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Vlambeer: Free-to-play is teaching gamers to 'pay not to play'

Trend is a worrying one, says Rami Ismail
Vlambeer: Free-to-play is teaching gamers to 'pay not to play'

"The problem we see is that, the way to efficiently do free-to-play is to exploit people, or to exploit the psychology of people in a way that is often perpendicular or opposite to core game design."

That's the take of Vlambeer's head of business and development Rami Ismail, who after the Dutch developer hit the headlines for criticising free-to-play back in March - has clarified the studio's position on the business model.

The studio was previously quoted as claiming that it was "almost impossible" to produce a free-to-play game in a "non-evil way."

However, speaking to Will Luton formally of UK dev Mobile Pie and now author of a forthcoming book, Free-To-Play: Making Money From Games You Give Away Ismail suggested that free-to-play doesn't have to be evil, but most of the successful games currently utilising the model do little to dispel such concerns.

Core focus

"There are lots of ways to implement free-to-play, and most of them are detrimental to the core game design," opened Ismail.

"That is something we worry about because we see potential in implementing free-to-play in a good way, but every game we've seen that tries to do that has been a financial failure.

"So the problem we see is that, the way to efficiently do free-to-play is to exploit people, or to exploit the psychology of people in a way that is often perpendicular or opposite to core game design.

"This is the easy way out it's the bad implementation of free-to-play."

Ismail said the rise of this 'bad implementation' of free-to-play worries Vlambeer, because users are increasingly getting used to paying not to play games something he suggests goes against the core aims of most developers.

Paying not to play

"One of the interesting thing we encountered with Ridiculous Fishing is that people thought our store was broken," he added.

"People thought our store was broken because they couldn't buy more money. That was surprising to us, because the values to Ridiculous Fishing are set to such a way that, without a sense of grind kicking in, you can go through the entire game.

"But they can't pay to not play that's an option we intentionally avoided.

"The fact that people are so used to games being built in such a way that their optimal enjoyment comes from paying not to play is something that we worry about. We consider that a bad thing, I guess."

The lack of in-app purchases in Ridiculous Fishing left many gamers confused, Ismail claims

But is this a terminal condition, or is this simply a case of developers learning how to deploy free-to-play games on the go? Will 'bad' free-to-play games eventually become the minority?

'Addicted'

"We're not trying to say that in-app purchases or free-to-play can never yield an elegant game, because it's just an additional consideration that game developers would have," added Ismail.

"We just think that the solutions that are being implemented at this point show really clearly that the most efficient way to do in-app purchases is exploiting people as much as possible."

Ismail noted that, as a result, free-to-play isn't "inherently opposed to what we do", but that the "current state of affairs is not a healthy situation."

"The problem is, a lot of these free-to-play games are not good free-to-play games," he concluded.

"A lot of games currently in the App Store are not necessarily good games, and just happen to gross a lot because they get a lot of attention, they're free, people can play them, and they're built in such a way that they get people addicted and spending money."

You can read how Vlambeer pushed Ridiculous Fishing with creative marketing here.

[source: Will-Luton.co.uk]