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Freemium – my take: design for maximum enjoyment first

There have been a ton of posts about game design and ethics lately relating to freemium.

Here’s my take. I don’t really think there is ethics so much in if you make a freemium game with random drops or checklists or whatever or not. I think those are game elements that some users REALLY LOVE and some users REALLY HATE. Some users HATE in app purchases, some users LOVE them. I think many players find random events to be FUN! Randomness is a big thing that helps make a game addictive and people like addictive games!

Here’s my “big picture” view of where game design gets unethical – when the designer’s time is spent too much on designing for maximum monetization as opposed to player enjoyment. I think the purpose of games is for people to have FUN! If you as a designer are working mostly to ensure that, you’re doing your job. If you are spending most of your time tweaking your game for maximum REVENUE then you are doing it wrong.

So, yeah, I think the reason Zynga gets a bad rap is because there’s rumors that they have huge departments of psychologists and number crunchers working non-stop to increase the addictiveness and monetization of their games. With no concern for the player beyond what they can do for the bottom line. That’s not very positive. They have lost their way as game developers and that’s unfortunate.

On the other hand there are tons of indie developers out there who are working hard to make FUN games that use checklists, random drops, grinding, and in-app-purchases as game elements who are focussing on making FUN free-to-play games. I think these guys are doing it right.

I think freemium is right now the brave new world for indies. I think some indies are doing great stuff with free-to-play and I think some are scrambling too hard to MONETIZE. I think it’s a time where some people are screwing up and making bad games, but I think it’s okay to make mistakes right now. I think right now is the opportunity for people to find out what free-to-play can offer the player. I read every single blog post and article I can find about free-to-play game design because I want to do my best as a game designer to make my stabs into this new territory to be good ones.

And again: as a game designer be sure to keep your focus on making games that people genuinely enjoy.


2 Responses to “Freemium – my take: design for maximum enjoyment first”

  1. Kyle Says:

    A nice short opinion piece on the topic, and one I agree with. Now if only you had a Google+ social button so I could +1 it.

    Kevin Glass (Legends of Yore) wrote a nice tweet about this subject just yesterday.

  2. Leinator Says:

    I tend not to characterize anything as morally “good” or “bad,” but I do find the free-to-play model unappealing and while it may not be bad, it is often deceptive, and has been employed in shitty dating sites and social networking long before games. The services always start completely free, and then paid content is released on an absolute schedule. Look at the history of sites like or any free-to-play game and they always mask paid content as some new idea, and it often has a “beta” stage where users get free in-game currency and can get the ‘virtual buying’ experience. Then paid content is released on a planned schedule. It may be an exaggeration to imagine a room of manipulative psychologist think tanks, but there is observable, planned marketing tactics behind these games that are created to make consumers comfortable with sinking real money into content, “dates,” skins, or virtual currency.

    Games like WoW with limited paid content that is guaranteed never to give paying players an “edge” are at least tolerable. As soon as you add paid random drops or paid items, then free users have to pay to be on a equal playing field with paying users, and that is crossing the line into bad design territory. Again, I don’t think it morally wrong, but it’s manipulative and I have and never will play a game with this business model.

    Games like minecraft represent the most user-friendly model for monetizing a game. You pay once, you get the game and all future content DRM FREE. Games with virtual currency that converts to real dollars are generally the worst, and actually have a chance of financially hurting users, as is the case with Second Life. Are the users choosing to spend the money themselves? Yes. But the game’s model is manipulative and they take advantage of the consumer.

    So yeah, you can spend 5.00$ on 500 LINDEN DOLLARS!!!!!!1 and buy some “virtual furniture,” but I can be just as happy jumping on a minecraft server and building a chair for free, with a fencepost and a wooden slab 😉

    I also find it hilarious that they actually charge users in second life for virtual ‘land,’ citing some sort of bullshit explanation about ‘server load,’ and somehow minecraft can offer 64-player servers with literally limitless land generation. It all serves to demonstrate that there is NO REAL VALUE to most so-called digital content, it reperesents a very small amount of space and work for their server center and generates insane profit.