The FtP Demographics Debate

So the abominable Tobold speaks again. The mmo blogging equivalent of Seinfeld’s Uncle Leo, a person who occasionally has brief moments of insight but that are largely wrapped in a layer of antiquated crazy…. Not me, that’s a modern kind of crazy.

Ok so just let me exude a large sigh and we’ll continue with the actual reply.

Ok, so first off I just wanted to make it clear that I don’t see anything inherently wrong with the free to play model. I have supported it in the past; about $60 on hearthstone so far, $50 on Firefall, another 50 on gw2 and that not including the box. $30 on Hawken, a bit more on TSW, and then there are a plethora of other games where I’ve dropped small amounts. I will readily support these types of games when I don’t feel I am being exploited and when, like many, if I find the game fun.

Often I find though that the Monetisation mechanics inhibit on that fun, example Archeage. They will get nothing. Mobile titles often fall in this demographic as have a lot of recent ftp games and even those going buy the box.

Idiotic Outliers

Next let’s move on to the argument at hand and just how wrong it is. The crux was that marketing towards whales is ok because it mostly involves wealthy professionals spending what they can actually afford. This was referenced in an interview he linked about some clash of clans whales.


Now I’m just wondering when the outliers of a demographic somehow became representative of it because I didn’t get that memo from my bullshit daily subscription. From what I understand, of course there are a few high income individuals regularly spending huge sums of money but from most reports, and accounts from players many of the larger purchases are more one off bills, or larger sporadic payments. And yes, these do mostly come from the middle to lower class spectrum.

The data does indeed show that the median market for these games is in the 30’s but I’m wondering when, or how it was determined that a higher median age meant a much higher overall income. The median is greater yes but based on market research its the younger demographics that have a higher median disposable income. The older you get the more shit you have to pay; mortage, car loans, kids education and just random daily sucky things.

LOOK MA, I can link to random internet articles too!!

Gamasutra I think did the largest survey of the players who are spending to much on free to play games and yes, it seemed the vast majority of accounts were people spending more than they could possibly afford. Rent, food budgets and quality of life purchases. It is their livelihood that is effectively being flushed down the mobile markets Mystic Forge.

The myth of only those with high income getting involved is a myth, and at the very best an outlier

The other article article used by Tobold from Game Industry is with a couple developers from Ghost Recon online. For Tobold this is used to show that not only are whales all wealthy, their purchases are mostly rational. *insert laughter here*. If you do actually read the article rather than peruse the heading it goes on to say that the monetisation of this game is vastly different than the usual, and more dangerous mobile titles. The developers talk about how different their audience is, the strategies they’ve employed and, what the data from purchases within this game shows. So yeh, another outlier. Well done Tobold that’s 2 for 2 so far.

beat horse

Impulsive Purchasing

Most of the Data and theories around the mobile market about effectively siphoning out the cash of players actually tries to avoid rational purchases. There are a number of mechanics used to manipulate understanding and that utilise strong psychological practices. Virtual currencies are a popular thing, used in casinos for the precise fact that people don’t associate it, as much, with real money and thus elements of guilt, regret and caution aren’t as present. This means more overall risk taking behaviours.

Their are a range of other practices too. Cognitive Psycholgy techniques like operant conditioning have been used for decades now to change normal behaviour just because of how damn effective it is. They manipulate the feelings of skill and mastery, a technique often used in brain washing as it lower feelings of self efficacy and self worth. Something that makes players more vulnerable to the many other suggestive elements within that basically say “BUY NOW YOU HOPELESS SHITHEAD!!”. Of course there is that moment of elation when the funnel of cash is open that serves as a reinforcer, as well as a nice big hit of Dopamine (you know, the chemical in a brain that activates when you get high).

So no, it’s far from being rational and more trending towards the manipulative.

