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cri74

Ben Cousins om F2P - blir alle spill Free to play?

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Ravn i Multiplayer.no skrev at Battlefield serien kan få abonnement i fremtiden. Patrick Søderlund hadde "lettet litt på sløret" i et intervju med VentureBeat der de hadde spurt han om Battlefield kom til å bli abonnements service, Patrick svarte at de hadde alle muligheter åpne og at de ser etter måter de kan tjene mest mulig på sitt produkt.

Med tanke på at World of Tanks tar inn en fortjeneste på langt over 50 millioner Norske kroner pr måned, så er det ikke rart at spill-industrien ser på med store øyne. WoT markedsføres som et Free to Play spill, men baserer sin inntekt på mikrotransaksjoner der spilleren kjøper seg våpen og tjenester ingame. Det er slett ikke uvanlig å ha brukt to siffrede tusen kroner på dette spillet fra launch for knapt ett år siden. Dette er selfølgelig en ganske kløktig måte å tjene inn utgiftene på og gjøre en fortjeneste. WoT hadde en veldig lang Beta periode der de samlet millioner av spillere. Russerne har tenkt lenge og grundig på et system som binder spilleren til dems produkt og samtidig til mikrotransaksjonene i spillet. 100 kr der og 50 kr her blir mye penger gjennom et år når du ganger det opp med hvor mange spillere som faktisk betaler for produker ingame....dessuten oppleves det ikke dyrt ut når du har spilt i timesvis for å kunne kjøpe deg det nye produktet som blir presentert foran deg...du bare må ha det.

Jeg har litt blandede meninger om F2P. På en måte synes jeg det er helt fantastisk å kunne prøve spillet før du kjøper det, F2P gjør dette på en langt bedre måte enn feks Demoer. På den andre side ser jeg at i WoT tilfellet, så bruker spillere langt langt mer enn hva de ville brukt hvis spillet kostet 600 kr + et abonnement pr mnd. Som sagt ikke uvanlig å ha brukt flere tusen kroner på WoT....og WoT er ikke spesiellt bra engang, men som Ben Cousins sier i intervjuene under så har vi ikke kommet til det punktet der utviklerne har begynt å finpusse spillene.

Jeg kan fort se for meg hvordan for eksempel Battlefield 3 ville vært om det hadde vært gratis å laste ned, men at jeg måtte betale for å kunne bruke visse våpen eller at mine poeng ble gjort om til virtuelle penger som jeg kunne kjøpe perks eller gadgets med. Det er flere innen spill industrien som ser på denne måten å selge spill på i fremtiden, og mange av dem mener at det vil redde spill-bransjen. Et eksempel er suksessen med WoT og det er flere som har samme måte å markedsføre seg på; Leauge of Legends, Team Fortress, en haug med Facebook spill og det kommer stadig flere. Men går det så forferdelig dårlig med spill bransjen? Og har vi egentlig lyst til å betale pr kule og pr våpen? En ting er sikkert... det er [rimelig] vanskelig å cheate seg til hard cash, og en billig affære å piratkopiere et gratis spill.

Hva tror dere om Free to Play fremtiden...meninger og synspunkt ??

Ben Cousins, et navn vi kjenner fra DICE - Battlefield - EA, har ved flere anledninger kommentert spill-industriends fremtid og den nye buissnis modellen Free to Play. Her er to intervjuer med Ben Cousins om F2P :)

Biography

Ben is the General Manager of ngmoco Sweden, where he leads a team developing freemium mobile games aimed at core console and PC gamers. Prior to joining ngmoco, Ben was General Manager of Easy, an EA studio overseeing a portfolio of free-to-play PC games including the groundbreaking BATTLEFIELD HEROES. Mirroring the industry’s transition into direct-to-consumer distribution models, Ben has been working exclusively on digitally delivered games since 2005 and he is widely regarded as one of the western-world’s leading authorities on freemium game development and operation. Ben started his games industry career as a QA tester in 1999.

Next-Gen-Biz

After starting out in quality assurance, Ben Cousins has slowly risen through the ranks to become head of Ngmoco Sweden. His career path – from designer and producer roles on traditional games such as Battlefield to general manager at EA’s free-to-play-focused Easy Studios – reflects one of the topics that’s been preying on his mind lately: the transition from consoles to tablets and high-end phones (AKA smart devices). We caught up with Cousins to discuss the changing attitudes towards free-to-play, what it means for the next generation of home consoles and why today's major publishers are unlikely to retain their relevancy in the coming years.

