Thanks for tuning in to episode 71 of the TBoD podcast. This week, we discuss:
Our indie spotlight this week is on Framed
Thanks for tuning in to episode 71 of the TBoD podcast. This week, we discuss:
Our indie spotlight this week is on Framed
The regular TBoD aural assault is here for your listening pleasure.
This week we talk;
Enjoy mother funsters….
In recent times a trend is forming in the gaming industry, a trend that, if implemented as it should be, I think is really beneficial to the consumer. That trend is to implement a free to play – or freemium – business model.
The concept, for those of you unfamiliar, is that a developer makes a game available to download for free and the gamer/consumer can spend money purchasing in-game content. As I say if this is done correctly then both sides of the table are rewarded, the consumer gets said game for nothing and, if they like it, they can show the dev some love by giving some money via a micro-transaction. This way the dev gets some appreciation as well as that all important injection of cash to pour into their next project, as far as we the humble gamer are concerned we get a game gratis and technically ‘donate’ what we want to the dev. A feeling of joy toward the developer should usually ensue and thus make us more likely to get other games from them.
I am not just talking theoretically here either, a few games I have played using this model have done it pretty damn well. As mentioned on our inaugural podcast Lord of the Rings Online uses this model in a nice way, giving the frugal player access to a fair amount of content for free whilst letting them purchase extra story-lines if so desired, but if not then the tight stringed gamer can progress to the end-game content without loosening the old coin-purse.
Similarly Valve’s Team Fortress 2 on the PC is also free to play and applies the model with style, offering a bona-fide multiplayer, in fact in their words “the entire game can be played without making a purchase. All game modes, classes, and maps are available. Nearly every weapon is available through achievements, drops, or crafting.” If you, like millions of others, have a penchant for hats (yes hats are big business in TF2) then you can buy as many as you like on the Mann Co. Store.
The PS3’s Dust 514 is another example of a game that is free to play. You can play this game perfectly fine without spending a penny, earning credits the hard way by shooting clones and buying your upgrades that way, or if you fancy parting with your hard-earned IRL moon bucks then you can buy items and boosters in-store no problem.
These games, in my opinion, are all good specimens of the free to play paradigm in the fact that they let you play unhindered and purchases are purely optional. Of course as with every idea there are those who look to exploit and pervert the whole concept. Case in point is Dead Space 3….Whats that? Yes I do know this is a triple A title and not F2P at all, and that’s my point, micro transactions, in my opinion, really should be the reserve of games that need to make money in this manner and this manner alone. The element of micro-transactions should not really be part of a game that the average Jo-Schmo has already paid out a chunk money for. Sure , the nature of these micro-transactions do not prohibit the player from progressing through the title, but it’s more the shady nature of the system to which I object. Like a man with a large overcoat approaching you to reveal shiny knock-off watches attached to the lining, even though you have a perfectly good watch already, the temptation is there to pick up a ‘bargain’.
Now I am not saying the gaming public are powerless to the whispers of in-game micro-transactions, quite the opposite in fact. Take Star Wars – The Old Republic, the most expensive game ever made which became the fastest growing MMO ever, it promised so much but ultimately shed subscribers due to a massive deficit in servers during and after launch and invalid preorder codes for a fair share of disgruntled customers. So given its rocky start, in their wisdom Bioware decided that just under a year after release they would move from the classic subscription based model and make SWTOR free to play in order to garner more players. Well, this went down about as well as a dog shit martini, the move left those faithful players who had shelled out a ruck of cash on subscriptions and the purchase of the game prior to the switch shaken (not stirred) and ultimately alienated them. Then Bioware who seemed so intent on trying to kick themselves really bloody hard in the testicles totally cocked up the whole idea of free to play by making the game pretty much unplayable. Sure you can explore the Star Wars universe, except if you wanted to use a mount, chat to other players, have a hotbar for your skills, have any type of customer support or merely sprint etc, all of these features were only available on subscription (full list of subscription only features can be found in this article on forbes.com – it is ridiculously long). Really though, pay to sprint? To Sprint!?
My point being that, just like that martini I mentioned earlier, the concept no matter how pure can be leave a really bad taste in your mouth if you get the formula wrong. But when the model is applied correctly and does not restrict game play then the benefits for us as a consumer are evident and, as I have heard from a couple of readers, as long as we don’t give our kids our iPad to play on then can be a pretty inexpensive way to game.
I have been chewing this one over for a couple of weeks and the whole idea of free to play games has captured my imagination for some, I would love to here your thoughts on the subject matter, do you like the model or do you think that its merely a way fleecing the gamer. Share your experiences and thoughts in the comments. Oh and dont forget to check out the podcast! If you have an iPhone search “Teabag or Die” on iTunes, if you are a Droid user then download OneCast and get us that way, or just listen directly from the site. Thanks.
