Thar She Blows! Will Whale-Hunting Kill Off F2P Gaming?

Jason Winter
By Jason Winter, News Editor


That's the question posed by the Extra Credits guys in their latest video. As they put it, they're fans of the F2P model but think too many developers are abusing the system to chase whales, and that this shallow pursuit of short-term goals will be bad for the industry in the long run.

I'm inclined to mostly agree with their points regarding the missteps of certain companies but I'm not willing to go all gloom-and-doom with regards to F2P as a whole. Just because there are bad movies doesn't mean the entire movie industry is in trouble. Good movies will still be made, and people will flock to them, just as they always have. Similarly, if there are bad F2P games, people will leave them and we'll only have the good ones left to play.

Something to keep in mind when EC discusses “free-to-play” is that they're not just talking about the kind of games we cover on this site, which is mostly PC-based MMORPGs, FPSes, and MOBAs. “Free-to-play” also includes the multitudes of mobile and social games, which – brace yourselves – as a whole constitute a much larger part of the “games industry” pie than the stuff we typically cover here. League of Legends has 32 million monthly active players? That's nice. Zynga alone had 130 million monthly active users in Q2 2014.


By that same token, as much as you might complain about the cash shop in Star Wars: The Old Republic or any Perfect World game, they're nowhere near as sinister as what you get in popular social/mobile games, like Candy Crush Saga (which EC also covered, lauding King's shrewdness while also damning their lack of conscience) or even EA's much-maligned reboot of Dungeon Keeper.

The video makes the argument that because so many more games are “chasing whales,” to the point that they design their games around attracting big spenders, it produces a poorer gaming experience and increases churn at an unsustainable rate. You might make some short-term money, but your game will fail in the long run.

As they say, this kind of F2P design is an “arms race” that's competing for mostly the same whales. Because these people make up such a tiny percentage of the total players out there, literally having a handful of them swing over to “your” game can make it a success, while having that same number leave your game can doom it. Thus, we get a bunch of games that come out, are wildly successful for a short while, and then, when the whales leave, vanish into dust.

This, I contend, is not a terrible thing. Twisted as it is, it's just an incarnation of the free market, where (in theory) good products keep going and bad ones go away. The market's oversaturated right now, and if we lose a few its worst products, well, I've got no problem with that. I see nothing wrong with 50 bad F2P games launching and dying in the course of a year. It just seems bad because of the sheer number – they're easy to make and carry with them the allure of short-term gain, so everyone jumps onto the pile and hopes to make their quick buck.


Now contrast that with the more “core gamer” F2P games, like MMORPGs, FPSs, and MOBAs, which I'd say are far less exploitative and far more stable. There are bad ones out there, and some of them do shut down, but very rarely is it anything prominent, and usually even that only happens when the game's been around for a while. That's because, due to their longer development cycle – and expenses incurred during that time – and the fact that they're more likely to have been created by gamers and not businessmen, they're less likely to sacrifice gameplay just to make a quick buck or at least offer a subscription option so you can get everything. I'm not saying all “core” F2P games are perfect, and some are definitely better than others at this sort of thing, but most can't hold a candle to how the nastiest mobile games operate.

It's just better business to “spread the wealth.” If you have a game with 100 people each spending $1,000, that's a lot more volatile than if you have 1,000 people each spending $100, or, even better, 10,000 people each spending $10. The video touches upon this, too, saying that games need to have ways for people to spend smaller amounts instead of putting everything significant behind a “whale pay gate.” Again, I think a decent chunk of “our” games meet this qualification. Sure, there are those ludicrously huge pre-purchase packs, but once in the game, you'd be hard-pressed to find anything that goes for more than $20 or $30, and that's usually in the form of a mount or other non-game-impacting fluff.

There are bad F2P implementations out there. And whenever someone feels nickel-and-dimed by a bad game or two, whether it's on a mobile device or PC, they're going to come away with the notion that “F2P sucks.” The world's not as black-and-white as all that, but if games like this are ever going to “kill” F2P gaming, it'll be through word-of-mouth from the bad apples, not because the concept itself doesn't work or because so many of them being trashed in reviews or outright failing means the concept is inherently bad.

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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.