Your talk at the F2P Summit later this month will look at the differences between 2005 and now. Back in 2005 some might have said Apple and Google - now integral to your own projects - were uninterested or unaware of gaming's potential. How have you seen those attitudes change and how do you think they will change down the line?

They're taking gaming seriously now, but I still think that Google and Apple have more of a ‘create a general purpose entertainment device and see what people create for it’ kind of attitude. The companies are criticised for not emphasising gaming or having any senior, dedicated head of gaming type positions and I honestly wonder whether that's actually an advantage to them. If we look at the [home] consoles, they're very gaming-focussed but they're kind of blinkered in their view of what a game is, who should be making them and who should be playing them. Microsoft would never have believed you could create a game like Angry Birds, one that's been downloaded half a billion times, outside of the traditional games business.

What are your views on retro-fitting games from subs models to free-to-play?

This is how free-to-play started, in Korea. Where, as I understand it, there was a lot of subscription MMOGs in development trying to copy the success of Lineage, but none of them were having success picking up subscriptions. It's exactly what's happening in the western world now where there are very few subscription MMOGs left and they've all gone free-to-play. But in the west, a lot of console developers, who a couple of years ago would be thinking about Xbox Live games if they couldn't get a big packaged product deal signed, are now taking projects that are mid-way through development and trying to turn them into free-to-play titles. I think that's much more difficult to do with a traditional console action game and with traditional console development expertise and attitude.

Frankly I'm worried about a lot of these teams, because it's an extremely big job to push a standard development team into a free-to-play one. It's what we were doing at EA about four years ago and there's a huge amount to learn. It's more likely that small studios which have a flukey hit in the free-to-play social or mobile sphere will make the transition into being a more high-end studio for those platforms than it is for a traditional studio to make that step down to create freemium or mobile games. To learn how to make high-resolution content is relatively quick - there's lots of tools out there to do that - but to learn how to do these business models correctly is a lot more difficult. I remember ten years ago it was all about what your 3D engine was capable of and everyone was busting their butts to make a good one. Nowadays it's about creating a good analytics platform and really understanding how to monetise users without pissing them off. That's the critical path now, if you've got expertise in making nice bump maps and 3D engines, that's not really the killer competency anymore.

There's been a lot debate about the psychology of free-to-play and monetisation. Do you think those arguments have gone away, calmed down, or even been disproven?

I think that people's natural reaction to something new - especially if you're entrenched in a traditional way of doing something and a new way of doing it comes along - is fear, then derision. What we're seeing at the moment is such clear movement in this direction from nearly every platform, apart from console where there is a walled-garden and I think Sony and MS are scared of going towards free-to-play because they're worried about losing their license money. Browser games and casual games are all freemium now, a huge proportion of mobile game revenue is from freemium, Valve and Blizzard on the PC are making free-to-play games, it feels like nearly everything is moving in that direction. Whether it's going to be a 100 per cent takeover I don't know but it's kind of difficult for these people to criticise a business model that's been adopted by "respectable" companies, but that is also being so clearly embraced by consumers aswell.

I never really understood the issues with free-to-play, especially contrasting it to the traditional retail model, because this a business model where 95 per cent of the users don't spend any money. I don't know that can be exploitative if we compare it to a business where everyone has to pay 60 bucks before they've played a game. I really don't think the traditional model is immune from any of the alleged underhand tricks that free-to-play is supposed to be trying to pull off: doctored screenshots, over-promising on features, really hyped-up products that actually disappoint and end up sold back to the store in the form of used game sales.

Do you see Apple and Google, down the line, investing in developers themselves - taking game development in-house in the way Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo do?

I don't think so and I think the only reason that Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo have these internal teams is because for along time exclusive content was driving the adoption of consoles and because a console is a little bit of a white elephant if you haven't got a game for it - it doesn't really do anything particularly well apart from playing games, maybe watching DVDs is a secondary function - you buy a console for games. That's what tends to drive these acquisitions of Bungie and Guerilla. Apple and Google don't really need that to shift hardware, these things are useful in their own right even if you don't play a game on them.

Do you think Microsoft, Nintendo, Sony will eventually cave, have to bite the bullet and at least open up their platforms?

I think what must be scary for the console guys, and this is a typical fear, is if they start allowing a free-to-play game on the platform then consumers would stop buying the premium software and the overall amount of revenue per user would drop. And this is probably true, but what we see in freemium is your overall number of users increases. It’s a big leap, and of course the console guys need retailers, because it’s the only way people can buy the hardware, so they have to keep them happy, and really it’s… They’re in a difficult position. I’d love to know what’s going on in the heads of the guys particularly at Sony and Microsoft, because there are some big decisions to make about the next generation, I think.

