Mobile gaming and free-to-play are inextricably linked at this point, and it's often used as a big talking point for console and PC gamers who complain about mobile gaming. But the reality is that free-to-play makes a lot of sense for a lot of companies. And Epic Games is the next company making a big transition to free-to-play with their new games, particularly Fortnite, Unreal Tournament, and the upcoming MOBA Paragon. Polygon's feature is quite interesting on it, particularly as it talks about how massive game budgets can crush a studio like theirs. Yes, even with Unreal Engine being such a huge part of the gaming industry. And it starts to make more sense to make games that can evolve and grow as live titles, that also bring in consistent revenue over time.

The thing is that you're going to see a lot more of this happening. There are obvious benefits to games-as-a-service versus hoping a studio gets it right with a fire-and-forget title. Valve obviously has had success with free-to-play with Team Fortress 2 and Dota 2. League of Legends is a massive free-to-play success, as is the cross-platform Hearthstone [Free]. Much like how mobile presaged the rise of indies, free-to-play success stories turned out to be more universal than many in the console and PC world would think. And we're seeing more and more big names start to realize that hey, free-to-play can be really lucrative. Those who don't are bound to be left behind. It's still a huge risk – Days of Discord [Free] managed to launch the exact same day as Clash Royale and is shutting down already – but if gamers are showing with their actions that they want free-to-play games, developers are going to give it to them.

  • jonas nielsen

    Yet Rockstar and other quality devs manage to make lots of money without resorting to timers, stamina, dual currencies etc.

    There is also a huge distinction between games like TF2 and Hearthstone. In the former you buy cosmetic items, in the latter you pay to win

    Also, Polygon? Really? No way i'm giving that piece of thrash site a single click

  • Taeles

    Got excited at the idea of anything at all new from Epic. Thoughts of infinity blade sequels and prequels and spinoffs fluttered infront of me... and then I went to their website... and saw MOBA for game description.

    -shoos off fluttering things, wanders off-

  • tommet

    Aw hells no.

  • planetmidgar

    This is a really big shame. When I was younger, the big turn off for older gamers was that the modern game controls got too complicated. Now it's the F2P mechanic; so I now know the different points of contention with how the industry is evolving. Unfortunately, the 'hardcore' aren't the major demographic anymore.

    • Themagicjesus

      People don't like F2P models because 98% of the time that ruins the game. Sorry I don't play games so the game can decide when I have fun and when I need to pay money.

      • curtisrshideler

        I've never played a game where the F2P mechanic made the game better than it could've been artistically and in gameplay as a premium title. Now, if we're talking trading cards or playing cards, I understand there's a level of buying new cards. But consumables, timers, and energies do not make the games I've played an ounce better. They do stop me from spending money, though!

  • Schpank

    More sweeping pronouncements about the future of games. I have a few questions about "the future" - Are all devolepers going to start only making MOBAs and quick and simple multiplayer tournament games? F2P monitization seems to fit these genres more naturally than other types of games. How many gamers will be satisfied having their choices winnowed to the types of games that are easiest to monitize? What about gamers who don't even like games like Clash?

    How many simultaneous "subscriptions" can the average gamer maintain or afford? If every studio wants to get and keep their hooks in you, how does that scale? I find the rationale for everyone going F2P (premium games aren't financially viable anymore) curious considering only a handful of the biggest companies will reap the rewards of the F2P gold rush anyway.

    Funny, I just read a thread in your forum where a developer admitted his F2P release wasn't making him any money and its implementation screwed up the game's quality to boot. He retooled it as premium. Bravo.

    • MrAlbum321

      Sweeping pronouncements, by nature, are broad strokes. Broad strokes, by nature, capture the majority, not 100%, of their target. Therefore, holding up the example of one game dev who switched from F2P to Premium from the forums does not discredit the argument the article makes. Sure, it's a neat case study that devs could surely learn from, but it does not discredit F2P as a whole, nor does it discredit the article's main point, that big names have gotten on board with F2P and are banking the success of their studios behind it, inevitably drawing copycats and competition from other companies looking to follow them, growing the F2P industry beyond their current demographics.

