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Wings over Sealand


When games aren’t expensive enough

Posted on February 28, 2013 by RevStu

(I've been meaning to write this piece for months, but – not entirely unrelatedly – have been rather neglecting WoSland in favour of another site whose readers ARE in fact prepared to pay a very modest price for journalism. But what the heck, let's do it now.)

Today has seen the much-trailed worldwide release of Real Racing 3 for the iOS platforms. The controversial "free-to-play" game has a horrendous IAP structure which forces players to have to either wait for hours and hours (and hours) at paywalls between sessions or cough up a mindboggling fortune to play it continuously.

This, contrary to what you might think, is a good thing.

It's mildly important to point out from the start that Real Racing 3 is a terrible game. Even leaving aside all the IAP nonsense, it follows much the same path as its immediate predecessor, which despite having no IAPs was a soul-destroyingly tedious grind aimed at people who were too anoraky even to enjoy Gran Turismo.

What's more surprising for the latest release in a series which has always set the graphical standards for iOS is how ugly it looks in real life. On my brand-new 5th-generation Retina-screened iPod Touch, it's bland and grainy with bad anti-aliasing, and undermined further by the sterile, almost-featureless real-world tracks that are making their debut appearance in the previously made-up franchise.

But that's the end of the review. The point of this piece is instead to commend EA's financial model, because it enthusiastically embraces a strategy which is good news for the vast majority of gamers, and that's the strategy of milking idiots.

Real Racing 3 will – and I don't think this is going out on a limb – make lots of money. It's hardly a revelation that the "free-to-play" sector is populated by a lot of people who won't pay a penny (instead extracting however much entertainment out of the game they want before moving onto the next freebie), and a tiny minority of "whales" who will haemorrhage actual currency like a gigantic cash pinata in order to buy their way to the end screen (or top of the online leaderboards) as quickly as possible.

I have no idea what motivates such "gamers" – how much of a sense of achievement or enjoyment can you get from simply spending money in order to "win" instantly without actually playing a game in any meaningful way? – but their existence is mana from Heaven for the rest of us, because they provide the long-term means by which the price of games can finally come down, at the sole expense of stupid people.

By having braying cheats with too much money contribute most of the funding for big-budget "free-to-play" games, the likes of EA secure the funding which lets them make normal games cheaply. (The company's iOS catalogue of paid titles is very frequently available at 69p a pop, a price point which sees them regularly clog up the Top 20 with high-quality games that anyone can afford.)

I'd like to see EA get even more aggressive with IAP. I'd like to see them charge to skip cutscenes. I'd like to see them sell car-pimping kits of useless purely-cosmetic wheel rims and neon strips and furry dice and driver hats. I'd like to see delay timers set for days, not hours. Because the fact is that there would still be twats who would pay for them, because they have more dollar bills than braincells, a spoilt-brat demand for instant gratification, and/or a bewildering desire to "support the industry".

It is simply not possible to extract too much money from these willing dolts. And every penny they'll happily hand over is a penny that the rest of us don't have to pay in order to keep a stream of videogames that cost less than a bar of chocolate coming our way until the end of time.

Similarly, new consoles ought to cost £10,000 for the first month or so after release. People will pay it, and in doing so will effectively redistribute wealth to the rest of us in a way governments no longer even pretend to try to. The same goes for AAA games – let's see Grand Theft Auto 5 costing £500 in launch week for the bog-standard edition, or £1000 if you want the limited-edition 1:1-scale embossed crowbar.

Why not? Is it really going to kill you, having patiently held on for years since episode 4, to have to cool your heels for seven more days? And in the meantime the industry that gamers profess to love will get a hefty cash boost from those salivating, mouth-breathing "early adopters" who just can't wait.

So hurray for Real Racing 3. It's a shit game that sucks money out of dimwits and to all intents and purposes gives it to you and me, so that we can spend it on vastly more enjoyable ones that cost literally pennies. Why would you be upset about that?

