Would You Make a Freemium Game?


#1

So here’s the scenario: you get approached to create content from one of the freemium companies to make a game that would feature the usual trappings: in-game currency, timers, premium-only options. It represents a lot of the problems with the industry and you’d be stuck for regular updates potentially indefinitely, but you could make some really serious money and ultimately people are voluntarily playing (and paying).

What do you do, hotshot? What do you do?


#2

Rake in the cash so you can use some to make a project you are passionate about.


#3

I’m a capitalist. If you can make money and like what you’re doing, do it. I don’t really blame the developers for the freemium junk; it makes money so why wouldn’t they make games like that? Sometimes I wish someone would buck the trend but that’s not really my call.


#4

I’d make a freemium game, then do some scathing journalism about the process.


#5

there are plenty of Freemium games that I have enjoyed and some I still play. I still really like Marvel Strike Force.

I think it would be a fun challenge to create a Freemium game that both hooked whales, and provided good value to FTP players.


#6

The questions suggest a number of things:

–That you’ve been approached to do this and are weighing your decision (congrats)

–That the members of the forums here are rapidly becoming a kind of moral and emotional sounding board for the other members, which I’m all for, personally, as I never know who to turn to for advice

–That you feel you have some sense of ethical responsibility to the video game industry, which you absolutely don’t. You didn’t create the freemium model, and you didn’t create the app store or decide there would be no gatekeeper on it for games like this.

–That some part of you maybe equates freemium games to something else addictive–drugs, alcohol, etc–and recognizes that addictive things can be very damaging and don’t want to deliver anything damaging to anyone (which is very noble), regardless of how it might benefit you. But freemium games are nothing like those things, from a “damage” pov. No one is dying from their addiction to Candy Crush or whatever.

So, personally, I think you’re in the clear. Make the game. If you don’t make this game, it won’t keep it or many others like it from being made.


#7

very much so! a long list of freemiums i really love/loved to play without spending bucketloads of money.
Age of Magic, Legend of Solgard, Traitor’s Empire, Gems of War, Boom Beach, Space Miner Wars, Creature Quest, Disc Drivin’ 2, Hill Climb Racing 2, June’s Journey, Lily’s Garden, Murder in the Alps, Hay Day, Mythgard, Primal, Pocket Troops, Marvel Battle Lines, Marvel Strike Force, Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes, Sky Force Reloaded and some more.
most are outplayed (or outmaxed) by now for me but lots of fond memories.

speaking of high quality games with great graphics and animations.
the balance between making money from impatient whales and fun for patient longterm players can be done.
so go for it @Hustlertwo!


#8

freemiums can even generate some interest on sophisticated websites :wink:

two of the top 5 all time most viewed threads on SP are for freemiums.

  1. Stately Citizen Journalism / 49.6k views
  2. The Actual Table / 24.9 views
  3. Gems of War News and Discussions / 24.3 views
  4. Hill Climb Racing 2 friends challenges / 22.6 views
  5. Race for the Galaxy 1 on 1 challenge / 18.9 views

#9

I really like freemium games. I like them so much I try not to play them. I clocked up 12 months continuous daily play on Marvel Strike Force and chose to drop it. I think I spent $30 on it overall and don’t regret one thing.

Good games are good. Make a good game!


#10

I’ve mentioned before that I was very addicted to League of Legends years ago. LoL came along a bit before the explosion of freemium mobile games, but I think it was a great example of freemium done right. The game was completely free and you could unlock new heroes either through play or through cash. The rune system was mildly problematic and could be construed as pay to win, but I don’t feel that it detracted from the game.

Quality freemium is possible. Monetize through cosmetics or balanced alternative ways to play. Stay away from gated gameplay or clear advantages that are only available through cash.

Most importantly, make sure your game is actually a game, not a slot machine.


#11

I think the vastly more appropriate comparison is to gambling. Nobody (directly) dies from that, either, and it’s ostensibly “voluntary,” but of course people are not actually rational decision makers, and gambling does real damage to the lives of those addicted to it, and unfortunately to those around them. Now, I have no idea how freemium spending compares to gambling spending, on an individual basis, and I would be surprised to find that it’s anywhere near as destructive. On the other hand it adds nothing, absolutely nothing, positive to the world, so if that matters to you (despite protestations it seems to actually matter to very, very few people) that’s something to think about. However I find it difficult to point the finger of condemnation at developers of these games. The companies who commission them, maybe, but really on the scale of disastrous things in the world freemium games realistically won’t even move the needle. It would be easy to blame them for the demise of the mobile games market (for people like us), but really it’s because the mobile games market became flooded with people, and by and large people have garbage taste.

In short, sure why not, go nuts. It’s not like the world isn’t going to hell anyway, with or without one more freemium game.


#12

It’s not like you’ve turned down another well paid job for it.
A man’s gotto live, as they say.
And morally, there are things way worse then programming a freemium game. If it was bad at all.


#13

Yeah, it’s not a hypothetical. Lately there’s been some of the more freemium-heavy interactive fiction outfits recruiting Hosted Games authors with big advances and such, and someone saw me mention my plan for a third HG title and approached me about doing it on a whole different setup.

I appreciate all of you chipping in about it; I don’t have a lot of people I can ask about it who also understand gaming.

However, I did tell them that I would have to think about it some more. Even aside from the ethical quandary (which as has been mentioned, does ultimately come down to “people have the choice to make their own money choices, for good or ill”), I am not sure if I will be able to maintain a regular update schedule like that. I already work a day job and sell stuff on eBay with my wife. I only write during the early morning before they wake up. And I’m not really ready to take away time with the kids just to make a little more money. I’m also not sure if I might have a hard time cranking out the words when I’m not as passionate about what I’m doing.


