What Do You Think of Free-to-play as a Way to Get Non-gamers Interested in Gaming?

comment_box_33-1It wasn’t really planned, but our “What Do You Think?" features have become a regular weekly thing, and it’s been fantastic to see everyone’s responses to the questions we’ve posed so far. As with our previous installments, this week’s What Do You Think? arose just through a topic that we were discussing behind the scenes here at TouchArcade Towers, and now we’d like to find out what our community thinks.

There’s no question that free-to-play is all the rage on mobile nowadays, and there’s no question that a seemingly large pool of gamers absolutely despise that pay model, or simply the inclusion of in-app purchases in any form. However, even a cursory glance at the top grossing chart in the App Store reveals that people are spending big time money on free-to-play games, and they seem to be perfectly happy doing so.

I go back and forth with my feelings on free-to-play. Maybe being a part of “the industry" has given me a greater insight into just how damn tough it is to make an iOS game and still be able to keep the lights on, as opposed to your average person or even your average gamer who does pay more attention to how the video game industry works. It’s brutal, you guys. You really can’t blame a developer for going the route that gives them the best chance to make money in any way possible if it’s a matter of staying in business or not.

screen1136x1136However, I’ve seen the free-to-play model abused too, and ruin otherwise perfectly good games. There are all sorts of psychological tricks you can play on people in order to get them to open their wallets, and there are companies out there who specialize in finding out just what those tricks are and then exploiting them.

We’ve been discussing Candy Crush Saga (Free) a lot lately, as it makes money hand over fist and seemingly everyone from senior citizens to children are out there playing this game like crazy. To regular lifelong gamers like myself and Eli, it just looks like your average match-3 game that’s been done to death for over a decade now, but stuffed with IAP, timers, and pretty much all the stuff about freemium games that tends to make us groan. So what is it that makes people go so gaga over Candy Crush?

It’s interesting actually, because once you dig into Candy Crush–and I mean really dig in, past the first 40 or 50 levels at least–it opens up considerably and is an incredibly deep and strategic matching game. To regular gamers, those first sets of levels might as well just have a big “WIN" button they’re so easy, and then you run right into this huge difficulty spike that, to us, feels like the point in the game where the developers have decided to turn the screws and nudge you towards the in-game store.

To a casual gamer though, those first sets of levels are just secretly and subtly teaching the mechanics of the game to someone who probably hasn’t played a million matching games already. It’s like one really big, long, gentle tutorial. As a result, when those casual players get to that later point in the game where difficulty ramps up and strategy gets deeper, they are likely equipped to take on the increased challenge that they probably couldn’t have dealt with at an earlier point in the game.

screen1136x1136-1From there, maybe your non-gaming mom who has dumped hours upon hours into something like Candy Crush might go in search of a new challenge, and be turned on to more gaming in general.

There’s a very big difference between “gamers" and “people who play games." Gamers grew up with just buying a game and getting the whole shebang upfront, save for things like expansion packs and additional content post-release. This whole free-to-play thing is new to people like us, and new things can be scary. I’ve played games for 30 years a certain way and enjoyed it immensely, why should the way I buy and play games have to change?

But that means the things that scare us might not be so scary, or even noticeable, to casual gamers who enjoy playing games on their mobile devices. Sure, I hate hitting a timer wall and being told I can’t play more unless I wait it out or pony up some dough. Someone who leads a busy life and just fills the gaps with some Candy Crush throughout the day–granted for many, many times a day and for many days–won’t be as affected having to wait 10 or 15 minutes to “regenerate" or what have you. They’re not used to, or even in a position to, sit down and play a game straight for hours at a time. So that occasional wait isn’t a big deal. Often these same casual gamers have disposable income where flipping a few dollars every once in a while towards a game that they enjoy and have dumped considerable time into isn’t an issue either.

So, the question I’m getting to with all this is, are you willing to put up with free-to-play shenanigans if it means that more people will be attracted to gaming in general, hopefully making it grow even faster and further than it has already? Or are you content with gaming being somewhat inaccessible except for those who grew up gaming in the first place or take the time to fully understand and obtain the skills necessary to enjoy gaming on a “hardcore" level?

Sound off in the comments below, and be sure to give our TouchArcade Show podcast a listen tomorrow as we discuss this very issue at length.