      Sure, there are gamers who crave premium experiences, and they do pay for them. However, the majority of gamers have already voted with their wallets, and they have stated loud and clear that they want freemium, as evidenced by the rise of the current F2P bubble (and I will agree that it is a bubble, as you implied with your leading questions).

      The bubble will burst as devs find out how unsustainable certain F2P monetization methods happen to be as they push the boundaries of what the audience will accept, and the majority of these studios will either adjust or go under. Not all of them, but most of them will. That does not mean that F2P will be gone forever and there will only be premium games; what it means is that F2P will cut out "unsafe, unfair, consumer-hostile, and/or unpopular" monetization methods, narrowing the focus of what F2P means, and strengthening the qualities the majority of the audience does like about the system:

      1. Ease of acquiring and playing. Zero upfront cost for some entertainment is very appealing, especially as premium game prices continue to inflate.

      2. Emphasis on regular content and patch updates. Retention of new players is contingent on new content coming into the game, meaning one mega-successful game can make a studio a household name over several years solely by focusing on that game, rather than risking everything with a new project every 3 to 5 years. That dream is very appealing to developers due to its job security, and it's also a challenge; F2P or not, it takes talent to create something that millions of people play every single day.

      Also, games getting new content on a regular basis means that players who love that game will never get tired of it, especially if a developer has found the ideal update cycle for the game.

      3. Zero investment guilt. Download an app that costs you nothing, and you don't like it? There is zero shame in getting rid of it. Download an app that costs you $15, and you don't like it? That feels worse, because your disappointment with the app is compounded by that $15 loss, thus getting rid of it before "you've gotten your money's worth" means keeping it around when you'd rather just drop it. Sure, it's not much of a difference, but people have made huge decisions on things so seemingly unimportant as something being $15 and something else being $0.

      4. Competition among developers. Gamers are so spoiled for choice when it comes to F2P right now, they can easily pick a couple favorites and be totally satisfied for the length of their play sessions. Premium games have to compete against that, and on average most gamers tend to go "why should I play X premium game when I'm already having fun with Y and Z? It helps that Y and Z are free, and X is not, because I'm having fun without paying a cent. I shouldn't have to buy X just because it's premium." In turn, that pushes premium games to be better than the F2P games, to justify the upfront cost in the minds of gamers. Thus, F2P AND Premium games both get better as they vie for audience attention and a share of the market.

      5. Less stress on players. Zero upfront investment means that players dictate when they pay, how much, under whatever monetization the devs set up. There's no agonizing over that initial purchase, and there's no anxiety over "getting your money's worth". And if you hit a paywall, or a game is no longer fun? Just take it off and be done with it. As a result, F2P players on average tend to have more fun than Premium players. What they miss out on is the laser-focused experience that a good Premium game brings to the table, but that may not be an issue for long, as my last (but not least) point shows:

      6. F2P is the gateway to gaming as a whole. It's like the sampler of appetizers: here are some limited choices that show the gist of what is on our menu, and if you like what you see we can provide more hearty meals in the main course. Since F2P games are so low-investment, low-stress, low-guilt, high-competition and (at least for the better ones) highly-maintained, they are an easy way for someone new to gaming to play and understand what a "game" is, how it controls, and what you could get out of the hobby if you choose to invest in it. After playing F2P for a while, some of those players may get interested in some premium games, and will broaden their knowledge of the medium as a result.

      As you can see, F2P has many positives to the monetization method, including the ones I didn't think up or consider. When the F2P bubble bursts, we will see the games that get the method right shine in these areas, and more. I would argue that a healthy game industry requires some amount of F2P, so that these positives can be leveraged to bring in wider audiences that will eventually narrow down to a "new hardcore" that expand from those F2P beginnings to premium games. Plus, Premium has benefited immensely from the competition; it's become a point of pride among devs AND gamers if they label themselves as "Premium", and that makes the method stick out from F2P in an alluring way. Sure, there are likely other benefits that I'm not thinking of, but as a consumer that is the most prominent one in my sight.

      So F2P IS HERE TO STAY. And I say: Thank goodness it is here. It's not perfect, it's not the be-all end-all of gaming, but it has shown itself to be essential to the industry as a whole. Given enough time, its current negatives will get sorted out.

      Make of my thoughts whatever you will.

