While at Gamescom 2013, Engadget sat down with EA Chief Operations Officer Peter Moore for a brief talk which seems to echo the overall feeling that I got from Casual Connect last month. Free-To-Play, Online Experiences is where gaming is going.
The interview on the site is about 12 minutes long, and might be worth checking out. While comments generally are over-the-top slams about how EA is bullshit (not necessarily our sentiment here), I think that it’s really nothing new being discussed here. The traditional way that games (and film) has been made has been to ramp up production, have insane hours, finish production, and lay people off until the next project can start. It’s a high stress work environment that isn’t particularly great for the employees.
The gaming industry seems to be finding it’s way out of that cycle in recent times (please solve your monetization problems film. You’re broken.). Free-to-play is a method of delivery that encourages people to make micro-transactions; your initial experience is free but you can then buy extra lives, items, levels, cosmetic changes. Now, a game doesn’t necessarily need to be “free” to have this type of economy. Guild Wars, amongst others, is a game that you pay for upfront, but then you still have options for more transactions. And as a result of this type of economy, I think that we’re finally starting to see a trend where employees are able to be retained after the initial production, and continue pumping out more content. Granted there are still tons of layoffs, and bankruptcies happening… but I feel like this is largely a trend that’s happening with companies that are sticking with the old methodology.
I could be mistaken. Afterall, EA themselves are re-structuring and have laid off almost 1000 people this year. But as I said, this is largely what’s being preached these days. Reliance on the internet, mobile gaming, and free-to-play are starting to change things. Hopefully for the better as far as employee retention goes… but I still am pessimistically cautious as far as user experience goes. I am very happy to make one time purchases for a game that feels complete rather than playing a free game that cripples me until I spend money one dollar at a time. Maybe that comes from the same part of me that just wants to walk into a store, pick up what I came for, and leave? I like the convenience of having a single purchase. I don’t want to feel like someone is tugging on my sleeve asking for more money.
Aside from the monetization strategy, the interview also touches on the fact that EA only makes online experiences now. I see some problems with that. I know I’ve been frustrated on flights in the past when I had neglected to put Steam into Offline mode, and thus my plan to play a game during my flight was ruined. I can’t stand giving money to companies for training material that is only available via online streaming. I think that a great many games should function offline. Left 4 Dead has a single player mode, and I think that you’re missing out if you fail to meet the needs of those who don’t want to be connected at all times. But that said, I can certainly understand the idea of wanting all games to have online footprints as well. People love achievements. People love multiplayer. It seems that people love cloud storage, and leader boards, and yes… people love to get DLC. So really… does it still make sense to make games which do not feature any sort of online functionality?