Free to pay?

16th May 2012 11:02am

I hate “Free to play”, it’s dishonest and stupid.

I liked Farmville, right up until I found the pink flamingos… and saw that I HAD to pay money for them.  Zynga still has my pink flamingo hostage, I refuse to pay its ransom.  Although if they had phrased it like that, I might have payed.

Notch sums it up nicely:

But… I’ve made a game… people like playing it…  you can play it here… for free…  but how am I going to pay my rent?

Here’s a clip from futurama where that image came from:

Tim Schafer / Double Fine have made a lot of money from this business model with Kickstarters help.  Props to them and the other people doing this.  But…  what happens in a years time, when a large percentage of those Kickstarter games aren’t finished, or worse, they suck.  If you are one of the 11,530 people who donated $100 each to double fine for a special edition of a game that doesn’t exist yet… how pissed off will you be if you receive nothing?

I think crowdsourced funding is fantastic, and people will get rich from it,  but I think even more people will be burned by it.

So what am I going to do with Ironfell?

I’m funding it myself.  By freelancing, spending my savings, and keeping the costs as low as possible.  No investors, no partners, no crowd sourced funding.  Keeping everything lean and under my control.

A huge cost saving could be to open source the servers.  And let people host their own servers, like Minecraft does.  The drawback to this is that people would be playing in separate universes, or if the servers are connected, one person could spawn unlimited resources on their server, and take them to battle on someone elses server.  There’s ways to design around these things, but it’s all compromises.

Advertising in the game, on loading screens, menus and on the website will help a little bit.  T-shirts and stickers, definitely, buy merchandise needs a certain level of scale before it becomes profitable.  Those might buy me a beer or two, but won’t pay for the servers.

An iPhone/iPad version would be soo coooool,  and also crazy expensive to build.  I can’t afford to pay for it until the game is popular.  I could find a partner to build it, but they’ll be stupid to do that unless the game was already proven and popular.

My original plan was to let people buy custom realms.  Let users customize the terrain and give them Trees and Iron Deposits in their newly purchased realm.  For example a 64×64 size realm, 4096 cells, could cost $6.  A 256×256, 65,536 cell realm $50.  New realms are what use the most server resources, so paying for new realms nicely supports the server hosting costs.

And then there is directly paying for resources…  Would you pay a dollar for 10,000 Iron?

At first I was totally against this, thinking that it would cause a few rich people to unbalance the game.  But in the end game, resources don’t really matter, and its about your strategy, and how much time you can spend clicking on your army which counts.

Several people have asked to buy resources already.  Usually they’re in the middle of an epic raid, and they run out of Wood. They could wait a day to get gather some more,  but they want to keep fighting.  So dropping a dollar in my tip jar in exchange for a huge pile of wood is something people already want to do.

The biggest issue I have with it is that people might be victimized by other players for paying for resources. But people who pay are directly supporting Ironfell and paying my rent.  I’m not EA and I drive a beaten up Toyota.  People who pay need to be respected, rewarded and looked up to. They’re the reason I can make this game.

One idea I’m toying with, is for every dollar you spend, you get a vote on what my next priority is with developing the game.  Something like the sliders on the humblebundles,  so you can choose to vote for Guilds,  Resource Trading,  GM and Griefing tools or more units and terrain.

I totally understand that some people don’t want to pay, that’s okay.  Everyone adds to the game world, the more people play, the more everyones experience improves.  I promise to make every game item and resource available in the game without a payment.  I might go one step further and make it so you can buy each resource… except Uranium, which will be uber-rare, and ONLY found in the game.

I want to make a fun game, played by nice people.
But it needs to pay my rent, or I won’t be able to make it.

What do you think?

Posted by on in Ironfell


  • Trevor says:

    Been playtesting a bit, and I think you have a nice, unique concept here. I like the fact that you can play the game in a browser, that means it can be there for you whenever you have some spare time to relax, no matter where you are.

    Personally, I would stay away from offering items that have an impact on gameplay for sale. It is difficult to pull that off in any game, but with the gameplay you are going for it has the potential to create a very frustrating experience for your most loyal players, the ones who will no doubt spend a lot of time and energy building bases without spending money – only to have an enemy pop up seemingly overnight and overwhelm them with purchased resources.

    I can see a few other paths to monetization that you might consider:

    1. Optional monthly donation-based ‘premium’ accounts. These would include a few perks, but importantly, they are not perks that affect gameplay. A couple things I could see working would be –

    -An added badge seen onmouseover when a player selects one of your units.

    -Unlock a secondary color customization for units/banners

    -unlock cosmetic item

    2. Allow for donations, no strings attached. I think a lot of people who enjoy a game are willing to kick in a bit for it, I know I would.

    Just my thoughts.

  • Totally understand what you’re saying. I’m not sure which direction I’ll go and am thinking about all options :) At the moment I need more players, and need to see how lots of people play together.

    But… I have to disagree with your description of a “loyal player” as one who spends lots of time and energy without spending money.

    People who pay, irrespective of how they pay, are the reason I can make this game. People who pay are the “loyal” players.

    There’s an attitude shift needed around payments, people who pay need to put up on a pedistal and have crowds of admirers cheering for them.

    Buying resources would give you an unfair advantage. But its the same unfair advantage already given to players who have been playing longer.

    I’m losing sleep over this :)

  • Trevor Lee says:

    David, I agree, it is a tough a nuanced issue and one that many multi-billion dollar companies struggle with, let alone a single developer who has to fund it out of his own pocket. I totally get where you are coming from on this.

    I may have phrased it poorly, I think what I am basically trying to articululate is that in any online service or game, you will have that 3-7% of players who can potentially become your brand ambassadors, and will be the champions of your cause to their friends and anyone who will listen. The value they will bring to you may not be as tangible as a paypal transation, but it will be not less important. This group may overlap partially, but not fully with your ‘paying’ customers, so it is important that you avoid pitfalls that would alienate them as well.

    Thanks for the thoughtful reply.

  • And I just thought of yet another option, shard separate servers for people who want to pay for resources.

    Oh and gold farmers… as soon as I add resource trading, people could setup 3rd party sites to buy and sell resources. If I’m also selling resources, then I have a lot of control over gold farmers.

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  • Emerion says:

    Coming from a french news on:

    A lil’ hello from France.

    Nice to see that people every where in the world still have energy to make such project.

    Looks nice. Will dowload and try.

    Just my 2cents about your discussion.

    As David told, the concept should not be killed by bigger ‘customer’. If every thing or ressource could be offered with real money, some will abuse of the opportunity. For some of my friends it is something like a cheat. It is easy for no life with high salary…

    Cosmetic item is a real good idea. Will never say that IronFell is dirty, but it is just… an hexa-game with flushy colors ^^

    I will certainly pay something if i will have a tittle or something that non-payers will have not. Better graphics on units? Self design my unit or banner?

    I’m not for few servers… It is not possible to have a persistant world within a cloud? And a separate system for sharing ressource? As your last idea. You will keep the hand on it, for example with a 10% fees or more on each transaction.

    Hope that you will be able to continue this adventure and release it based on your first will.

  • Thanks :) check out this new blog post about the resources & money”

    Having game servers in the cloud is possible, but most cloud services are designed for websites hosting rather than game servers which have different needs. It’s simpler to host cheap small servers that I have total control over.