F2P Monetization Tricks

This is a really interesting article about something I never even thought about before: how games (“F2P” means “free to play”) trick players into paying for stuff.

For example:

This is my favorite coercive monetization technique, because it is just so powerful. The technique involves giving the player some really huge reward, that makes them really happy, and then threatening to take it away if they do not spend. Research has shown that humans like getting rewards, but they hate losing what they already have much more than they value the same item as a reward. To be effective with this technique, you have to tell the player they have earned something, and then later tell them that they did not. The longer you allow the player to have the reward before you take it away, the more powerful is the effect.

This technique is used masterfully in Puzzle and Dragons. In that game the play primarily centers around completing “dungeons.” To the consumer, a dungeon appears to be a skill challenge, and initially it is. Of course once the customer has had enough time to get comfortable with the idea that this is a skill game the difficulty goes way up and it becomes a money game. What is particularly effective here is that the player has to go through several waves of battles in a dungeon, with rewards given after each wave. The last wave is a “boss battle” where the difficulty becomes massive and if the player is in the recommended dungeon for them then they typically fail here. They are then told that all of the rewards from the previous waves are going to be lost, in addition to the stamina used to enter the dungeon (this can be 4 or more real hours of time worth of stamina).

At this point the user must choose to either spend about $1 or lose their rewards, lose their stamina (which they could get back for another $1), and lose their progress. To the brain this is not just a loss of time. If I spend an hour writing a paper and then something happens and my writing gets erased, this is much more painful to me than the loss of an hour. The same type of achievement loss is in effect here. Note that in this model the player could be defeated multiple times in the boss battle and in getting to the boss battle, thus spending several dollars per dungeon.

This technique alone is effective enough to make consumers of any developmental level spend. Just to be safe, PaD uses the same technique at the end of each dungeon again in the form of an inventory cap. The player is given a number of “eggs” as rewards, the contents of which have to be held in inventory. If your small inventory space is exceeded, again those eggs are taken from you unless you spend to increase your inventory space. Brilliant!

It really is a piece about security. These games use all sorts of mental tricks to coerce money from people who would not have spent it otherwise. Tricks include misdirection, sunk costs, withholding information, cognitive dissonance, and prospect theory.

I am reminded of the cognitive tricks scammers use. And, of course, much of the psychology of security.

Posted on July 12, 2013 at 6:37 AM33 Comments


Nick P July 12, 2013 7:44 AM

Perhaps we need more bright minds working out ways for companies to use such psychology to their benefit for defence.

Vincent Archer July 12, 2013 7:51 AM

A common common monetization trick on asian online RPG games is the on-line casino “slot machine” (a variant of the “ante” described). You can buy (using an intermediate currency) and open random bags containing “gems” that you can place on your equipment to enhance it. Most of these are common, but you get a couple of slightly more powerful ones, sometimes a rare (and even more powerful) gem, or, exceptionally, an extra-powerful gem.

People, of course, keep plunking virtual cheap coins and open those bags hoping to see the Perfect Gem popping.

Another common trick is the “spare change” one, which also works with intermediate currencies. You can purchase the intermediate currencies by multiples of 500 “gold coins”, but item X costs 795 of these coins. By having 205 unused coins in your game wallet, you’re tempted to spend it, potentially buying another batch to “get enough”. And, of course, you’re gifted a few gold coins here and there, which triggers the “I almost have enough” urge.

David M Stein July 12, 2013 7:57 AM

It’s the old carny side-show trick. “Hey buddy, here, try it, if you don’t win, you don’t have to pay” and you toss the ball and knock over the target and the barker then holds out the prize, you pay whatever the cost of the game is and there. THEN the guy says “Hey, do it again and you can UPGRADE” and you do and you pay again and this goes on till you’re holding a three foot tell “Pink Panther” filled with saw dust and you’re $40 poorer and you have no idea how that happened.

“In Game Purchases” are the hot new things in gaming. You get in free, and if you’re in a MMORG you run around with your friends who have paid accounts then you go off to the final adventure of your current story arc and “Oh, we’re sorry, you need a pass to enter this section” and point you off to their ingame store. A click and a couple of bucks later and you’re in. A dollar here, a dollar there and suddenly you’re “Free” game has cost you a couple hundred bucks.

Clive Robinson July 12, 2013 8:12 AM

And people ask me why I don’t “online game”…

Let’s be honest about this it’s not just “games” cable and satelite TV and even mobile phone companies do this in one form or another. With mobile phones it’s the “Friday Top Up” where if you get 10 dollars of credit every week they will give you X number of extra minutes or texts over the weekend, but you lose this feature if you don’t top up one week, and then have to run the paid for customer service gauntlet to get the “Friday Top Up” back…

Anyway, one point I think many people should consider is, what is the actuall benifit of their web surffing? In most cases it’s an unproductive “time sink” anyway. After all just how many “fluffy kittens”, “cute pets”, “dancing hamsters”, etc etc can you watch before you’ve wasted one heck of a lot of time? Likewise how many hours of “online games”, I guess it’s the next stage in evolution after “couch potato” 🙂

vince9663 July 12, 2013 8:18 AM

“At this point the user must choose to either spend about $1 or lose their rewards, lose their stamina (which they could get back for another $1), and lose their progress. To the brain this is not just a loss of time. If I spend an hour writing a paper and then something happens and my writing gets erased, this is much more painful to me than the loss of an hour.”

That’s why we have to raise our children on sadistic games like Nethack that take ages to complete but have “now you just die and lose everything” style permadeath. We need to steel them against this sort of trickery.

