The Quest For Phat Loot

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The year 2012 has seen the gaming landscape change, as developers and publishers scramble to find new business models, designed to recoup ever-expanding development budgets and boost profits. This year has been the year of the crowdfunding project. From Kickstarter to Indiegogo and more besides, everyone from the likes of Charles Cecile, to smaller, unknown developers have been getting in on the action and counting on fans to invest. Whilst some projects have scored big on their funding targets, the enthusiasm is already beginning to wane. Developers are finding it difficult to meet their target, and even when they do, the funding model brings its own problems.

Aside from the rise in crowdfunding, the games industry is seeing a new trend swinging into town. Free-to-play is no longer the business model for online games alone. Publishers are looking at F2P as a new alternative to boxed product, with in-game advertising raising its ugly head once more.

Ten or so years ago the nauseating term ‘gamevertising’ was spawned and with it came threats of games being infiltrated by adverts. Some titles gave it a good go. Gamers didn’t take to the idea and publishers had to take stock. The question of adverts in games seemed to go away. But in recent years, games are costing more and more to develop, whilst sales are flatlining at best, for all but the creme de la creme of AAA titles. With this year’s launch of Core Online, SquareEnix’s browser gaming service, sees the return of advertising, with the addition of microtransactions. Core Online takes its lead from the MMO market, which has seen title after title shift to a free-to-play model. The idea is that gamers can play for free, as long as they agree to watch adverts. Alternatively, you can pay for levels or buy the whole game and enjoy an advert-free experience.

Some might say, this just offers gamers more choice and control over the way they consume their games. But I worry that the F2P model will spawn an experience that leaves a bitter taste in your mouth.

Games are supposed to be immersive, the buzzword of every gaming press release ever. But what better way to break the spell than interrupting play with a few adverts? And SquareEnix seems to be leading the charge. Remember the furor when Deus Ex included an advert in its loading screen? Players weren’t happy, and rightly so. It’s bad enough having to sit through lengthy loading screens in the first place, without the added insult of being advertised at.

Apart from the minor annoyance of in-game advertising, there is of course the danger of a steady erosion of the gaming experience itself. The free-to-play model puts a focus on microtransactions. This sees a plethora of games designed to monetize every aspect of the experience they can get away with. Gameplay is sacrificed and players end up feeling like they’re being fleeced in exchange for content or Fleeced-to-Play.

I’d rather pay for a game outright and get a full, uninterrupted experience that entertains me, rather than one that’s designed to extract money from me at every stage. I don’t want to pay to progress. I’d prefer to get the money bit out of the way and then just play. In an age where stealing music and films online seems to be socially acceptable, with any sense of their value completely diminished, there are always going to be the gamers out there who are happy to endure a few adverts in order to enjoy an entire game for free. On the positive side, it’s one way to beat piracy, but we have to wonder what it will do for the quality of games.

And are we really going to see the likes of GTA V dished up as a F2P game? It seems that the likes of SquareEnix would like nothing better. Developers need to ensure that gameplay comes first and the F2P model doesn’t become a cynical ploy to part gamers from their money.

Most played: Assassin’s Creed III

Most wanted: GTA V

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