Can the free to play business model work for story-based games?

In case you haven’t noticed, the whole games market is moving towards the so called “Free to play” business model. It started in the asian countries and now it seems that it’s going to be the “next big thing”. On Facebook games is already the “norm”.

How it works? quite simple. Instead of having the traditional time/feature limited demo and one-time fee to get the game fullversion, here you can “in theory” play for free as long as you want. In practice, the gameplay is crafted in such a way that first draws you into the game, and then when you’re just about to have fun, it starts cutting off your fun by telling you how lame you are because you didn’t spend 500 “virtual gold” to buy a new horse, or how the “platinum membership” would make the game much more fun.

Personally I don’t like it, I tried a few games but the fact that the designer had to design the gameplay around this system restrict the gameplay innovation. Indeed this system works well mostly on RPG (MMORPG) or strategy/simulation games. But what will happen to story-based games? Visual Novel, Dating Sims or maybe even just FPS with a good story like Max Payne or Assassin Creed?

I really don’t think is possible to successfully implement this in a heavy story-driven game. What would you do, show one chapter at time and ask for a small microtransaction every chapter? why don’t just ask people to “pay upfront” the amount and be done with it? or in a dating sim for example, ask $5 each dateable character? what would be the fun in spending $5 to date only 1 character in a game? it seems quite silly to me, especially since we’re talking about very low amount of money. I don’t need to make again the classic example that if you go out with friends to watch a movie you easily spend in drinks, fuel, and extras x2-3 times the amount of a regular indie game ($20) and have fun for one day, instead of weeks or in some cases months.

And in all other F2P games you can play free, but in practice the experience is so awful that either you pay nothing, play a few hours/days and quit, or you decide to invest your time (and money) in the game and then you’ll easily exceed $20 … by a lot! That’s fine of course, everyone can do what they want with their money.

But speaking about a possible implementation of F2P in story-based games, my answer it’s still: no. I really think it wouldn’t make much sense at all.

Also I really don’t believe that in few years ALL games (even RPG/strategy games) will become F2P. There are many downsides to that (being always online, annoying multiplayer experiences, the worst value for money as player, lots of maintenance as developers, possible hackers attack, and I could go on) and in general not everyone wants to make a game that has severe gameplay/game design restrictions. At least, I hope! 🙂

And now enough talking about the game business and here are some news about the current games in development!

Spirited Heart Girl’s Love

That’s how I’m going to officially call the Spirited Heart expansion. I will also change the purchase options: you can buy either the “normal” version or the Girl’s Love for $19.99, or if you have already bought the original game the expansion will cost $9.99. If you don’t have either and you buy them together, the final price will be $29.99 (so still only $9.99 more than the normal version). The game will expand the original one with 6 different (and unique!) dateable girls and also the endings reflect your race now (even for the males). So if you were disappointed by Frebo ending in the original game, this time pick a human or even better a demoness and you’ll see that will be better 🙂

Ria Yana

The Spirited Heart expansion is at very good point (all plot is finished) and will be surely out by August if not sooner.

Loren The Amazon Princess

Things are going well: I decided was time to ask the help of someone that knows coding better than me, and we’re building up a RPG Framework so that I can reuse it for future titles. As you can see from the gallery screen below, the game interface is taking shape and we’ll have a skilltree with several specializations, a full inventory with many equippable slots (yes I changed my mind about the inventory!) and a very good quest screen, with the possibility of having sub-quests (so more powerful than the Planet Stronghold one for example).

Class_icons_002_backpack Class_icons_002_questbook Class_icons_002_skills

While things are going forward at good speed, because this game will use a completely new system will need good testing and also the plot still needs to be written in good part, so it’s very unlikely that I’ll have even just beta preorders before September (and even that is an optimistic date). Much will depend on artist/writer/coder speed as always!

Finally, I want to leave you with a nice graph showing all the romance possibilities of Loren RPG:

Romances
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6 Responses to Can the free to play business model work for story-based games?

  1. Carmentis says:

    About the new endings, will Freebo still have the same ending but just have his come-uppance or will they have a 100% new happish ending? Honestly I prefer the later, because everyone enjoys a happy ending cause real life is full of to put it bluntly, crap, already. XD

    • admin says:

      The boy endings will change based on the race personality. Elf is quite submissive, Demon is the opposite and Human is mid-way. So no sorry there is still some “bad endings”, depending on the race. But all the new ones are much happier 🙂

  2. Ren says:

    Uhm… Max Payne and and Assassins Creed are First Person Shooters?

    Also: Sauzer isn’t connected to anyone, is that intentional or am I missing something?

    Back to the topic at hand: personally, I’d be very wary of buying single episodes of a series, just in case it tanks and doesn’t get completed. It would take a great deal of trust in whoever decided to pursue that route to make me invest the money. Even if there was anyone in the EVN market that I trusted to be able to pull off a whole series, I’d still be tempted to buy it only once it had been completed, all at once.

    That said, the state of EVNs lately is not very inspiring in general – it doesn’t seem to me there’s much in the way of personality – originality is perhaps what other people would ask for – to make it likely that trying something like episodic releases could have a significant success.

    • admin says:

      Well I don’t know how you would define Max Payne and and Assassins Creed? there is a story, but the main gameplay is action/FPS. A better example would be Alpha Protocol where dialogue choices have an impact on plot.

      Yes Sauzer is a sort of monk and he doesn’t have time for romance 😀

      About the topic: I agree with you and I really think that it CANNOT work on story-based games, in particular pure VNs. If you take a game like my Spirited Heart and expand it, then perhaps could work. By work I mean “integrate well in gameplay”, not that would be a success of course!

  3. Chris Payne says:

    You should check out http://echobazaar.failbettergames.com/ for a story-based game using the F2P model. There IS an element of RPG grind in there, but loads of free content and you can buy a selection of ingame assets and premium story chapters. They’ve also recently added a subscription option, which gets you different premium content.

    I hope they’re making a decent profit from it, ‘cos it’s an inspired setting and masterfully written. I apologise in advance for getting you hooked.

    • admin says:

      Yes that’s a good example, I haven’t played it yet (probably will). The art/setting doesn’t inspire me much though (personal tastes).
      I know though that I would be very uncomfortable to buy story chapters. IMHO it works better if is a normal game with gameplay like RPG, where you can buy stuff that lets you access new zones so that the new stories unlock. But “unlocking new chapter”… don’t know it feels a bit too much users-milking to me 😀
      Of course I can be (and probably am) totally wrong 🙂

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