The Greatest Generation Of Gamers Needs To Save Us From The New Wave Of Video Games

It used to be so simple. After consoles and PCs emerged from the collapse of arcades as dominant gaming platforms, a contract existed between the gamer and developer: you give me $90 and I give you about 20 hours of fun in a box. This treaty lasted for over 25 years and through seven generations of consoles, taking the video game industry to new highs and pop culture relevance.

The contract has been broken. With the rise of free2play, instead of paying up front for fun, games are miserable hamster wheels. You grind and grind to get nowhere, or pay a few bucks to make the wheel spin faster. You're never going to get anywhere, but that's by design. It's all about maximising the user's Lifetime Value. This may not sound fun, but hamster wheels aren't powered by fun, they run on compulsion.

This is horrifying to a generation raised on paid games. These are gamers born between 1965 and 1990 — stretching through Generation X and Y. They are the Greatest Generation of gamers, as I call them. We who are in that generation complain about free2play games all over the web — but the fact is we are declining in number. Every year more of us die, making way for the next wave of gamers.

For this upcoming group; social, mobile, and free2play browser games are their formative experiences. Instead of an NES they had Club Penguin — instead of a PlayStation they had Kongregate. They believe games should be free just as we now think music is.

Every year more of us die, making way for the next wave of gamers.

The lure of free is irresistible. In Dan Ariely's book, Predictably Irrational, he details how persuasive free is with a simple experiment. The author set up a candy stand that sold expensive Lindt truffles for a mere 15 cents and mundane Hershey Kisses for 1c. With this pricing, 73 per cent chose the Lindt truffles. When the truffle was offered for 14c and the Hershey Kiss for free, 69 per cent chose the highly inferior free chocolate.

If you compare an excellently crafted single player high-end console game such as BioShock to a Lindt Truffle and a grindy freemium hamster wheel to a Hershey Kiss you might see the problem. Even if premium games provide a "better" experience, having to pay $90 up front for it is a nearly insurmountable amount of friction in the face of free entertainment.

Disruption is a force of nature — fighting it is like fighting earthquakes. Resistance is futile.

The old guard isn't going down easy. EA has made many attempts from buying Playfish in 2009 to Mass Effect 3 multiplayer and the success of Simpsons: Tapped out on iOS. Yet, digital revenue has not been able to reverse a stock slide that had EA removed from the NASDAQ 100. THQ's future is uncertain. Activision has held up better than most — with Call of Duty being a victor in the winner-take-all AAA market. This has encouraged a cautious approach to new business models. Activision's aggressive attack of the iOS f2p market with Skylanders: Battlegrounds shows they are getting serious.

Instead of an NES the new generation had Club Penguin — instead of a PlayStation they had Kongregate. They believe games should be free, just as we now think music is.

This is particularly frightening for console manufacturers. By this time next year, we'll be basking in the glow of at least one new eighth generation console. It's hard to get people to pay $90 for a game — now try to get them to also pay $400 for a new box to play it on.

Old-school game developers complain about how free2play games are shameless monetisation engines. Yet, many tropes of fun-based games such as lives, scores, continues, and even screenshot-worthy graphics are monetisation techniques of the old guard. Mixing monetisation and game design is nothing new. Although having monetisation be a fundamental responsibility of the game designers instead of strictly management and marketing departments is.

Freemium isn't evil, and not all freemium games are pure compulsion loops. In fact, competitive games such as Riot's League of Legends and Valve's Team Fortress 2 prove that you can build a profitable business out of free2play titles that celebrate mechanics, mastery, and fun.

It remains to be seen how this will work for single player narratives. This is largely a matter of economics. In a f2p game, 5 per cent of your users pay to subsidise the 95 per cent that don't spend a dime. With premium console games this is inverted. The 95 per cent of your customers who never come close to finishing the game subsidise the creation of content that only 5 per cent of the users ever see.

What's the solution?

Current f2p game designs are too primitive to work in a single player narrative experience. The last thing we need is a dialog popping up asking to buy soul crystals before harvesting a Little One.

Perhaps the legacy of The Greatest Generation is to make sure fun in games lives on in the era of f2p economies. Or else, Cow Clickers shall inherit the Earth.


Ralph Barbagallo is a game designer, programmer, consultant, entrepreneur and doughnut enthusiast. Follow him @flarb, find his other ramblings at ralphbarbagallo.com, or have him and his crew make you stuff at flarb.com.


