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Free-to-play objections grounded in "snobbery" and "old guard is scared", says Ben Cousins

People are afraid of free-to-play in the same way they were once afraid of rock music, according to freemium veteran Ben Cousins.


In an opinion piece published on Polygon, Cousins challenged the assumption that free-to-play games are somehow morally questionable while pay up front practices are virtuous.

"The attacks and criticism of free-to-play mechanics are often unfair and selective, and leave questionable but traditional business practices alone," he said.

"This is snobbery; evidence that the old guard is scared of where the industry is headed."

Cousins said that free-to-play games are often accused of bait-and-switch, but evidence suggests many are being enjoyed without the "switch" ever occurring; over 70% of top-level Candy Crush players have never spent any money, and Swrve reports only 2.2% of mobile players ever shell out.

"I've seen great trailers for terrible games, and getting a refund in traditional gaming is all but impossible," he continued.

"This is why the real bait and switch techniques take place in traditional gaming. Publishers often ask the press to hold reviews until the game has been released; the publisher is often trying to sell the game before poor reviews hit. Publishers routinely offer exclusive in-game content for digital pre-orders. Digital copies won't sell out, but the push remains to lock in consumer money before independent reviews hit. Get the player invested and spending before the game is released with the promise of 'rare' or 'exclusive' items."

Cousins took aim at non-traditional publishing, too, saying Kickstarter campaigns are prime offenders.

"Free-to-play games successfully avoid the bait and switch trap. You get to try the game, and invest more of your time or money if you enjoy the experience. Traditional games don't give you that luxury," he argued.

In the remainder of the opinion piece, Cousins tackles the focus on whales and the targeting of children, similarly attempting to dismantle objections, before arguing that much of the resistance to free-to-play games comes from fear.

"Free-to-play is now by far the world's biggest games business model by participation, and within a few years it's going to be the biggest by sales," he said.

"When something is new, when it isn't aimed at you, when it is created by strange people in strange places, when it breaks established norms and when it is becoming hugely popular, it's scary for the establishment.

"Time usually proves the lack of danger in these trends. This was the case for telephone, the jukebox, rock ‘n' roll and many other examples. We fear what we don't recognise, and in this case it's the industry not recognising where it's heading."

Cousins was head of EA's free-to-play team EA Easy before leaving for Ngmoco, which was later acquired by Mobage creator DeNA. He went on to join The Drowning developer Scattered Entertainment.

Thanks, GamesIndustry.

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