An increasing risk that a lot of free-to-play games run is the “pay to win” policy where progress is all but impossible for paying customers. Tiny Speck co-founder Stewart Butterfield believes this policy is self-destructive for social developers.
“The fundamental design of the game became ‘Here’s a stop sign in your gameplay, you can stop now and come back in a day, or you can keep on playing and it will cost you three bucks, or a buck, or ten bucks, or whatever it is,” said Butterfield. “Not just because it seems unsavory and I think people will burn out on it, but once you go down that road and start designing the game mechanics around that you can’t help but design the whole game around that. That has to be the basis of the game, because if you did the alternative to that then it’s not going to work.”
“People will get burnt out on this,” he said. “Maybe some of them will last for a very long time, but I feel like the easy successes have been taken already, and that won’t work in the long run. I mean, I could be wrong about that, and I hope I am, because that would be a lame future for games. Just my own reaction, the first time I saw that it was okay, the second time I saw that it was okay, and by whatever time it is now I’m like, ‘I get this. It’s transparent, and I don’t give a shit about having a bigger building here that cost me three dollars.'”
Tiny Speck has a game in Glitch, which Butterfield expects to have a smaller but more dedicated audience. “When there’s 100 million people playing CityVille, the overwhelming majority will have just tried the game that day, or they’ll spend five minutes and they’re never coming back,” he said. “They won’t be as into it as someone who’s playing WoW is in to WoW, or someone who’s playing EVE is into EVE, or even someone who’s playing Civilization IV is into Civilization IV. It’s a much lighter touch.”
“People who play StarCraft hardcore for several years, it becomes a significant part of their life and their identity,” added Butterfield. “Whereas a year from now, six months from now, they’ll forget they ever even played CityVille.”