Comments

    Unfortunately CoD only gives 6 hours with the price of 100

      Tell that to my friend with no-life who racked up 1200 hours in black-op's multi player.

    If videogames all start to follow the Zynga model then I will be finding a new hobby.

      "If videogames all start to follow the Zynga model then I will be finding a new hobby."

      Same. I've already begun branching out a bit more with hobbies.

        I've taken up astronomy and cycling.

        and once I figure out how to safely mount a telescope onto a bike in a usable way: astrocyclonomying.

          Just tuck it under your shoulder, you'll be right - just remember to wear pants and an Monocle ;)

      Social tabletop games are the way to go ;)

        They really aren't. Unless you like hanging around the kinds of people who like tabletop gaming.

    These are gamers born between 1965 and 1990 — stretching through Generation X and Y. They are the Greatest Generation of gamers, as I call them. We who are in that generation complain about free2play games all over the web — but the fact is we are declining in number. Every year more of us die, making way for the next wave of gamers.

    Wow... You can't pin all of the change on us new guys. I was born after that period and hate f2p games as do many others. If anything the blame should be pinned on the developers which have risen from this "Greatest Generation". You would probably be hard pressed today to find a serious developer not from that time period. If you so say that f2p is something bad than surly many of these Cow Clickers are going to catch on and actually try to take steps to improve things for the future, or do we just not know any better?

    I for sure intend to do all I can to help a full and fair experience there, with no strings attached to anyone who may possibly even pay for one of my or any games in the future.

    What a pretentious little twat. Yes, you're the holy "greatest generation of gamers". Nobody else could possibly have a better gaming experience than you.

    I was born in the 90's, and I don't play any free to play games. But if it pleases you to lump everybody born after a certain period of time in a group and say that "real" gaming is lost on them, then feel free to keep believing that crap. We're all gamers, what the hell does it matter what you grow up playing? It doesn't make you any better, it doesn't give you a higher "status" within the gaming community.

    Wait, 1982....Im part of the greatest generation? Ohhhhhhh yeeeaaahhhh! Go fetch my pipe and slippers cause Im about to teach you lot the importance of blowing in cartridges and lightly tapping the top of your NES when you see that flashing red light!
    (I still cant beat Mike Tysons Punch Out....)

    In the interest of fairness it should be mentioned that its my generation that came up with the new freemium business model......Yeah sorry about that.

    I think the Gamer Generation have bigger problems: Tyrants making decisions for others without their consent.

    http://news.ninemsn.com.au/world/2013/01/05/09/01/us-town-plans-violent-video-game-buyback

    I wonder if Steam is partly responsible for the decline of high end games and all the developers having financial troubles?
    How many PC gamers out there have not bothered to buy a game day 1 because they know in a couple of months it will be a fraction of the price on steam, including a bunch of DLC?
    I know I have.
    Hell speaking of DLC, how many peeps wait for a GOTY edition with all the DLC included because the feel like they are being ripped of otherwise?

    Last edited 05/01/13 4:08 pm

      I'm guilty of the second one but then DLC is also a symptom of the shift towards buying little bits of games at a time trend.

      I don't have all that many games on 360 that I'm interested in, but the few that there are I do exactly that. It's a combination of feeling ripped off as well as wanting the "complete" game. If the content only exists in soft form, then it could disappear in a moment's notice. Years down the track, if I want to play it again I'll only have a partial game experience. Whereas if it's on the disc, then it's there and it's mine forever no matter what happens to my machine or the servers that host the extra content or anything. Just like all my old Nintendo games.

      It's also why I would never buy a "GOTY" like Borderlands, where the extra content is only included as a bunch of download codes :P

    Apparently I am part of this Greatest Generation of Gamers and I think the whole premise of his article is total bullshit. I absolutely love League of Legends and I think their model is a great one. I have dropped hundreds of dollars on this game and I think Riot is making their content better and better all the time. You only need to see how much things change when they update the visuals of an older character to see how much the quality of their work is now compared to a couple of years back.

    This guy needs to ease up on the nostalgia - there have always been shit games (did he even experience some of the crap that came via shareware floppy disks?) and free to play games won't be any different.

      Yeah LoL is great and an example of F2P done right - as the author said.
      But many others, not so much.

    Free-to-Pay, you mean. Games are entertainment, not services.

    This is nonsensical. I do not have the time in the day to play every single game being made. I stick to the top tier products and the well-rated indie stuff, and I do as well as I could really hope.

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