      Sincerely,

      Mr. Album

      • Schpank

        All the upside you cite is debatable. Some of us would rather eat at a 4 star restaurant occasionally, than ballon-up in the Sizzler buffet line everyday. Personally, I find time to be the world's most precious commodity. I don't see wading through a sea of free junk as an advantage or privilege. I like to do my homework and spend my hard-earned cash discriminately. But hey, that's me.

        I notice your list is free of any of the major negatives of the F2P model. Among them are:

        1) Mutating your design away from an optimal gameplay experience to support monotization.

        2) A lower bar for industry quality overall. Shoving "free stuff" at consumers never = improved quality.

        3) A trend away from originality and toward homogeneity and glut. Why reinvent the wheel when the shakedown methods for MOBAs/CCGs/Match 3s/RTSs are already so robust?

        I could go on and on... but you get where I'm at. Gotta say, whenever I see "because that's where the money is for producers" offered as the reason we have to get on board as consumers, I'm skeptical and reticent. Call me a snob, but most everything I own was sought and purchased because it was produced as much a labor of love, as it was to make money. I don't expect to find much of that quality in an industry driven by money grubbing.

        I'd be willing to bet that this year's top ten lists for mobile games will be predominately premium games, just like last year. There's a reason for that.

      • MrAlbum321

        I agree with both your comments and my comments, as none of these comments contradict each other. They do not contradict, because to assume that any model is perfect or superior to another model is a fallacy due to these models being made by, and for, fallible human beings. I focused on the positives in my list because I wanted to point out where F2P does good for consumers and the industry and provide some reasons for it to stick around, to reinforce the point that, according to what I know, F2P is in a bubble that will burst... someday, and when that bubble bursts, it is the positives of F2P that will be prioritized and refined by developers, creating a "super F2P" that either works around or avoids the negatives that lead to the bubble bursting.

        Just because the points are debatable doesn't mean they are "wrong"; and, if you paid attention to the language of my post, the debatable nature of those points was obvious, because when evaluating something solely driven by consumer emotions such as the video game industry, reactions naturally vary from person to person, and by writing the points in such a way that their debatable nature was obvious, I was respecting that fact. In short, it's okay if you agree or disagree with me, and to be fair I did not explicitly say "F2P has no problems and doesn't need to get better". Thus, the negatives you pointed out are valid, and also debatable in their own way.

        For example, I shall list why the points you brought up are debatable:

        1. "Mutating your design away from an optimal gameplay experience to support monetization."

        Let's set aside the fact that "monetization" could, by dictionary definition, mean Premium as well as F2P, and that changes the meaning of your point to be a lot more flexible than what you may have intended, and move on.

        All designs mutate away from the original vision during the development process, as every work of art ever made changes as the artist makes it. Writers go through multiple drafts and proofreading, artists sketch their paintings before they put paint to canvas, filmmakers storyboard the entire movie several times (and often incorporate script changes from the writers, actors and producers), etc. Thus, "mutations" are expected in any creative process, and it is up to the developer to navigate the mutations as best they can and chart the course that creates a product everyone can, in theory, enjoy (Of course the dev can focus on a particular demographic, but the general creative process to make something that target audience likes is still the same).

        In short, the decision to go F2P or Premium is up to each developer, and is a part of their creative process. If they choose poorly, the game suffers, and that's on the shoulders of the devs, NOT on the monetization model itself. For example, if a dev completely redoes their RTS game to work more like Clash Royale but screws over their game balance in the process, that's their fault for making that decision. Sure, you could argue that they thought that Clash Royale-type games are the only way RTS survives as a genre in this day and age, but the dev could have put aside those thoughts and simply focused on making a good RTS game, regardless of the market conditions. Sure, it would suck if they didn't get the audience or the revenue of Clash Royale for such a hypothetical original vision, but that's up to the marketing abilities of the dev and the response of their target audience. Again, the problem isn't the method itself; the problem is how it is used, and that is something only developers have control over.

        2.) "A lower bar for industry quality overall. Shoving 'free stuff' at consumers never = improved quality."

        By that logic, creating demos should not have been demanded from gamers years ago, as demos are free stuff shoved at them as well, and those demos "obviously" lowered the quality of all games in the industry /sarcasm.