#14

I suppose a lot of it depends on how much money they’re offering you, then. If it’s enough that you could quit the ebay business, maybe you wouldn’t lose as much time with the family. I’ve done ebay on and off over the years, and it can be irritatingly time consuming. Not that writing isn’t time consuming too, of course…

What kind of “updates” are they asking you to do–keep the story going on and on and on? I assume you don’t have to do any of the game coding–just the writing (and “just” does not make light of that task) and choice creation?

Also, does the company have a good or bad reputation? If the updates are your sticking point, then that’s the area to negotiate about. If it’s the money, then that’s the area. If it’s both and they aren’t friendly/flexible, then maybe it’s a no-go.

Please tell me more about/post link about this: “there’s been some of the more freemium-heavy interactive fiction outfits recruiting Hosted Games authors with big advances and such”, as that is very interesting and unknown news to me. I’m not even sure I was aware that freemium and interactive fiction were a united thing anywhere now. I haven’t seen an example of that.

Out of curiosity, what is your third HG title about? (You can move this to PM if you’d prefer)


#15

I ‘know’ a couple of strategy developers that went on to work on free games. Brian Reynolds (civ 2, smac) and Soren Johnson (civ 3, 4) both went off to zynga, amongst other places. I’d start by cold callings/DMing/whatever and asking their opinion. You might get a reply, idk.


#16

This company has not done anything like this before, so the money is unknown. It’s sort of an experiment. I would say who it was if I could, but it isn’t really my place. Presumably they reached out to me privately for a reason. As for eBay, it only takes up 2-4 hours a week in return for $5,000 or so a year (maybe more this year; I made almost $580 just on this past Thursday), and I enjoy it. It also is something I do with my wife, as opposed to writing which is a good bit more solitary. Still, writing also scratches an itch that doing item descriptions can’t quite reach.

I would be doing the writing and the coding, which I am used to from doing HG. Updates would potentially be ongoing for some time, would have to be seen how well it did. It’s a fairly reputable company, as evidenced by their earlier reticence to go this route.

I can be more upfront about the other company luring HG authors. Both Samuel Young (The Magician’s Burden, the Demons Among Men trilogy, about 9 different WIPs) and Tevin (an upcoming title called Street Jam that releases in January) have signed on to do stories with Tales. They offer $10,000 advances and don’t shy from controversial or violent content, and they do the whole freemium thing too; I know they have ‘premium’ choices that cannot be selected in the story without using an in-game currency. Usually options to romance a character or insta-win a situation from what I have heard. https://taleswriter.com/

My third WIP is no secret, though I have just barely started it (and I may shelve it to do a followup to Parenting, either The Grandparenting Simulator or an untitled story where you go through one year raising a whole family and managing your attention between a spouse and two or more kids). League of Lunacy would be a fantasy story where you manage a guild of mercs in a world still reeling from a spell seven years ago that left many people trapped in irreversible magic effects. Fairly comedic, as most of my stuff is (or at least tried to be).


#17

I recommend approaching this from the unemotional perspective of cost and risk. Have a good idea of how much doing this development will cost you in time and money. The start identifying risks to successful completion (i.e.: things that will cause costs to be greater and schedule to take longer than planned). For instance, given that neither you nor the company have done this exact business model before adds risk that your schedule estimates may be low because it will take additional time to tune the monetization. The more risk, the more margin you should build into the estimates. (The biggest pitfall I see with most kickstarter games is where they completely underestimate schedule risk)

If the up front and revenue sharing of the deal don’t cover your estimated costs plus some profit for you, don’t do it.

The fact you may have feelings about the business model could effect you motivation. That’s a risk too.


#18

Thanks for sharing all of this, Matt. There’s certainly risk since this is, as you put it, an experiment, but I think if you build in the right sort of monetary incentives for yourself–whether related to the short-term success of the game or the long-term success of the idea at the company–it can mitigate that to some degree. If this succeeds, for example, it could give you oversight on editing additional projects that you do not write, which would be $ but less time consuming. I’ve also seen some contracts with a sort of trap-door: if you decide after say 3 months that this isn’t working for you, you can walk with no penalties.

On the plus-side of “this is an experiment”, that should allow you a lot of control and input into exactly what the game looks like and how it works. Depending on the company, it could make your relationship with them more collaborative. So, if this is a good company, this could be great. If it’s Zynga, on the other hand, just back away now. Living in the Bay area, I’ve known numerous people who work or have worked there, and it’s not a happy place.

I hadn’t heard of Tales or that model, but I can see how it would work. I just hadn’t realized that interactive fiction was popular enough to warrant a FTP model. But apparently so. I don’t know what they’re like, but I could see how this is sort of good? I mean, anything that gets the medium more recognition?

So here’s a question: since you code and write the games already, what theoretically would prevent you from doing a freemium interactive story just on your own? The money up front? The time/energy commitment? The marketing? If it’s that you just don’t want your name on freemium, well… I mean, imagine you did this solo as opposed to with this company and look at the pluses and minuses on each side of it.

I personally think you should do it, but I also think you should really think out what you want most from the experience, short and long term, and structure your agreement with them based on that. If it were me, it would be some kind of mix of collaborative decision-making and favorable payment structure. The more involved you are, the less likely that you’ll be railroaded into something you hate.