18/06-24/06/12

It’s taken many a sleepless night and the coming together of at least eleven brain cells but the Australian Federal Parliament has finally arrived at the mind-meltingly progressive conclusion that, yes, Australians adults should be allowed to choose for themselves whether they would like to play adult themed videogames. Hooray!

Elsewhere…

 

Cevat Yerli on the Free-to-Play/ Pay-to-Win model, Warface and Timesplitters 4

Echoing comments made by outspoken EA bigwig Peter Moore earlier in the week, Crytek’s Cevat Yerli took the opportunity to warble besotted about the Free-to-Play model. Crytek, who recently announced their focus would shift entirely to Free-to-Play following a final spate of traditional retail releases, appear an awkward fit for the model. Having famously thawed computer intestines with Crysis and Far Cry, it’s a company that has spent the last six or seven years more or less at the forefront of the graphical push. And that’s not a cheap place to set up shop. Yerli’s convinced, though, that Crytek will be hauling its triple-A production values over to its Free-to-Play games and he’s hedging the entire company on it being a success. 

“As evident in Warface, our approach is to ensure the best quality, console game quality,” he told videogamer.com “that implies budgets of between $10m to $30m on each game – so no compromise there – but at the price-point of 0 dollar entry.”

Yerli is adamant that nothing in Warface will be locked off to players who choose not to pay; you’ll be able to access everything (maps, weapons etc) in due course much like in Battlefield or Call of Duty. The catch is you can also toss money at Yerli and co. to have those maps and weapons made available earlier.

You see this in plenty of F2P games, some do it without rupturing the experience and others, like MotoHeroz – a genuinely great iOS version of Trials HD, do it at the expense of the entire game. The problem with a F2P game like MotoHeroz is it has been designed from the ground up to screw you over at every opportunity in the vague hope that you’ll cave in to its rampant dickheadery and open your wallet. To a lesser or greater degree that’s how it has to be with F2P. Nobody is going to pay £2.49 to upgrade a little vehicle if it only takes fifteen minutes to do it manually and so in MotoHeroz, you’re left in a situation where perfect runs are rewarded with one star ratings because it’s impossible to do any better without first ranking up. Ranking up without handing over real-life money costs thousands of make-believe in-app coins. And how do you acquire those coins? By acquiring more stars, of course. And round and round it goes.

By virtue of the fact that RedLynx aren’t making money unless you’re paying for those upgrades, MotoHeroz has been designed to nestle you tightly between a rock and Pete Burns’ face. Most frustratingly of all, MotoHeroz is damn good fun.

Yerli can fib and paint Warface as ‘fair’ or ‘democratic’ or ‘gamer friendly’ all he likes, but at its heart Crytek is always going to be doing its utmost to recoup that $10-30 million investment. And without money-up-front, Warface is going to be designed to funnel players into situations in which they either grind, quit or pay. 

Now that’s not a new phenomenon by any means. It’s not even unique to the F2P model; EA have been selling weapon packs for Battlefield 3 for months now, allowing players to rebuff the spun out ranking system and play with the big toys for a fee. That said, unlocking the USAS ten levels early isn’t tearing to ribbons the fabric of the game (not since the USAS has been neutered, anyway) but you can bet if Crytek aren’t recouping money on Warface fast enough there’ll be something tossed in to shift the balance of play dramatically. $30 million is a lot of money. The risk is high. 

I don’t really care what Crytek do, they don’t make games that interest me and while they’re happy to go ahead and make Crysis 3 and Homefront 2 instead of Timesplitters 4 (or tout the possibility of a F2P Timesplitters 4 presumably with some bastardised single-player component and no offline multiplayer) they can dig themselves into the bowels of hell and I’ll wave gaily all the while. What I find irritating is the notion Yerli puts forward that F2P is benefitting me, the gamer. It’s not. It’s a savvy business ploy that has paid off remarkably for a small number of smart people. But it hasn’t benefitted me and I’d rather Yerli wasn’t trying to fist stone-cold classics into a mould while championing ‘fairness’ and ‘democracy’ in one breath and touting these lines in the next: 

“And by the way, over five years in Warface you may spend $3000. But you may also pay nothing. That’s what we’re banking on.”

“And if you don’t want to spend any money, fine – you’ll become the bait of the person who spends the money [laughs].”

Anyway, there’s little need for concern. The future won’t be exclusively F2P, despite the maundering of the ever-tactless Peter Moore. Free-to-Play is no more a guaranteed money-making nirvana than the App Store is a haven for developers looking to make their millions. If the market is inundated with F2P games then it’s going to be as challenging to make money from those as it is making money from an app or XBLA release, if not more so. A happy middle ground ought to be prevail, as ever; there’ll always be people making games like Minecraft, Limbo, Machinarium and Gunpoint, people that aren’t reaching into your back-pocket every twelve and a half seconds.

 

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