        Besides, I never suggested that all F2P games were masterpieces. I pointed out, though, that there is a huge audience for F2P games regardless of their quality, and that if Premium is to survive it must take some of that audience away from F2P. Premium games do this by doubling down on what they are good at, refining what it means to be "Premium" and making that initial purchase not only worth it, but satisfying.

        Premium as a monetization model must evolve or die, and Premium game devs would rather evolve the model than let it die. That makes Premium games better for consumers as Premium game devs make better games than they would otherwise, and that in turn signals to F2P devs that "Hey, Premium's making a comeback, we better step up our game or else we'll start losing our audience" and thus pushes the average quality of F2P up as a result.

        In short, competition is better than annihilation, and as you pointed out, Premium's not dead yet. In fact, there are premium game experiences you cannot get in F2P games, and as long as that exists, F2P will always have competition, and in the long term, both Premium and F2P will get better.

        Oh, and check out any gaming YouTuber with a show similar to the Angry Video Game Nerd, and you'll see that back in the days of 100% premium games, the garbage still drastically overshadows the gems. How else would those YouTubers get all that material unless that material existed back then?

        These points also relate to your third point, but let's continue:

        3. "A trend away from originality and toward homogeneity and glut. Why reinvent the wheel when the shakedown methods for MOBAs/CCGs/Match 3's/RTS's are already so robust?"

        Robust in what way, the churn of new players through the meat-grinder to then be spat back out once they hit the paywall/get sick and stop playing? Those games are garbage, I agree, and tellingly these types of games constantly churn in and out of the lower echelons of the "Top Grossing" lists in the App Store. What sticks is what the audience likes to pay for, and those are almost always the same games, because they have gotten churned by all those other games and they didn't like it, and refused to pay more for them.

        However, there is a flaw in your reasoning, and its name is Supercell. Let's look at this company's games and see if they stopped innovating after they hit it big.

        Their first big hit was Hay Day, and it was a FarmVille clone. It became one of the top grossing games on the App Store. In fact, it's still in the upper 30's on the list today. If you are correct in your point, then Supercell should not have done anything other than FarmVille clones for their follow-up, as why would they ever do anything else other than what works?

        Their follow-up was Clash of Clans, a base-building F2P RTS that blazed the trail that endless clones followed. After CoC, the App Store itself was never the same. Not only was the game innovative for the mobile market AND for F2P (for its time of course) it stayed at the #1 Top Grossing spot for years, only being ousted by other games on occasion, and always regaining its spot soon after.

        The point here isn't that CoC was "better" than Hay Day, or any other game; the point was that it was "different", especially for Supercell as a developer at that point in time. Boom Beach could be argued as more of the same, but the game plays very differently from CoC, with different mechanics and strategies. Clash Royale was also a leap forward for the company, for similar reasons.

        In short, Supercell has done nothing but innovate and push new game types for mobile F2P games after their first big success, and the more they move forward, the more they innovate, this showing that your point is not an absolute.

        Last but certainly not least, Supercell updates each of their games to this day, constantly tweaking them, adding new content and adding tons of value for players in the long run. They listen to player feedback, and tweak the game accordingly. How is that not indicative as a "labor of love"? (/sarcasm)

        Sure, you could argue that this was just one developer, and that there are hordes of other developers contributing evidence to your point. I would like to point out that the same could be said of the NES, the SNES, the PlayStation, the PS2, the GameCube, the N64, the insert-your-own-platform. There are always devs looking to make a quick buck by copying other people's innovations; tellingly, they don't last long, and they end up laughed at, vilified, teased and scorned through the lens of history. Yes, it sucks when innovative gems get buried in the junk, but that happened before F2P as a serious concept ever saw the light of day, as well as today. Mobile being flooded by an avalanche of games of dubious quality does not change the reality that this pattern was already established in the industry's very beginning. The video game crash of the 80's would not have happened unless garbage games got way too numerous AND expensive.

        In short, the eye of history says that F2P has zilch to do with "decreasing innovation" or "promoting homogeneity and glut". Remember when everybody was trying to clone Call of Duty, complete with multiplayer, regardless of whether or not it fit the game? The glut you are seeing is more of that very same pattern.

