Mobile Mavens

Was EA right to take Real Racing 3 free-to-play? The Mobile Game Mavens debate

Was EA right to take Real Racing 3 free-to-play? The Mobile Game Mavens debate

It was the big story of last week, and it looks like it's going to rumble on until the game goes global on 28 February.

So, we asked the Mavens...

Given Real Racing's status as a console-quality premium mobile game, do you think EA's decision to switch Real Racing 3 to the free-to-play model will result in a strong backlash from its fan base?

Or is this just the obvious and sensible decision given current market conditions?

 

Christopher Kassulke CEO / Owner HandyGames

It's a wise decision from EA to put such great quality title out as F2P game. They will have an even bigger fan base soon. I am sure Firemonkeys is providing a great user experience, and as long the game provides a great user experience, it will also generate great revenues!

I'm very happy I'm not producing racing games and competing in that genre with EA.

Eros Resmini Head of Marketing Studio9 Corporation

The whole industry watched what NaturalMotion and Boss Alien did in the [drag] car racing genre and quickly realised what was possible (and everyone wished they had gotten there first). They proved console-quality triple-A meets F2P on mobile is the future.

I think EA is wise to have one of its best properties take advantage of the business model that's winning. Like Christopher said, EA knows how to build quality... It remains to be seen if they can do F2P well, however.

Graeme Devine CEO / Co-Founder GRL Games

I think Eros hit the nail on the head. CSR Racing has been in the top 20 grossing [charts] since launch and it's been the number 1 grossing race game since it came out.

John Golden Senior Director of Marketing PlayPhone

As previously stated, F2P is future of mobile as freemium already accounts for majority of all mobile game revenues and is growing. EA has history of successful downloadable content distribution and virtual goods merchandising (Sims, EA Sports etc) so this is a no-brainer.

However, they will need to ensure that the game balances 'earn versus pay' so users don't feel like they're being charged at every corner.

Oscar Clark Consultant, Co-Founder Fundamentally Games

Oscar Clark has been a pioneer in online, mobile, and console social games services since 1998. He is also author of the book, Games As A Service – How Free To Play Design Can Make Better Games.

Absolutely agree with Christopher. This to me confirms what we already know - freemium has come of age. However, the concerns raised are valid. Just because you go free to pay doesn't mean you will do a good job of the experience.

I've not seen the game yet, but the concept of leveraging 'damage' as a mechanism for early consumable monetisation sounds spot on. If I race my car and incur damage, then I see that as my fault and the choice to repair that with real cash makes natural sense with the flow if the game.

But I had better still be able to play the game even if I can't get the best score with my damaged vehicle.

Joony Koo CMO Playground Publishing

Most of the successful games recently have been F2P and this will be the case for the time being. The issue for Real Racing 3 is that its previous sequels were not [F2P] and that [making the] third game F2P may disturb its loyal users.

Which brings me to, balance! The real challenge, for all F2P games is balance.

Users just do not appreciate your game because it's free. When they hit a cliff, some users can buy their way through or disturb their friends to get across - this is the point of monetisation or the point of losing your users.

Jani Kahrama Founder Secret Exit

Wearing my bizdev hat, it is difficult to argue against the success of F2P. However, if any Maven would like to point out even a single title where the end user experience has been improved by artificial friction points, I'm all ears.

I do have doubts about the long-term sustainability of F2P despite its current dominance.

Grossly simplified, every other segment of digital entertainment is racing to provide improved convenience, while the game industry is trying to find ways to monetise artificial inconvenience.

Scott Foe Chief Product Officer Ignited Artists

First and foremost, any studio that does not believe that every genre on every platform at every quality level will see viable free-to-play entrants in the coming years is shamefully lying to itself. Every genre on every platform at every quality level will see a viable free-to-play entrant in the coming years.

For an organisation with resources as abundant as Electronic Arts, it's a great idea to continue to invest in sustaining innovations and to probe for (or acquire) revolutionary innovations, so this move to free-to-play for Real Racing is a wise move.