11 to “When games aren’t expensive enough”

  1. CdrJameson says:

    Nik Davidson (amazon.com) on the target market for free-to-play games:


    "We like to think that the ones spending vast sums on these games are sons of Dubai oligarchs, but we have the data to prove that they're not, and that they probably can't afford to spend what they're spending. We're saying our market is suckers — we're going to cast a net that catches as many mentally ill people as we can!"

  2. Kriss says:

    The problem, is that future "large budget?" games will be shaped specifically for the dimwits and even after a price drop, you will not want it. Eventually the dimwits will either run out of money or stop being dimwits.
    IE this shit is not sustainable bro, it is a slippery slope to doom and is exactly how I remember arcade machines dying out.

  3. Matt says:

    An interesting point Stu, and certainly an angle that I can understand, but…
     
    … the industry is in a sad state if we're having to rely on cashflow from the easily fooled and hopelessly competitive to fund future projects.
     
    Not saying you are wrong in any way, just that it's a sad situation. It'd be lovely if we could get to a situation where properly balanced F2P would be attractive enough a proposition to 'normal' gaming folk that payments could sustain the industry without having to resort to what's gone on with RR3.
     
    Very wishful thinking, I guess, and perhaps this whole saga has/will prove a point: be cynical and grab every last dollar you can or you won't pay the bills.

  4. RevStu says:

    "Not saying you are wrong in any way, just that it's a sad situation. It'd be lovely if we could get to a situation where properly balanced F2P would be attractive enough a proposition to 'normal' gaming folk that payments could sustain the industry without having to resort to what's gone on with RR3."

    Well, it is. Plenty of games make good money either without IAPs at all or with a decent model. The piece is really just a polemic pointing out that even totally evil games can do some good, I guess. I never have that much of a problem with people taking money from suckers, because SOMEONE will take their money from them no matter what.

  5. Ian Osborne says:

     
    I'm not sure I can agree with you here. Not with the insanity of paying a small fortune to give you an unfair advantage in a game you didn't pay for. That is indeed lunacy. Back in the day, no one in their right mind would've paid £70 for a £4 Amiga budget title on the understanding that the cheat mode was pre-activated, yet that's what's happening now.
    No, the part I disagree with is that it's good for non-lunatic gamers. Sure, it means we get games for cheap or even free, but with the skills curve geared to parting the gullible from their cash rather than providing the gamer with a fair and balanced challenge, many of those games are rendered valueless. 
    Naturally, this isn't true for all, or perhaps even most games, but we're at the dawn of the IAP financing model. To begin with, most extras were indeed extras, things you didn't have to buy but could if you wanted to. Who could argue with that? But now – and I suspect increasingly in the future – they've become a necessity. Play for free, but pay to win. This is not good for gaming.

  6. asdasd says:

    Except that because fuckwits have been buying them, all of EA's games will soon have IAPs; the shit ones, the normal ones, the lotto.
     
    http://www.develop-online.net/news/43388/EA-taking-microtransactions-in-house?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+developmag%2Fifbh+%28Develop%29
     
    If the industry follows suit, the Real Racings of this world will be the norm, not the exception. I'm confident that there will always be a cadre of diehards making not-shit games. And, as these things tend to work in cycles, when things get bad enough there will probably be some sort of renaissance, like there was for indies in the mid-to-late '00s. But I expect the IAP ethos to push through into the mainstream, from free to play right through to AAA, more and more aggressively, at least for a while.

  7. Lenny says:

    Lenny's Awesome Game for Gamerz!!!111!1!
     
    Game: Would you like win?
    Player 1: Yes.
    Game: Please insert £100.
    Player 1: Ok.
    Game: Congratulations. You have won.

  8. Steve Smith says:

    Lenny, if I pay £200, can I win *and* be at the top of the leaderboard so I'm the envy of all my peers?

  9. Lacero says:

    The top leaderboard position will be auctioned daily. If you outbid everyone else you get to be on top for that day.

  10. Lenny says:

    But only available via a £129.99 DLC purchase :)

  11. Anonymous says:

    Umm… shouldn’t the 1:1 crowbar be reserved for when EA inevitably publishes the retail version of EP3?



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