        Anyway, make of my thoughts whatever you will. Just because I debated your points does not mean that they are wrong; it just means that they are just as flawed as mine are.

        Sincerely,

        Mr. Album

      • Schpank

        Fair enough, you make some good points. Personally, I haven't really found any F2P titles that float my boat. Supercell may be the best of the lot, but I don't like their games, so the example is lost on me. It's likely a personality thing. I'm fiercely independent. I like things on my terms as much as possible and hate being handled, managed, manipulated, herded, conned... If F2P evolves and matures into something I feel comfortable with, cool. If not, I'll get my jollies somewhere else and "the future" can piss off. πŸ˜‰

      • MrAlbum321

        Hearthstone's the most user-friendly, as nothing prevents you from just playing the game for hours on end. Plus, no timers. Thirdly, they introduced card rotation as part of the game's recent expansion, meaning that you need fewer cards to be competitive in the Standard mode if you're just starting out. Fourthly, Arena allows you to familiarize yourself with all the cards without having to own them, helping you understand the full set of possibilities the cards have.

        Just a recommendation, if you were looking for a decent F2P game that doesn't hand-hold you.

  • Themagicjesus

    The F2P games listed are the few that have been done well by major companies. Not listed are the 10000 other F2P buy everything games that suck. Ever play a F2P game where you have to rent items and then after like a month they disappear? Ugh uninstall that shit right there

  • JudasKain

    I'm absolutely crestfallen hearing of EPIC's new direction. Ive played all IB's way past their lifetimes. I still play IB3 to this day... Looks like their new games won't last a day in my iPad. ..

    I have a general dislike for f2p games. But I give them a go so I can judge fairly. More often than not, the experience makes me want to take a bath. I feel dirty every time I feel games malignantly clawing at my wallet.

    Why epic? Why? What happened to IB4? Or IB Diablo? Where have they gone?!... STELLAAAAAA!

    • Stormourner of the Nature

      they better bring back Infinity Blade: Dungeons

  • 김지 ν‚«λ°Έ

    People have tried F2P, free to try free to start and as our generations keep coming out young little snorts will feel more and more entiltled to things they think the world owes them. Free to play was a disease that started and now everyone is sick with it. It's just what it is. I don't mind, some games eve have a choose to watch an ad deal. When that happens, yeah I watch ads. But I moved from android to iPhone because I saw a resurgence of awesome games and Apple has AAA support and great graphics and honestly, I was a pirate but I reformed πŸ™‚

    • curtisrshideler

      Last thing I need is another chance to watch advertising, am I right?!

    • Stormourner of the Nature

      you don't visit App Shopper frequently

  • Digibear

    Been playing Paragon for a few months now (PC) and I have to say it's a great game. They have done awesome with it, no limits or anything that stops you from enjoying the full experience. Definitely worth a try if you get into the beta or order a founders pack.

  • Reydn

    The move to software-as-a-service mirrors this in gaming. It will become standard ...

  • jin choung

    ugh... yeah yeah yeah... consistent revenue sounds like a good idea! sounds like it would be better than selling discrete products.... i think i might have heard the same thing surrounding... ohhhh what were they called? MMORPGs???? of which there are how many thriving games now? πŸ˜› goddamn people are piece of shit idiots. you focus on the successes and completely miss the also-ran bodies littering the floor. F2P is no guarantee and NO MORE likely to succeed than a traditional game.

  • jin choung

    and tons of free games tanks ALL THE TIME. they turn to f2p like it's somehow better than the old model. it's not. you're not ANY less likely to flame out spectacularly and may even be MORE likely to.

  • jonas nielsen

    But they did release a somewhat underperforming GTA, namely GTA 4

    They still managed without a problem because they have a reputation for quality and they fixed the issues

    Also, i'm not entirely sure of the point you're making - are you actually saying Epic weren't established back when? Because then you'd be very wrong

    As for mediocre games printing money, i haven't been into FPS since they started being multiplayer only but my understanding is CoD is pretty good as far as FPS goes, even if they're rehashes. Honestly though, how much can you evolve FPS games?

    We aren't talking about small indie studios here so your point about marketing misses the mark completely. We're talking about Epic games. A well established studio who happens to make one of the most renowned and used game engines in the world

  • Sentinel82

    Here we go again....