Cash Cow Kids

And then there is the elements of these games that are specifically targeted towards kids; be they the mechanics, visuals or marketing. The issues with this is widely reported  with some absolutely extremely high cases showing up from time to time as well as wealth of smaller but still large charges. These luckily are still regulated with charge backs being common and even full class lawsuits against these companies because, even a blind justice system in the pockets of corporations knows this shit is wrong.

Oh, and lets not forget how the wording within these online market places had to be changed away from free lately due to how manipulative it was. Yeh… these practices are the model of decent and ethical practices.

head desk

Can I stop now?

As for Tobolds third link that looked at the actually demographics of the mobile market, apart from the news that woman are the superior species here with not being suckered in as much it is mostly inconsequential. Well, inconsequential apart from debunking Tobolds argument entirely. One of the points he had, and those in the comments was that many mmo’s can be just as manipulative too, which is true, but this is mostly focused on time. Therefore you have two customer resource each being marketed towards although, this isn’t exactly true either as it’s not a zero sum game, it isn’t one or the other for the mobile market. Yes there are those spending vast amounts of money but going by the data he linked, those spending a lot of money are ALSO spending a lot of time. So not only are they going to waste all their money, they are going to waste a lot of their precious time as well.

And seriously, are we forgetting a couple years ago when the Zynga stock price crashed. That is the sort of thing we have to look forward to if these companies continue to erode customer confidence. I do wonder if things don’t shape up, and they continue with these practices if we will have a new industry crash to look forward to like happened in the 80’s. You peddle your shitty shovelware and eventually the house of cards collapses. Those that get in early are probably happy with the piles of cash but where does that leave everyone else?

Now can I please go back to ignoring him again. I promise I still won’t be good.

fuck with us

22 thoughts on “The FtP Demographics Debate

  1. Extremely well thought out. I have no coherent reply, except kudos. I guess my only feedback on the F2P debate is that if it didn’t make the companies money, they wouldn’t do it. Also… if a games F2P or even B2P like GW2 (or ESO will soon become) isn’t it inherently in their interest to make the game GOOD (i.e fun?). If the game sucks then who would bother to spend anything in it?

    Not too worried about the whole thing, nor do I feel its a trend. People who complain about spending money are typically teenagers or young kids who bitch about life because they have no source of income. These are people developers should ignore, it does them no good to service to these children.

    • I’d argue that what qualifies as good changes pretty dramatically depending on the barrier of entry. If I am getting something for free, then I am less likely to be as hard on it is as a game I just spent $60 dollars on and jumped into a three month sub with.

      Furthermore, we have to consider social factors or the wow factor of ‘new’, I’ve gone back to League of Legends because a new Champion looks fun, but not had enough IP to purchase it. Money to the rescue! Similarly, I have purchased DLC packs for DC Universe Online thinking a new powerset might restore my interest in the game, even if I left it the last time because it was feeling mediocre.

      Having the freedom to come and go as we please means that every new addition or change has the potential to lull us back into the fray. It even works with subscription MMOs, but there I am a lot more hesitant since I have to pay to play, versus having to pay to play the way I think I want to play the game.

      • expectations definitely hold a strong point in what you deem good although i still think there it’s not a complete linear correlation between how much it costs and what you’ll put up with, A baseline somewhere

    • I wouldn’t say that it’s completely right to ignore the kids. Those are the people you want to grow up into loyal customers; if you shut the door in their face early they might not come back. I mean I’m an example of that with Blizzard; their games were good value to me as a kid/teen so now I cut them more slack and spend more with them. That said I don’t mean you need to completely cater to them either; strike some balance between purchases and free stuff and you get the best of both worlds.

      • definitely needs a balance there although with ftp games, and especially a lot of those mobile titles I think there should be a lot more protection type settings built in so parents have an easier time of filling accounts up and creating limits.

  2. Gaming companies ‘coaching’ kids to play they games when older and with more disposable cash…NEVER!

    Game addiction, TIME (lots of spent in game), RW currency spent, Play to Win, all scary stuff and when combined downright nasty!

