No Time To Play
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Weekly Links #51: free-to-play edition

All right folks, let's kick off 2015. Surprisingly enough, there have been a couple of relevant news pieces over the otherwise dead New Year's week, and as it happens both are related to game pricing. I'll start with a Techdirt piece illustrating just how far micropayments can go. Short version: it's UGLY. Not that saying so will change anything as long as people keep paying to be shat on, but it's good to keep in mind that unless you're as big as EA, you can't really afford to treat your customers like that. This is not good business practice; it's just something they can afford to do. You don't.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, the fine folk at Failbetter Games took the time to explain why Fallen London is still free to play. Having played Fallen London since it was called Echo Bazaar, I can say it's F2P done right. Or was — I gave up in the meantime, having grown tired of clicking cows.

Speaking of which.

Look, pressing buttons is addictive. We're wired to do stuff, not just sit and watch. Give people a hundred cable channels and they'll invent zapping, because playing with the TV remote is more fun than watching all those reality shows and soap operas. Games are similar: they can get away with terrible or no artwork, sound, story... even gameplay doesn't need to be all that great because interactivity itself is the ultimate gimmick.

And that's why cow-clickers work: people are willing to keep clicking anything as long as it has an obvious (and mildly entertaining) effect. It's why even the simplest slot machine works so well, keeping even non-gamblers hooked for hours.

It's also why most other games work, at their core. They may be arbitrarily complicated, but ultimately it all comes down to: press a button, make something happen. When the buttons stop working, you'll be willing to pay money to continue. That's the way things have worked ever since the days of the arcade. Subscriptions, F2P... it's all variations on a theme. Which variation you use depends on how you designed your various game loops. And F2P is nothing more than the modern version of "insert coin to continue".

So why the hate towards EA's approach? Because it's the difference between inserting a new coin when you lose all your lives and having to insert a coin every time you want to shoot a missile, or jump higher, or what have you. And you can't get anywhere in the game without shooting lots of missiles.

Wouldn't you rather play a slot machine? At least you'd have a tiny change to win some of those coins back...

But I'm already late. See you next week.