Do you think it'll be the EAs and Activisions who'll still be in the power-positions, as they are now?

If you look at any other transition where you've had disruptive technology come into a marketplace it's very, very rare that the incumbent companies, that the old companies survive. Loads and loads of companies fall by the wayside just because it's so hard to make that transition. I would guess that we won't have more than one or two of the old big publishers surviving the transition. In ten years’ time, I think we’ll see a lot of these companies [either] disappearing or becoming irrelevant, and it may well be that either their business gets smaller than it is now or it seems incredibly small compared to other companies that are growing hugely. Whether EA will survive or not, I'm not sure. They're certainly the most aggressive in the digital space but they're also not in an incredibly strong position from a business point of view anymore. They're losing money and have lost a lot of money over the last few years. I personally would be concerned if I was working for a company that was firmly dependent on revenue from the traditional games business but wasn’t in a particularly strong financial position. For me, that’s like you’re in a poor-performing horse-drawn carriage company and automobiles are taking off. It's not a good place to be.

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Develop Online:

The Ngmoco Sweden GM believes in freemium's future, and fears for the doubters...

It would probably take something extraordinary like a ten-year gardening leave contract, concealed in confidentiality agreements, to prevent Ben Cousins from discussing the demise of console gaming. He isn’t simply a director who resigned from Electronic Arts. He is a sharp and outspoken businessman who, since 1999, has accumulated privileged knowledge of the traditional games sector across two console generations.

Now he’s gone; fleeing to the mobile and social sector that he, rightly or wrongly, portrays as if it were a lifeboat escape from a sinking tanker of discs and boxes. Unlike the executives that shuffle sideways from one traditional publisher to the next, Cousins has abandoned that side of the business entirely. Today he runs the Sweden division mobile group Ngmoco, owned by Asia’s casual games titan Dena.

He can say what he wants, and does.

Tomorrow he will be in London to keynote the inaugural F2P conference, to discuss the past and future of freemium games.In the Q&A below, Develop discussed some of the themes he will be speaking on.

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Tell us more about what you’ll be discussing during your F2P keynote.

I’ve been working in freemium since the 2006 on PlayStation Home. We really didn’t have a clue what we were doing back then and freemium was just happening in Korea. I think looking back it is easier to forget how completely different the gaming landscape was in 2006. We had this almost completely predominant packaged goods business back then, and all the concerns were about making great 3D graphics, building multiplayer into your games. The main subject of discussion was about sequels and lack of innovation. At that time I was working with a team in Korea for Battlefield Heroes, which was a real learning experience.

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Korean game developers are often seen as being far ahead of the curve when it comes to online content. Was it an eye opener to see how they operated?

Yeah it was. Some of the things they said about freemium and social at the time have completely become commonplace these days. They originated this idea of releasing your game and building it in front of your customers – to shape your game from community feedback. That was a completely new and radical idea for us. It took us a while to get out of our old-world mentality and adopt to these new ways of thinking.

But the western world in general was behind on this. Even when we announced Battlefield Heroes, I think in 2007, there was a lot of skepticism about this type of game. People didn’t agree that this free-to-play model would work, even though it was working amazingly in places like Korea. These days, of course, we have numerous huge free-to-play games like Team Fortress and League of Legends and the rest. It’s been really interesting to see how these perceptions have changed. Really without realising it, the west now has this incredibly popular and new way of playing games.

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Would you agree that the frontrunners of the free-to-play business model are of a certain genre? Can freemium be applied to many more game types?

Well ultimately it’s a business model that is separate from the platforms they’re hosted on. Social games, or Facebook games, are one variety. Then you have other games like League of Legends, and freemium on mobile is becoming a big business too. It’s true that the headline-grabbing free-to-play games are the ones that you see on Facebook, but there is a whole industry behind this model.

The only platform where freemium isn’t making a huge impact is on the consoles and that’s because the console holders, as I understand it, are scared of it. They don’t want to get involved in free-to-play because it could break their business model.

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There is the argument that free-to-play builds direct communication lines between players and developers, and so it takes the platform owners out of the equation, which is something they want to avoid.

Yes it’s a very dangerous attitude for them, I think. There will be a perception within these companies, because they are very inexperienced in this area, that they will be thinking that if they allow a high-quality free-to-play experience on their console it will eat into sales of premium games. They will be thinking they make more money, from a licensing fees standpoint, from packaged goods than from virtual currency. I think that’s misunderstanding the way the business model works, to be honest.

