Wargaming.net并非唯一信奉这一原则的公司。Hi-Rez Studios发布了一系列F2P游戏，其中包括《Global Agenda》以及更受赞誉的《Tribes:Ascend》。
Chasing the Whale: Examining the ethics of free-to-play games
by Mike Rose
“The creation of addiction-driven games needs to stop, for the sake of everyone those games take advantage of,” they continued. “If companies like [that company] refuse to change how they conduct business, then the problem will only be solved if they go out of business. While it is unfortunate that people are losing their jobs, that may be a necessary, painful step in ridding the world of one of the harmful aspects of gaming.”
I showed the stories I had found to the employee, who found them upsetting. “When people play games, they are entrusting the developers with their time and money,” they told me. “As developers, we have a responsibility to make sure that we give them something equally valuable in return.”
The ex-employee says that it all comes down to one main point: “Enabling self-destructive behavior is wrong.”
“It’s wrong when the tobacco and gambling industries do it, and it’s a shame that portions of the game industry do it too,” they added.
Despite this, the former free-to-play employee says that they don’t believe government regulation would be a good way to fix the issue. As they point, some of the mechanics utilized in these games are used elsewhere in a more positive way, “so regulation could cause collateral damage across the games industry.”
They added, “Based on their track record, I certainly don’t trust Congress to pass responsible legislation dealing with video games.”
And yet, the trouble still remains: The free-to-play model has been proven to work best when games find and exploit whales.
“Any [free-to-play] game that makes it virtually impossible to advance beyond a certain point without spending money was almost certainly designed with whales in mind,” the employee notes.
“Games that allow players to advance to the highest level without spending anything are less exploitative. At least they don’t actively encourage addiction.”
Now that my source is out of the free-to-play space, they are happy to be making games that don’t exploit players anymore. “I’m now working on serious games, which have the potential to produce a substantial, positive effect on the world,” they tell me. “I’m sorry for what I’ve done, but I promise to more than make up for it in the future.”
Free-to-play developers speak.
It’s clear, then, that while a large portion of free-to-play consumers are able to take business model in stride, there are also those whose lives are being strained and, in some cases, even ruined by a number of these games. With this in mind, I took the commentary I had found straight to the developers, to gauge what exactly is going on, and why these people are spending as much as they do.
Battlefield Heroes is an instructive example of a developer moving toward an emphasis on incentivizing players to pay. When the game originally launched, it was a true free-to-play game.
Players could jump into the game, sample everything it had to offer, grind a bit to unlock specific elements, but generally get plenty of enjoyment out of it for free.
Unfortunately, the amount of money coming in wasn’t good enough to keep the game afloat, and so a large-scale price restructuring was developed, as detailed in this article. With this in place, players were now a lot more restricted in what they could see and do, and had far more grinding to go through to unlock items — unless, of course, they chose to pay real money.
Ben Cousins was the senior producer on Battlefield Heroes back at the time when John (whose story is told above) found himself addicted to the game. Cousins now works on free-to-play games for DeNA, and is an outspoken proponent of the free-to-play model.
Upon reading John’s story, Cousins remarked that numerous Heroes players were upset when the price restructuring occurred within the game. This led to lots of negative comments on the official forums, and stories such as John’s.
However, Cousins notes that the restructuring led to an influx of revenue, it had the effect of safeguarding of many jobs on the Heroes team. Essentially, by forcing players to grind just that little bit more for items in the game, and by introducing weapons that gave paying players an advantage, the development team at EA caused an uproar among fans — yet suddenly its long-term revenue was assured, as many of these very same players stuck around and submitted to the new pricing regime.
“I believe that the responsibility to control spending on any product or service lies with the consumer, unless there is some scientifically proven link to addiction as is the case with products and services like alcohol and gambling,” Cousins tells me. “When these links are established, I feel industries should self-govern first and if they fail to act responsibly, be subject to governmental control.”
He adds that there is currently no proven link between free-to-play “whales” and addiction. “I would personally like to see wide-ranging independent studies done before we jump to any conclusions about any negative psychological effects.”
Cousins is also keen to stress that the overly negative responses that I received may well only represent a very small proportion of “whales.”
“When looking at a small sample size there is always going to be a lack of certainty in extrapolating that data to a larger population,” he says. “I think if we see a broad proportion of the spending userbase reacting as they claim to have in these accounts, it’s easier to read this as the developers having discovered a damaging method of psychological consumer manipulation.”
“When a very, very small proportion of the userbase react in this manner, while sad, it’s easier to read this as perhaps individual issues with those people which may be expressed in any number of negative ways, not just with spending in free-to-play games. I’m sure small numbers of very negative stories could be found for spending on almost any product or service.”
He clarifies: “I’m not suggesting either is true, just that we would need to do a broader set of data gathering before I’m comfortable reaching any conclusions.”
I ask Cousins what systems his team at DeNA has in place to reduce the number of players who can potentially be exploited in its free-to-play games.