Now, as for the question of alienating the existing fan base, Electronic Arts knows, maybe better than anybody, that forum outrage has little correlation to sales. In fact, sometimes your most vocal critics are your biggest spenders.

John Ozimek Co-founder Big Ideas Machine

John is co-founder of PR and marketing company Big Ideas Machine. Also an all-round nice guy...

I agree with Jani - much as the success in terms of revenue generation of a well executed F2P game is proven, as a gamer myself I still like buying premium games as I know that there will be no game mechanic inside that will try to grind me into paying for something down the line.

Yes, I fully understand the reasons for F2P, and when we help developers with new products we almost always drive them to a well developed F2P mechanic, so my thoughts on premium are more personal than professional.

Paul Virapen CEO WearGa

A veteran of the games industry with over 15 years experience, Paul has previously held roles as Head of Games at The Walt Disney Company, and CEO of Big Pixel Studios.

He is currently the CEO and co-founder of WearGa, a London based startup focused 100% on games designed for smartwatch.

It's definitely a sensible decision. An existing IP which has proven to be very successful and has possibly the best graphics currently available on the platform pretty much guarantees that the game will hit the top of the download charts and stay there for some time.

They will have no problem getting users, and won't have to spend a penny on user acquisition (at least in the early stages).

However I have to agree with Oscar that the success of this title will rely on whether EA have created a great F2P experience as well as a great game. They've probably learnt a lot from CSR Racing, but getting the balance right will be key.

I wouldn't be surprised to see an article on PocketGamer.biz in a few weeks time revealing that "Real Racing 3 is grossing $500,000 per day."

Nate Ahearn Xbox Content Planner - Third-Party Games Microsoft

Scott took the wind right out of my post. EA has been trying to figure out free-to-play for some time now, and I have to commend it for what it's trying to do with Real Racing 3.

It's what I've been hoping for over the last several years: a hardcore game with great visuals and fantastic gameplay mechanics (presuming Real Racing 3 is anything like Real Racing 2) and totally free of charge.

It's undoubtedly dangerous waters to make hardcore players pay to decrease the wait for repairs to their vehicle after each race, but I'm hoping they've tuned the experience so that there's less of a pinch to pay once the player has forked over a certain amount of dough.

Regardless, I'm sure Real Racing 3 will hit the top download charts and top grossing as soon as it launches, with plenty of Apple promotion to back it up. And I, for one, can't wait to play it.

Brian Baglow Executive Producer Team Rock Games

Developers need to think like publishers all the damn time. A vague awareness that you might at some point have to make money somehow, doesn't quite cut it in such a volatile market.

Jani Kahrama Founder Secret Exit

I don't see how your argument is particular about F2P. You can replace free-to-play with "one-dollar mobile games" and it still boils down to the same thing: the indie advantage is not in competing with production values, it's in coming up with fresh new ideas.

Jon Hare Owner Tower Studios

It is worse with free games because the upfront investment is already higher to get the traffic necessary, plus the competition is ferocious... plus they are free... so put simply if it all goes wrong and you wanted to compete with top level production you could be looking at:

Worst Case A (playing it like the big boys and failing):
Dev budget: $1 million; marketing/traffic budget: $4 million; server costs in anticipation of millions of users: $1,000s per month; users: millions, Income: zero

or, Worst Case B (low level indie gamemaking)
Dev budget: mostly just your time; marketing/traffic budget: nothing more than usual; server costs: nothing or as low as possible; users: a few thousand; income: zero

Worst Case B is not as bad as Worst Case A; at least not a lot of money is lost, but both scenarios are disastrous for anyone wanting to make proper money by making games.

Oscar Clark Consultant, Co-Founder Fundamentally Games

Oscar Clark has been a pioneer in online, mobile, and console social games services since 1998. He is also author of the book, Games As A Service – How Free To Play Design Can Make Better Games.

Jon, you are absolutely right about [the impact companies] like EA will have on the indie food chain. However, I believe that there are still plenty of areas of disruption left in F2P, and particularly in using connectivity intelligently to make better games.

So sure it's going to get harder, but I think there are still plenty of new horizon we can seek out.

