There's an air of scepticism that surrounds free-to-play games — can they possibly be any good if they're offered for free? Surely there must be a soulless, money-grabbing hook embedded into the game somewhere, right? According to PopCap's Giodano Contestabile, players need to dispel these preconceptions.
In his column over at EDGE, the Bejeweled franchise business director said that those who believe freemium games will "bring ruin on our beloved activity, replacing engaging gameplay with repetitive exploitative viral mechanics" were a vocal minority basing their opinions on the first wave of social network games.
"The first experiments in that sense could barely be defined 'games'," Contestabile said.
"[They] were simplistic 'applications' built by web developers with little or no exposure to game design, aiming to take advantage of the platform's viral features for rapid growth."
Contestabile says that things have changed.
"Many existing social games are shallow, and don't seem to have players' enjoyment as the foremost priority," he said.
"But many are, and every day we see new ones that, while not perfect, bring innovation and a sense of fun, and advance our overall understanding of a space that's still in a very early stage of development.
"Many compelling game experiences are emerging, developed by teams that understand not only the dynamics of social games, but also that the most important feature of any game is also the most difficult to pin down: fun."
He says that developers can benefit from the free-to-play model because it gives them the constant feedback which they can use to iterate and improve the game. Free-to-play doesn't have to be exploitative or poor in quality, Contestabile argues: "Make it fun, and people will come. Make it fun, and people will play. Make it fun, and people will want to pay."
What are your thoughts on free-to-play games? Do you think Contestabile is right and we're seeing a movement towards quality free-to-play games? Or are you not convinced? Let us know!