“The systems we have in place are simply our own moral judgment as a team of game developers,” he answers. “We regularly reject ideas out of hand because we feel they are potentially exploitative. I suggest other developers do the same, but individual games are unique and there are no hard-and-fast rules.”
An industry source at one major social game company told me that the stories I received are “pretty extreme, and definitely not the norm.”
The source noted that game companies are already subject to a number of regulations — consumer protection laws that require companies to treat players fairly. Citing the stories I received, the source said, “We wouldn’t want our players to be playing like this, because it’s just not fun, and it’s not what the purpose of our games is.”
“Our games are made so that you have short play sessions,” the source added. “Our games aren’t meant for these long play sessions where” — the source references the story of the mother playing Mafia Wars — “those are not what [our] games are about.”
The source said the company’s game sessions are short — about 10 minutes for some of its most popular games. The company purposely makes game sessions short, such that players will connect with others, the source said. Like most free-to-play businesses, very low percentages of customers pay any money at all.
I also got in contact with other free-to-play developers, including those mentioned in the stories I received. Nexon’s North American director of PR, Mike Crouch, appeared to be interested in providing me with answers, but after weeks of correspondence went quiet on the topic.
Meanwhile, Valve’s Doug Lombardi chose not to respond to my multiple requests for comment, even though he did get back to me on an unrelated topic in the meanwhile.
And while it at first appeared that Sony Online Entertainment might talk to me about PlanetSide 2, I was eventually told that the company wasn’t interested in responding.
For the greater good
Not every free-to-play studio is gunning for the “whales.” While I was conducting my research, World of Tanks developer Wargaming.net revealed to Gamasutra that it is changing up its free-to-play strategy, removing all “pay-to-win” options and making sure that players cannot pay money to gain an advantage in battle.
“We don’t want to nickel and dime our players,” Wargaming.net’s VP of publishing Andrei Yarantsau told us. “We want to deliver gaming experiences and services that are based on the fair treatment of our players, whether they spend money in-game or not.”
“Free-to-play games have the challenge of being sometimes viewed as low quality, and we want World of Tanks to serve as proof that a quality and balanced free-to-play game is possible,” he added.
Wargaming.net isn’t the only company that feels this way. Hi-Rez Studios has released a string of free-to-play titles, including Global Agenda and the more widely acclaimed Tribes: Ascend.
Both are notable in that players are very accepting of these versions of “free-to-play”: You can download the game for free, and then play for as long as you want, with no advantages given to those people who choose to purchase vanity items and the like.
Todd Harris, COO at Hi-Rez, tells me that his company’s free-to-play philosophy is simple: Players will remember which games and companies are exploitative, and gradually over time, we’ll see a shift away from these money-grabbers, to the games that treat the players with respect.
“The players in the stories [you've related] are likely to not play a game from that publisher or developer again,” he reasons. “Our perspective is a long-term thing, thinking about the studio brand.”
“I think there’s cases where it financially works in the short-term for that title,” he continues. “In our case, our studio brand and positioning is different, and we are particularly looking for gamers that expect a fair battlefield, and we want them to know that in a future Hi-Rez game, from past experiences, that they should get a fair battlefield and not get an exploitive feeling.”
While you might guess that Hi-Rez doesn’t make as much money as some of these more exploitative studios, it’s notable that around 10 percent of Tribes: Ascend players choose to pay money — a figure that is much larger than the 1, 3, and 5 percents that I’ve heard from the majority of other free-to-play developers. Harris reasons that this is down to trust, and players feeling like they are getting their money’s worth.
“I don’t have a crystal ball, but our studio thinks that there are enough players that want more of a sports-like fair game,” he says. “That’s the type of titles that we are developing. Whether the audience of the other type — ‘pay for status’ — whether that is growing or shrinking… you know, studios have to place their bets.”
“I personally think that it’s going to go down over time,” he adds, “because if you look at the games that are having the most success — League of Legends, Dota 2, as well as our own titles — they are not perceived that way, not perceived to be pay-to-win as much. So those games seem to be having more traction.”
I asked Harris whether he would advise other free-to-play studios to consider taking the approach that both Hi-Rez and Wargaming.net are currently running with. His response was simply, “Better late than never.”
Harris is also of the view that government regulation would not be a good idea — in fact, he describes it as “the last thing gaming needs.”
“But game journalists and reviewers could play a valuable role — in reporting how ‘exploitive’ specific titles are or are not,” he says. “I don’t think a game critic’s rating of ‘Graphics Quality’ or ‘Audio Quality’ is all that important anymore — now that so many games are free-to-play, people can try for themselves. And even with buy-to-play, potential buyers can see graphics and gameplay on YouTube or via live streaming.”
“But ‘exploitive mechanics’ could be harder to detect in a single ‘Let’s Play’ video, so game critics could help a lot in that area,” he adds. （source：gamasutra）