John Romero Sees Free-to-Play as a killer of AAA studios. Is he right?

Jason Winter
By Jason Winter, News Editor


The creator of Doom sees... well, doom in the forecast for AAA gaming. And it's all PC gaming's and free-to-play's fault.

“With PC you have free-to-play and Steam games for five bucks. The PC is decimating console, just through price. Free-to-play has killed a hundred AAA studios,” said John Romero in an interview with last week.

I wouldn't quite take that extreme stance. While there have been some high-profile casualties in the AAA gaming space the last few years – Irrational Games, LucasArts, and THQ, to name a few – it's hard to say that F2P gaming was the cause. The yellow-tinted entries on this list display a lot of studios that went out of business before F2P really started taking hold in North America around 2009-10. And the super-huge companies, your EAs, Activisions, Ubisofts, and the like, are seemingly chugging along just fine.


But I agree with Romero's general sentiment – that F2P is having an effect that AAA studios can't ignore. It may not “kill” them, and it certainly hasn't killed “a hundred” of them – the Wikipedia list only includes 68 “dead” studios, many of whom wouldn't be classified as AAA, who were acquired and are not technically “dead,” or who ceased operations over a decade ago – but it has definitely stolen market share and made selling $60 box copies a tougher proposition than ever before.

The reason, of course, is money. As Romero puts it, it's easier to convince someone to download a game for free and then spend $50 or $60 on microtransactions once you've “hooked” them than it is to convince them to plop down $50 or $60 right out of the gate with nothing to go on but marketing hype and other people's opinions (reviews, videos, etc.). Even if a F2P game is “dirty” and nickel-and-dimes you to death, you can usually “escape” it before you've spent what you normally would spend on a fresh, new AAA game. That's not the case if you buy a $60 and decide you don't like it in the first few hours.


Romero says even that should be in the past. He says, “Everybody is getting better at free-to-play design, the freemium design, and it's going to lose its stigma at some point. People will settle into [the mindset] that there is a really fair way of doing it, and the other way is the dirty way. Hopefully that other way is easily noticeable by people and the quality design of freemium rises and becomes a standard. That's what everybody is working hard on.”

I'd debate that “everybody” is working on it; many developers are, though there are a few that are just looking to find new ways to exploit players with those “dirty” F2P schemes (Dungeon Defenders, hello). Fortunately, games like that are getting more and more vehemently negative reactions, to the point where, when I do an interview with a dev these days to talk about their new game, they trip all over themselves to declare, “We're not pay to win!” To claim, hint, or give people even the slightest reason to believe otherwise, is rapidly becoming a death sentence.


All but the most hidebound, stuck-in-the-mud, players can see that free-to-play is changing the gaming industry. You can debate whether that change is good or bad, but it's there, and the AAA studios realize this. Some, like SOE, try to get on board and adopt F2P for themselves, while others double down by creating even more lavish and extravagant pay-to-play experiences, sometimes supported with paid DLC. That's not a bad strategy for select titles, but the studio that doesn't realize that it has to adjust, in one direction or another, to account for the rise of F2P gaming is one that will add to Romero's death toll.

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About the Author

Jason Winter
Jason Winter, News Editor

Jason Winter is a veteran gaming journalist, he brings a wide range of experience to MMOBomb, including two years with Beckett Media where he served as the editor of the leading gaming magazine Massive Online Gamer. He has also written professionally for several gaming websites.

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Discussion (37)

Buggy 8 years ago
Who gave a flipping pancake <-self censored on what john romero says about Free to play model's in the first place I sure as hell don't.

Io2945 9 years ago
Honestly Lucas Arts, THQ and Irrational Games aren't victims of F2P or steam they're victims of every day business practices. For example THQ was going down hill for quite some time with not many games to fall back on at the time and major layoffs , Lucas Arts was more of a victim of Disneys acquisition of the studio and all of its property , and as for Irrational games it was infighting between it and 2K and Take Two. What kills AAA publishers is hardly the landscape of an ever changing gaming world but the big heads that run them or the big deals made everyday or just plane down sizing or change to a niche genre like the one Codemasters made to dedicate its self to motorsports games .

Cincilator 9 years ago
Jzs, who put this zombie online? He should be dead for game industry after Daikatana

SirEdwin89 9 years ago
So, is the next blip you do going to be about some sludge John Smedley says? I mean really, do you guys ever do stories about comments made by people who aren't tools of the industry and hated by the vast majority of gamers?

crazygamex 9 years ago
"John Romero Sees Free-to-Play as a killer of AAA studios. Is he right?"
No,he's wrong. (sigh)
Not f2p killed those studios,but devs greed and laziness.
Most AAA novadays dont have any innovation,but requires to spend alot time/money on it-its not fun.

Wolfsspinne 9 years ago
Well first of all anyone would have to prove that there is such a thing as a Tripple AAA Studio.