-The Quim Ninja
Inspired by the Nerdist podcast interviews with the head of Valve Gabe Newell and the fact that Gabe is to be given a fellowship by BAFTA today, I thought this week instead of the usual game review, I would do something a little different and compare and contrast two of my favourite games developers around – Valve and 343 Industries. In particular I thought I would touch on each developer’s approach to their respective communities and then discuss how 343 Industries could improve as a company if they could take a page out Valve’s book.
So first things first, the community management by both companies are some of the best in the industries. Since 343 inherited the mantle (accidental pun) from Bungie they have really made an effort to stress the importance of their community in their success and have done so in a number of ways – interacting and seeking constant feedback on their own forums on Waypoint or others such as Neogaf, using social media tools especially twitter to create conversations with and between community members and having a great track record of actually hiring community members such as bsangel and more recently MLG’s Bravo. The fact that Microsoft created 343 by hiring Halo fans really has paid dividends in regards to having an enthusiastic team and that enthusiasm is certainly something that has rubbed off on the community.
Of course Valve are equally well known for the importance they place in the happiness of their community, although they go about it slightly differently to 343i. Rather than having a dedicated team whose job is to look after all things community, Gabe believes that everyone at Valve should listen and interact with their community, no one has that job because it is everyone’s responsibility. Ultimately this type of approach is best for both company and community alike because at the end of the day the community are the customers and without their support Valve would not exist. This is obviously why Gabe thinks that any interaction with the community should be entertaining and is a big fan of easter eggs, like putting the announcement for a game in another of their game’s code for their fans to find. Similarly 343, like Bungie, have a fondness for this type of communication, having hidden things in web code for treasure hunters to uncover. Both developers do the same throughout the games they make and I think they both do so for the same reasons and that’s to create a connection with their fans. Fans spend some time in their games looking for them, so by the effect of mere exposure the fans feel a deeper connection with the game and by-proxy with the developer, but also once discovered the fans feel like they are in on some secret put there just for them, whether it be a tidbit a of story, a reference to another game or some in-joke that only the hardcore fan would get.
Again, both companies encourage the creation of content by their respective communities. For example, Valve’s TF2 has so much community content, way more than Valve could ever imagine to make themselves and the diversity of mods and maps is astounding. Similarly, 343i have again kept Forge in Halo 4 to encourage the same type of content creation, of course given the hardware constraints between PC and the Xbox obviously the Halo community can only take baby steps in comparison, but still it’s certainly a good thing to give your fans the tools to come up with new ways of playing the game.
So, in terms of their community these two devs have a great ethos with regards to community. However, if we examine how each of each are arranged hierarchically they could not be more at odds. 343 Industries is of course a subsidiary of Microsoft, one of the largest, most successful and some might say one of the most traditionally corporate organisations around today and this is reflected in the way 343 is structured. Within 343’s camp there is a definite pecking order, Bonnie Ross being the General Manager and top of the pile at 343 has various department managers reporting to her and they have their head designers and so on. Now this set up is the norm and is echoed not only in the games industry but companies the world over. Of course there is always an exception to the rule.
When Gabe Newell set Valve up he envisioned something much more radical, perhaps something that may have been inspired in part by his time at Microsoft. To say Valve’s hierarchy is different would be incorrect because a hierarchy simply does not exist. Sure Gabe is the ‘head’ of the company but the way he sees things is that everyone at Valve is equal. People are responsible for their own work at Valve because Gabe believes that no-one should be the gate-keeper of someone else’s work. The upshot of this is that it gives Valve the ability to adapt quickly when developing a title. A corporate structure can slow the whole creative process down. For example, Halo 4 is a great game but it shipped as an unfinished product. Hypothetically, if 343 had had less line managers and more people physically working on the game would the file share been in at launch? Possibly. Would the servers have been a little more reliable at launch? Maybe so. The point being, art and business are in-congruent and Gabe recognised that, and minimised the corporate so it would not interfere with Valve’s mission – to focus on innovation as oppose to profit and growth. Now I am not saying 343 are not focused on creating quality content and innovating within their Halo landscape, but ultimately they are there to make Halo successful by moving units for Microsoft. I do not mean that cynically, it’s just the truth. Triple AAA titles on consoles are there to make as much money as possible by appealing to as many people as possible.
For fear of this getting a little dry I think I will just finish by saying that both of these companies do their utmost to involve their communities but in a perfect world, if 343 could emulate the set up of Valve, even more quality Halo based content could be created. At least, in my opinion, 343 create some great things – despite the constraints they have. If other large games companies were to take notes from Valve, they might actually come up with something innovative and exciting rather than yet another slightly upgraded version of the same game each and every year.
This article was something I have thought about for a bit and would really love to hear what you, the reader, thinks about the content here. Please leave a comment or get in touch with us via twitter. Thanks
– The Quim Ninja