Are there free-to-play mechanics that don't involve grind?

Discussion in 'Game Design' started by zoombapup, May 5, 2012.

  1. zoombapup

    Moderator Original Member

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    I've been playing World of tanks recently with a few friends. We decided to play that while they're waiting for diablo 3 when we all got collectively bored of playing battlefield 3.

    What strikes me after playing WOT for a month or so, is that the game is setup completely to grind money out of you. Let me explain why:

    You start off with a small tank. In general anytime a bigger tank meets a smaller tank, the smaller tank dies. Often if the mismatch is big, you die in one hit. So the core driver for the game becomes "be the bigger tank". Which means you want to get new tanks, only the amount of play required to get a new tank is pretty big and only gets bigger the bigger the tank.

    So there's a very clever part, in that you see the "tech tree" and can see very clearly how close you are to getting new stuff. Plus tanks themselves have parts which can be upgraded and crew which can earn their own XP. This means there is something always within grasp of the non-paying player, even if the tanks themselves are quite far apart.

    The real meat of this of course, is that when you actually play in the game, you get matched via a balancing system that throws you into matches where sometimes you are the top of the list and have a "good game" but more often you are lower down on the list and have a "bad game". Remember that bigger tank = win. So the system is setup to make you want to progress to bigger tanks.

    It seems pretty clear to me that if we take this kind of system as fundamental to free-to-play games, then I simply do not want to play games anymore. Even battlefield had tons of what appear to be free-to-play hooks, like unlocks, achievements etc.

    What I'm saying is that all these mechanics are so clearly skinnerisms that I just don't enjoy the experience anymore. I don't play games to be manipulated into performing repetitive actions for some perceived reward. I'm not saying games should NEVER do that, I'm just saying that I don't want games to become simply about that.

    So my question is, have you experienced any free to play games that didn't seem like you were part of a skinner experiment? That didn't just make you grind actions to unlock something? That felt like a game used to feel like, a joy?
     
  2. Nexic

    Indie Author

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    You're older, and I bet you don't have tons of free time. I bet you also feel good sense of achievement from your work so you don't need an external source. Therefore, grinding for rewards doesn't appeal to you. I'm the same as you, grinding games do not appeal to me at all any more.

    However there are tons of people who are not like that. I remember myself as a teenager, I used to *love* RPGs with grind mechanics, since it made me feel such a strong sense of accomplishment in a world where I (at the time) didn't get to feel that very often. It's not just teens either, it can be older people who just happen to have a ton of a free time, and not much else going on in their life. If you think about it, the grind emulates the real life experience of having a good career, only at a much faster pace. It's no wonder some people enjoy that. Sure, it's all 'fake' and they are usually aware of that themselves, but it still does genuinely make them feel happy.

    Sure I am a little ashamed that I used to spend so much time playing those type of games as a teen, but overall I remember how good it felt at the time. If my career didn't inspire me (like 95% of people in the world), and I didn't have much else happening in my life, then I'm pretty certain I'd also be hooked on some mmorpg by now.
     
  3. Bram

    Indie Author Greenlit

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    There are plenty of games that are free to play and use in-app-purchase to unlock extra content.
    Play for free, and pay to play all levels.

    No grinding-or-pay-up scheme there.
    I use it for my games as well.
    I think this is a fair way to treat a customer, and much better than consumable IAPs to temporarily boost a player.

    Bram
     
  4. zoombapup

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    I really don't mind the grind mechanisms per-se, because obviously they work and they are part of any game designers toolset. What I object to is that there are many people in "the industry" that think that games can ONLY be about this from now on, because free-to-play is the only model that makes the maximum return on investment. What they either don't care about, or are wilfully ignorant of, is that the very mechanics they will use in f2p are the kind of things that tend to destroy the joy of gaming.

    What I'm after is a counter example of a F2P game that doesn't use the grinding mechanic to drive its revenue. Haven't come across one as yet though.
     
  5. Nexic

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    My point was, that it only destroys the fun of gaming for certain types of people. The vast majority of players actually enjoy these mechanics. If there are tons of people who like it *and* it makes the most profit, what's the big deal?
     
  6. zoombapup

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    Because if we allow the whole of games to be reduced to a single type of mechanic, then what kind of medium are we working in? I'm not against the mechanic, I'm against the mechanic being THE ONLY mechanic. Which frankly it seems to be for almost all F2P games I've come across. So what I'm asking for is a balancing game that shows me something to the contrary. Anything that shows that F2P can be about more than grind-to-play. Hell, if you enjoy grinding, thats fine. But I honestly want to see good exemplars of a world where F2P becomes the norm and we aren't all just stuck in some 1984 style skinner experiment during play.
     
  7. lightassassin

    lightassassin New Member

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    I have found the same thing with f2p games and that is why I don't bother playing them. From the business point of view with the number of players that accept they way they play, and even enjoy them to the point they become fanatical fans, they are a fantastic way to generate revenue for a long period of time.

    All games becoming f2p would cause some issues, but I don't see it happening because it comes down to how your game is designed and what type of income you're targeting. Some businesses prefer the big money coming in hard and fast, with slower sales after initial release (typical publisher model) while the others are always looking at the f2p and "games as a service" model.

    League of Legends has about the best model I've seen for f2p. Although I really don't enjoy he "moba" style games, it proves that if you treat your customers right, and hide the "grind" they will love you for it. They give you free characters at random every week, and all characters are "even", it's more skilled based, but it does have some elements that give you an advantage if you grind for them or pay (rune pages). However, the advantages you gain as so small that they only matter when you've already progressed to the point where your skill has hit it's peak. Sure you get a slight advantage against the same level players, but you always have the ability to take on a player of higher skill.

    So if you were looking to create a f2p game, then I personally believe emulating the LoL style is your best bet. However, it will only suit if you game style and mechanics allow for such a design. I personally believe that a FPS in the traditional style would never work this way, but a game with lots of levels/characters could do very well.

    After all that, I hate grindy games, and don't play them. The only f2p game I like the payment style of is League of Legends which is a game I dislike from a gameplay point of view, not a business model one.
     
  8. mwtb

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    Yes there are f2p games that don't focus on grind, if by that you mean games that make progress tedious in order to sell you things that remove the need to play parts of the game. Plenty of games sell decorative stuff or things that allow you to play more rather than less.

    As for f2p + iap becoming the only sort of game available. That's clearly not going to occur as long as there are people who demand other experiences. Right now we're seeing an expansion of the games audience to people who aren't very sophisticated in their understanding of what games can be. A lot of those people see IAP as normal, in contrast to long-term gamers who see it as a new thing. Eventually the new gamers will be exposed to single-purchase games and, if they see the benefit, the market for "non-IAP" as an explicitly sought (and advertised) feature will develop.
     
  9. James Coote

    James Coote New Member

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    It feels like there ought to be a different system for f2p aside from grind.

    Having thought about it, football (soccer) is a game of skill where you only accumulate points, rather than XP, equipment etc, and where, at the end of the year, a winner is declared for the league and cup and the whole thing is reset

    That works as f2p, but the money comes from merchandise and from sponsorship / tv rights, as it is a spectator sport
     

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