    I have yet to play many games with ingame product placements for ROLEX watches or entire football teams for sale! The rich generally have better things to do than escape from reality into games…oh yeah, privileged classes get to enjoy the real world!

    Yeah sure there are some bored banker types (Did I right that with a ‘w’, didn’t phew!) who can outspend any normal gamer…

    But this gaming culture is surely damaging all and sundry… but thankfully the next gaming bust will surely clean away all the junk …I hope!

  3. I find it harder and harder to believe that T actually believes in what he writes, if only to be contrarian. It really is so far removed from reality that you have to *gif*.

    What he does do is drive people to other sites and gives us all fodder to work with. So necessary evil?

    Integrity in F2P is hard to find. It’s also hard to gain back once you lose it.

    • i guess but I don’t know, I get kind of annoyed that someone with an audience that large is just irredeemably wrong. If he was pushing it like an opinion i’d be like, yeh whatever, but it seems too often that he pushes this as facts…. when it is far from that.

      Integrity is the word I was after.. DAMN IT… and yeh, once you lose that it is very hard to get customers back, even after changes. a few companies will be facing that problem soon.

  4. Not sure if I can really add much to your argument here, but I agree with your article. If done right, a F2P game can be an incredible game and sustainable (i.e. Hearthstone, League of Legends, Path of Exile). However, when you make your cash-grabbing intentions clear to the player from the get-go, then it’s likely to net a small profit enough to fund the next [subjectively] “bad” F2P game. Admittedly, it’s still difficult for me to clearly define the differences between a “good” and “bad” F2P game.

    Thanks for sharing your point of view.

    • exactly, it isn’t a model that is inherently evil, just used way to much for eevil haha.It’s funny with hearthstone. It has what amounts to an rng mechanic of paying for power but I’m ok with it. I think it comes down too the payment model matching up with the game, which is what it does.
      Good and bad is rather hard and I’m guessing a lot of publishers are trying to skirt that line effectively, going back and forth over it. When it affects mechanics that’s kind of easy to see but a lot if it is far more insidious.

      • Along with what you said about Hearthstone — yes, the aspect that makes it pay-to-win is that you can buy enough decks to construct a “net deck”. But, then you’re kind of defeating the purpose of discovering combos for yourself and learning the game yourself. Not that I’m trying to shame people into NOT doing that. The internet exists and if a collection of people have already found the “best” combo for a specific class, then by all means you should play it and learn from it, if that’s your thing.
        Of course there are more scummy ways to play games like that, but they’re few and far between when they do happen. Thanks for the reply and I sincerely appreciate the discussion.

      • that’s the thing, I think people who actually want to create there own decks and actually theory craft things ar ein the minority. It isn’t an easy thing to do and takes a more analytical approach.

        I also think there is a little bit of kill to it, and that takes a while to get down. Having one of the meta decks isn’t going to help you if you don’t know how to play it. I think that’s a majot difference between it and more rpg orientated pay to win style things… there isn’t that huge power gain relative to others.

        and also no, there still scummy. LIke that fucking pay to win warrior deck haha

  5. If my suspicions on what gameplay hoops I’ll have to jump through to get Mastery points in GW2’s upcoming HoT expansion prove correct then I would much rather just buy those points for real money in the Gem Store. My main reason for not spending much money in MMO cash shops is they rarely sell the things I want, which would largely be more content or ways to bypass the supposed “gameplay” they require before you GET to content.

    Unfortunately as soon as any company actually suggests selling anything remotely useful in a game the pitchforks and the “P2W” placards come out and that’s that.

    • so you mean like TSW style content packs, i would definitely be cool with that. For me it’s cosmetics that don’t make me look like a whore, or ready for the mardi gras parade as well.

      What sort of useful things you talking about. think a lot of my own issues with things in that category is that they’ve often designed both the problem, and the cash shop solution

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