to ROI. We can learn a lot about how to make better products by closely examining our audience. This is, however, predicated on the fact that people are consistent in what they enjoy, and are consequently willing to pay for. This runs counter to widely held feelings of individualism, which is what I think steers the discussion towards questions of ethics and morality. People don’t like to think of themselves as being predictable.

These same criticisms were cited as evidence that the model is not sustainable and that “the free-to-play ship is sinking.” Do you consider this to be the case?

Chris: I highly doubt it. There are plenty of players that enjoy this type of game and that’s why it has become the dominant business model in mobile and pc.  Developers are going to continue to innovate and bring new and unique styles of games to this model, and the players are going to continue to consume en masse. To call free-to-play a “sinking ship” is an opinion that, to me, seems to ignore fact.   

Rhett: The only sustainable model in mobile is the one that demonstrates enough value to players that they invest their hard earned money. Free-to-play has an easier job because players can get immersed in the game before deciding to invest. When a pay model comes along that does a better job of demonstrating value, it will top the charts.

Evan: Free-to-play is a reaction to a growing distrust between consumers and industry. It has risen in popularity on par with other environmental changes that have empowered the consumer. The opinions of our peers dictate our spending behaviours, and social media has allowed public opinion to be more easily disseminated than ever before. As long as the majority of the market is on guard against the private sector, free-to-play will remain the most effective method of bypassing the risk that comes with purchasing a product sight unseen.

Diana Aquino
Creator, Problem Solver, Professional Shopper.

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