Discussion (12)

rickshaw 7 years ago
I love f2p been playing f2p for years. There is nothing wrong with it and the shop is the reward where we pay.
The Guldwars system was a first, and proved highly that it worked too! so B2P works as well. Subscription is for people with bank accounts that never get looked at.
It really doesn't work anymore even though "That game" is still running maybe, because of habit with most.
I have no idea why Ultima Online hasn't dropped the sub!
They really need to In order to give back life into the game!
why not open a B2P system? My mind is baffled by the people who run UO.
Why do they and are they happy about hardly anyone in the game?
Eve Online just got by, by scraping up updates from copying n pasting & dressing up for free!
that was the attraction, the glorification. They survived waves of nothingness just like space itself, the forever making mistakes became a part tay, people flowed slow some stayed in like "That Game" older players stuck in a void. The new kept a stream flowing but it hasn't helped them much but survive, CCP's movement back to the Iceland, kind of froze them, as they lost a lot of drive & gusto as when they where in London, then the game had a difference, a encouragement for the faster pace something greater was there. Once they moved though CCP's reason for sucking so much was that they became cold, isolated & complacent, far too set in with the happy to see numbers game.
I believe Eve would achieve far more greatness again if it were a B2P game.
Holding onto subs is such an wrong path these days.
Game Players of today like to able to do things instantly & not be held to accounts of subscriptions bleeding their bank accounts away.
Today we have far too many of account bleeders to bare, with our materialistic drains of burning power fuel & life itself.

Merkadis 8 years ago
Short answer: No, nothing will kill F2P gaming.
Rotten companies will also continue to plague F2P with their filthy existences as well, unfortunately.
We will just have to deal with it and hope the morons that sustain those rotten companies will eventually realize how much of a moron they are and stop.
Of course theres the problem of the types that actually like winning with their credit cards, this one is harder to deal with.
Can't be helped i suppose, it's in human nature to cheat if you suck at playing fair.

View 1 reply
TheOni 8 years ago
Conquer Online is a great example of this TQ digital took there best game Conquer Online and tailored it specifically to ppl who are willing to dish out thousands of dollars to be the top player or players on there servers (average cost of a maxed out character on this game is 10 grand USD)

androme 9 years ago
walles killers ? this is to much....promote violence / animals

Lightmgl 9 years ago
It is very hard to convince a studio that the 2%-4% of your total users aren't worth catering to when they account for anywhere from 25%-50% of revenue on average. F2P or not you are going to focus most of your development on the people allowing you to stay in business.

It is also complicated by the fact that this behavior is expected in places like China. If you release a game there without catering to whales or without some degree of pay to win monetization you will end up dead in the water because those features are expected. This is often why those foreign IPs don't move well into other markets because in those other markets the same features are frowned upon.

Razer 9 years ago
Just because core F2P games are less exploitative, doesn't mean we should let them off the hook. There's a reason F2P gaming still has a stigma, even on PC. For every Planetside or Path of Exile, there's ten bad games that are little more than a derivative skinner box with a pay2win cash shop. Courtesy of EA, Ubisoft, Perfect World, Nexon, Aeria, and every other two-bit game company to come out of China and Korea.

limetrix 9 years ago
@WAT u r forgetting wen those 130mil leave another 130mil or so come in and this happens again and again and by the time there are no more players the studios moved onto other games having made a lot of profit from that game

Annonymouse 9 years ago
EA is the ultimate whale hunter.

Just wait and see how much it will cost to fully experience the Sims 4. Sims 3 was something like 78000 USD to own everything the game had to offer.

Not a F2P problem imo but an issue that is spreading across the entire gaming industry.

Ahab 9 years ago
Whale hunting.

That was the best thing about Assassins Creed Pirates.

Ohh wait, cash cows. Yeah they suck. Once I hit the pay wall, I move on to the next mmo.

Kbc 9 years ago
Thought i clicked for a Whale hunting game? lame bait :O

wat 9 years ago
Except that the '130 million active mobile game players' are active for about a month at most, and only attract hyper-casual players. You might get one or two people from a group of twenty that spend more than a couple of hours on a mobile game if they're incredibly dedicated. They'll also get bored a lot faster.

It's basically 130 million active players that quickly becomes 5 million versus 32 million active players that are sustained over years, and that number only grows as more people can play the game. With the constant release of content, the people who want to spend money, can.

In League, the average person has probably spent, at the very least, a couple sets of $10 to get skins for a select few favorite champions. Most people have spent over 50 at-least. Most people who play mobile games do it as a past-time to or from work, and if they do it at any other point, they've basically resigned themselves to being ultra-casual. Very rarely do these people spend money.

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