Jon Hare Owner Tower Studios

Oscar, I hope you are right. But we should all be prepared for a public backlash against our relatively poor production values. I remember well the transition from 2D to 3D games and how quickly the public's expectations changed at that time.

Jani Kahrama Founder Secret Exit

I can only agree that a certain level of professional polish in any product is necessary, but let's not confuse a sense of style with expensive production. There are plenty of examples of successful indie games with excellent visuals that come from a strong design vision implemented only by a handful of artists, in some cases even just a by single person.

For example: Minecraft, Tiny Tower, Sword & Sworcery, Castle Crashers, World of Goo, Touchgrind, Tiny Wings, Minigore, Battleheart, Legend of Grimrock, Super Meat Boy...

What an indie studio needs to remain competitive in production values is a signature style, not fancy car paint shaders.

Sean Taylor Product Lead Denki

I don't think production values are the problem. All evidence points towards a very focused live iteration period being required in F2P, for example, Ruzzle appears to have taken about 10 months to become an 'overnight success' and six of that was post-launch.

How does an indie fund a six month, loss-making iteration runway for a single product?

Sure, there's other ways indies can remain competitive and profitable, but I don't see attempting to farm black swans as a viable business model.

Volker Hirsch Co-Founder / Board Member Blue Beck

Alongside multiple industry roles, Volker is the co-founder Oystercrowd, Blue Beck, and Digital M. Former posts at BlackBerry and Scoreloop add to an enviable CV, which also includes the co-founding of Connect2Me

I don't think you can compare F2P Skyrim with Tiny Wings. They have completely different places in the landscape. One won't ever threaten the other.

Creativity, sheer beauty and great gameplay will rule. And, yes, it will be getting ever harder to tackle the more hardcore side of things: production values easily outstrip what an indie can fund. Will that also be the case for the next Tiny Wings, Temple Run etc? I doubt it, and both were built by mini-teams...

Oscar Clark Consultant, Co-Founder Fundamentally Games

Oscar Clark has been a pioneer in online, mobile, and console social games services since 1998. He is also author of the book, Games As A Service – How Free To Play Design Can Make Better Games.

Following a couple of discussion with other designers I've been thinking about the damage mechanism and there is a big problem.

If the immaculate status of your car is too important too early [in the game] this may hamper 'learning stage' users. I fear it will presume too early that you have to spend money to enjoy it and scare players off before game has become convincingly habit forming. The approach also fails to make the first purchase fun.

To get around this I would consider having the early levels set in a demolition derby... making the taking of damage a delightful thing to be relished and worth the payment without massive performance penalties.

Jon Jordan Contributing Editor A Pocket Gamer co-founder, Jon is Contributing Editor at PG.biz which means he acts like a slightly confused uncle who's forgotten where he's left his glasses. As well as letters and cameras, he likes imaginary numbers and legumes.

FYI - EA is clearly using the soft launch to experiment widely with gameplay; see Firemonkeys silently tweaks Real Racing 3 - removes wait timers for repairs

Jared Steffes Co-founder Muxy

I think it will have a backlash. The IP didn't start that way [F2P] so why change it? It is easier for gamers to stomach a spinoff title and use F2P, instead of forcing it into a full fledged sequel.

Mr. Hare has some great points and the market is starting to change but the change is not drastic. There is still plenty of 'non triple-A polished' games doing well in the charts and it will continue. Mobile is super interesting because the player isn't looking to invest a lot of time, and when s/he does, it feels natural because it fills a need. Polished games are not necessarily going to fill a need.

I believe triple-A polish is more of a gimmick, just like re-emergence of 8-bit art was a gimmick and now has become common place in games again.

The PocketGamer.biz Mobile Mavens is our panel of experts drawn from all sectors of the mobile gaming industry.

If you'd like to join the Mavens, drop your details in an email to keith.andrew [at] pocketgamer.co.uk


Contributing Editor

A Pocket Gamer co-founder, Jon is Contributing Editor at PG.biz which means he acts like a slightly confused uncle who's forgotten where he's left his glasses. As well as letters and cameras, he likes imaginary numbers and legumes.

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