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Perhaps at some stage they’ll have to adopt to this model, if it continues to grow in popularity and, perhaps, allure more of the core market.

Yes it will be ‘adopt or die’ for the console holders. I spoke at GDC about the challenges that the traditional platform holders face as the likes of Google and Apple and Facebook – which are really wealthy companies – move into their territory. These new competitors have already opened up their platforms. I’m not sure anyone at Apple really wanted iPads and iPhones to be so closely linked to games systems, but they opened the platform and the business model and it thrived. I mean, I think about half of App Store revenues last year were from free-to-play games.

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I think the most recent study claimed it was 70% of all revenues.

And I think that number will only get higher. I think it will get to ninety per cent and rise even further. This is essentially a economics principal known as reduction to marginal cost, which theorises that if something costs nothing to distribute then someone in the marketplace will try and sell it for nothing to gain customers. Maybe that’s what the platform holders are scared of. Maybe they think that if someone creates a Call of Duty game that’s free-to-play then they’ll lose all the licensing fees associated with sales of the premium edition.

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There is still a market desire for premium content, though, and surely certain freemium models can distort that?

I don’t think so, no. I can give you many examples of freemium games in Asia that now have made more than a billion dollars in lifetime revenue. I would guess that League of Legends will be a billion dollars in lifetime revenue as well. As soon as people crack the code in terms of making money from free-to-play, then you’ll once again get this arms race for quality much like we have now. I think there is a good chance in ten years time that freemium games of incredibly high production values will be the norm.

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Do you see this as the predominant model for all games?

Certainly the PC games space is already accepting it, and freemium is already dominating the mobile space too.This trend will continue on all platforms that are open, and the console holders will have to ask themselves serious questions. Do consoles become the only place where you get that kind of experience, or do people start moving away from consoles onto other platforms because they aren’t adapting, and if that were to happen, will games consoles even be a viable business model?

There’s a very interesting few years ahead of us.

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You can see it in the UK right now; there are so many traditional triple-A developers now suddenly running small independent start-ups discussing ARPU and player retention tactics. They used to be obsessed with feature lists and multiplayer.

I was talking about this recently. The UK is in a really funny position. Sweden never really had much of a packaged goods industry. DICE is a big studio and Avalanche is fairly sized, but there is now a big workforce building games because of non-console platforms. What the UK games industry tends to not have is a vast entrepreneurial culture, with established ties to venture capital firms. So Britain’s almost stuck between the old and new, and you wonder how it’s going to get out of this glut. I mean there aren’t any huge start-ups in the mobile and social scene in the UK -

Well there’s Bossa, there’s Mind Candy, there’s Ustwo, Makie Labs, Inensu-

-I remember people were saying Runescape was going to be the next big thing, but they haven’t really hit the heights of what, say, Bigpoint has. There hasn’t been that social or mobile games sensation in the UK, and I just hope that happens. But going back to the re-education of games developers, as you call it, there is a trend in any business sector that goes through a revolution where the most senior people stick to what they know and the young people are quicker to adopt to a new model.I think it’s a shame, really, that a lot of people in the traditional gaming industry seem very resistant, almost aggressively resistant, to making free-to-play games.

There was only a few companies that successfully transitioned from the arcade to console business. Nintendo did it, Sega did okay, and then you have the likes of Midway and Atari who never got in their stride.

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Did you see Iwata’s speech at GDC last year?

Some of the things he says makes me really fear for the future of Nintendo.

I think there is a cognitive dissonance at Nintendo in terms of getting their heads around what’s actually happening to the industry, which is such a shame because they make such fantastic games.

With the App Store, what tends to happen is the good games rise to the top. Under Nintendo’s system there is more negotiation and arranging marketing and promotion. From a user-perspective, when you go on the App Store and you look at the top selling games, most of them are good quality and good value for money. I actually feel more optimistic about the future of PC games than the consoles, to be honest.

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Why’s that?

Because the new platforms are moving directly onto the console’s market. One of the reason why consoles sell 170 million units is because of the many causal players who buy just one or two games per year. Those casual players, who are the kind of engine room of the console economy, are now interested in social or mobile games. I just think the platform holders’ billion dollar investments in new hardware is no longer sustainable.

Edited by cri74

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Dessverre tenker de mer på penger enn på den trofaste fansen battlefield-serien har fått opp gjennom åra.

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