Evolve London 2011: Tag Games' Paul Farley on freemium ethics, and its naivety when it launched Funpark Friends

#evolveconf Changing shades of grey

Evolve London 2011: Tag Games' Paul Farley on freemium ethics, and its naivety when it launched Funpark Friends
The mobile games industry rarely indulges in navel gazing, but when it comes to the ethics of free-to-play game mechanics, it likes the debate.

Digging into the subject was Paul Farley, MD of Tag Games, the developer of freemium games such as Funpark Friends at Evolve London 2011.

"They're making too much money; it must be evil. Using analytics in games is evil; cos you're exploiting people's addictions. And they're not even games," he said, repeating many of the criticisms levelled at the sector.

Dancing with the devil?

Looking at bad business practice, he highlighted that some of the worst offenders were those companies who get carried away when it comes to the quality of external marketing (often with respect to actual graphics) and other elements such as notification spamming.

However, when it comes to monetisation techniques, the free-to-play model clearly does employ some psychological pressure, whether due to gameplay design or peer pressure with limited edition items.

"We are seeing some unscrupulous behaviour with companies repeating the availability of limited edition items," Farley commented.

Big spender

Yet, as for the wider issue of extremely high value items - such as Bigpoint's 1,000 euro drones in Dark Orbit - Farley was philosophical.

"If some people are sinking all their free time into your game, then maybe a high value item is actually worth 10,000 euros," he pondered.

One area that Farley was more cautious about, however, was when a game reward you with 'special offers', some of which he reckoned were technically illegal under UK law, although he thought it was highly unlikely companies would get into trouble.

Too nice to be rich?

As for Tag as a freemium developer, its focus is on making great games and not being evil.

"We take our values very seriously, and that means entertaining our players and making money."

It launched Funpark Friends five weeks ago, which has 68,000 installs - all though organic traffic - around 50,000 MAUs and 8,000 DAUs to-date.

"Retention has been good, but while our average revenue per paying user is high at £6.50, our conversation rate is very low with the average revenue per user only 7p," Farley revealed

Indeed, in summing up the ethics of freemium, he said that he didn’t think Tag hadn't been aggressive enough when it comes to monetisation.

"We were very naive, compared to many of the US freemium developers, especially in terms of being too generous with our in-game currency when we launched," he explained. Tag has since rebalanced this conversion rate.

"It's a continuing debate internally - how much do we push to make money?" he concluded.
Contributing Editor

A Pocket Gamer co-founder, Jon is Contributing Editor at 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.