I mean sorry guys but look at all the bull shit that is sold as "video games" nowadays! FarCry, Skyrim, Madden, you name it, these games offer state-of-the-art gfx, yet they all lack in state-of-the-art GAMEPLAY.

Now what's a game about, I ask!

Gfx? - No, I'd a watch movie if I want gfx!

Story? - No, I'd read a book for story!

Grind-fest RPG-elements? - No, I'd collect post stamps if I like grind-fest!

Gameplay? - Hell yes!

As I mentioned the would be AAA studios are so much stuck in there obsession of replacing books and movies and post stamps with what they call games that they don't even produce real games anymore.

F2P game devs on the other hand don't have money for good story writers.
They don't have money for the best 3D-gfx artists.
And they earn their money by allowing the player to avoid the grind-fist in their games.

What remains in f2p/freemium games is pure gameplay.
And based on Darwin's Law only such games can survive.

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Razer 9 years ago
The AAA business has been doing more to kill itself than what could be attributed to F2P, thanks to all the DLC/pre-order shenanigans, constant deceit, and general corporate incompetence.

It's naive to think games with flat up-front prices will ever completely go away though. Some games are just better without any microtransactions to interfere.

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hackisack 9 years ago
What does that hint to Dungeon Defenders refer to?
The old Dungeon Defenders? DD2? DD Eternity?
Is there an article to read up on the story?

Merkadis 9 years ago
" to the point where, when I do an interview with a dev these days to talk about their new game, they trip all over themselves to declare, “We’re not pay to win!” To claim, hint, or give people even the slightest reason to believe otherwise, is rapidly becoming a death sentence."

Which is absolutely great, let those arsehats off the hook and before you know it they will be sitting on top of your head.

And yes, F2P is the future, and hopefully a bright one.

Kappa 9 years ago
F2P may look like it's dominating in terms of users because it has the highest playerbase compared to non-F2P, but that's pretty much a given considering its accessibility. It's really not F2P that's dominating but the fact that MOBAs are insanely popular right now, and just a couple games that developed a good free-to-play system. Most new F2P games aren't following these rewarding systems and have no player-base as a result. This is why we constantly hear of F2P titles being shut down, and will continue to hear about them for a while. I believe making a quality game and offering it at a competitive price with plans for quality DLC and expansions is a more sustainable form of game development.

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Padsoldier 9 years ago
I don't think F2Ps outshining AAA games is a problem of F2Ps, it's a problem of AAAs. How loosely they use the term AAA nowadays should be a sign - Titanfall is a generic FPS with giant walker robots, Watch_Dogs is just an Assassin's Creed game with cars, guns and hacking to name two examples. The definition of AAA (wikipedia): financial success (usually achieved due to the sheer amount of hype and marketing), good reception by critics and innovation - especially the last one is lacking nowadays.

Another important thing is that with F2P games you can purchase or grind out parts of the game for unlocking, and you do not have to pay a single penny. With a AAA game you have to pay $60 up front and the game will most likely have DLC packs, some games have story parts locked away in DLCs - the upcoming Far Cry 4 is said to have a DLC pack that comes for free with a preorder and has story missions, Mass Effect 3 had a huge amount of DLC without which is was quite difficult to achieve the best endings due to the lack of War Assets and arguably the best parts of the story were in the DLCs (Citadel DLC).

blunite 9 years ago
maybe if free to play had AAA graphics and quality... most people stick to AAA games which free to play rarely has. just saying since most people do judge heavily on graphics. i mean, look at the poor wiiu, runs games better looking than most free2play games and its getting attacked heavily for not being as strong as the xbox one or ps4. phantasy star online 2 has the quality since its Sega's.

Sniperman248 9 years ago
What he is blind of is that Trion Worlds a triple AAA gaming studio has created many great games such as Rift being there starship mmo now to ArcheAge which has substantially been living up to what it shows I would say f2p is not the cause for some Triple A's have adapted and are seeing great success in the f2p market.

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BOOM! 9 years ago
I agree with him a lot. But then Warframe from DE studios and DE is not a triple A studios. Warframe and DE are very succesful with their game. We just need something new and fresh. And a game that keep getting a new update every month or so to keep players happy.

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WTF 9 years ago
Is that girl?

Kenneth 9 years ago
Big game companies are becoming very lazy with their designing efforts so F2P are just what the gaming communities need. We get sim games with bugs and regurgitation of the same game of CoD over and over. If EA or Activision collapses it will definitely not be because of F2P, but rather because of their lazy and greedy tendencies, one of which just happens to be the reason behind F2P Romero says...

One thing he probably doesn't realize that if you read the fine text in Steam you don't purchase games there. They are only rented to you which means they CAN be taken from you unlike $60 copies... That right there is the reason everything in Steam is so cheap. You wouldn't pay full price for something you are only renting.

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Elesion 9 years ago
Maybe these apparent AAA studios should adapt to the market? Isn't that what supply and demand is about?

Free-to-play is here to stay. You can either bitch about it and die or do something better and outshine them.

View 2 replies
Evans 9 years ago

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