Gweihir July 12, 2013 8:45 AM

Here is another example from “World of Tanks”: The game has 10 Tiers of tanks, each more powerful. In battles (15 players against 15 players), up to 3 Tiers are mixed, so quite often there will be others with more powerful machines on the battlefield, hence a drive to more powerful machines is strongly established. But here is the trick: In order to buy depleted ammunition and repair your tank after battle, you need “credits”. You get them according to your performance in battle. In the lower tiers, up to 6, that is no problem. But from Tier 7 on, unless you play excellent all the time, you will earn less credits than you need. The first step is that you buy “premium”, which is a monthly fee. It increases the amount of credits earned per battle. Then, buying higher Tier Tanks is very expensive (also takes credits). In lower tiers, you can pay a significant part by just selling your lower-tier machine. But the higher you get, the more you will have invested in a tank and the less willing you get to sell it. The second step then is to buy credits with real money.

This whole scheme works remarkably well.

My personal solution (I like to do a couple of battles now and then) is a) always tell myself that this is not really F2P anymore and ask myself whether I am willing to buy premium. Usually I am. I do not buy credits or equipment with real money, I just regard that as not an option. Either the game is fun without, or I will drop it. The countermeasure I use here is to make my own rules and have them override some game mechanics.

And b) I found out that while the drive to the top is apparently what motivates many people, if you are good at the game, you can have a lot of fun with low-tier tanks. In fact, there are many low-tier “fun” tanks, while high-tier playing feels more like work. Once you have realized this (and have the skills to make the low-tier vehicles work), you have beaten the cycle.

Ben Hyde July 12, 2013 8:59 AM

Interesting, I’m reminded of framing services, where in the frame costs more than the piece of art. There are many cost of ownership surprises; and some are intentional on the part of the vendor. Fun to think of others: like extended warranties, abusive relationships, necessary accessories (razor blades), …

David Stein’s carne trick is amusing. It probably wouldn’t work if you just handed something to the customer; the customer needs to “earn” it.

onearmedspartan July 12, 2013 9:08 AM

Sounds like ‘Angry Birds’ has been leaving cash on the table.
This reminds me of arcade games (such as The Simpson) that although is not initially free (might as well for a quarter) you get far enough to battle the ‘big boss’. But the big boss is so difficult to beat, to continue you have to pony up another quarter.
Lastly, I know its Friday and Bruce will put up a posting where we can talk about Security-related articles, but I noticed an article where airlines play on your fear of getting a bad seat on a plane by showing a diagram with (phantom) seats booked making you pay more for a ‘good’ seat.

paldubee July 12, 2013 9:11 AM

To me this just mirrors life in general, that’s why it works.

From Mathew 19:
23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”

Ask yourself what you’ve “won” in life, and what you are willing to “pay” for it.

Have you ever seen a hearse pulling a UHaul?

Duncan July 12, 2013 10:09 AM

The whole issue of “monetization” is fascinating. At first, it seems quite simple: offer people something valuable (e.g. a fun experience playing a game, news content, music, etc.) in return for payment. But only in very rare cases does it work in such a rational manner. I guess when you get right down to it, we humans are simply not rational beings – in order to make money from us you have to play on our irrational side. (Perhaps that’s why engineers usually don’t get rich, we too often expect people to behave rationally.)

I think that this is unfortunate, because it leads to all kinds of distortions and inefficiencies. Services that are extremely valuable (e.g. news gathering and editing) go away because they can’t be “monetized”. Meanwhile tons of effort goes into producing content (e.g. advertising, spam) that has no value to the consumer, or even has negative value (being forced to watch an annoying ad before you can get to the content you really want).

How much money does an advertiser make as a result of a single individual viewing one of their ads? A penny? A tenth of a penny? I’d be willing to pay that to make the ads go away. Too bad there’s not really a model that allows me to do that.

Julien Couvreur July 12, 2013 10:41 AM

The author should not call such methods “coercive”, since there is no actual force or threat of force.

But I’ll admit that the player’s perception may be similar, as the game threatens to take away something which the player feels is his property or life.
The trick is making the player feel they own something (a character, inventory, achievement, etc) even though they actually don’t.

Would you return to a restaurant or store that coerces you?
Generally, the answer is no (unless you are masochist or there is a true monopoly which you cannot avoid).
So if such trick were considered coercion, gamers should simply avoid them and give them bad ratings.

Personally I decide before playing a game that I will not spend money in such a trap, and I try to avoid such “freemium” games altogether.

Steve Kalman July 12, 2013 11:30 AM

I use Gmail for archive. I’ve exceeded my free limit, so I have to pay for more.

Except that the free quantity is quite generous, this is somewhat similar.

Same applies to free Dropbox, etc, accounts, tho not so generous.

YouKeepUsingThatWord July 12, 2013 12:53 PM

“The author should not call such methods “coercive”, since there is no actual force or threat of force.”
No shit.

I play 2 F2P games. I usually drop $10-$30 a month on them combined. Had some unusual expenses starting last month and haven’t spent any money on them for the last 2 months. No goons showed up on my doorstep fingering baseball bats and telling me what a nice spleen I have and wouldn’t it be a shame is something happened to it.

Some vendors are scummy. Some aren’t. Show me an industry where that’s not true.

Jim July 12, 2013 1:55 PM

This is also what I see as the main reason people are unwilling to change their viewpoints, even when evidence is overwhelmingly against them.

Further, this is a major reason why they are unwillingly to even consider viewpoints which conflict with their current beliefs.

Everybody puts work into their beliefs, especially their political, religious (or non-religious but religious like) beliefs.

I see that it is normal to stick to your current favorite viewpoint and work from there. Though, not everyone is this way. Many do keep everything open and consider all viewpoints.

If a person has changed major beliefs, they tend to have had that severe loss situation. It actually seems to make them less inclined to continue to be willing to change their new beliefs.

Though they felt immense freedom from having to run the treadmill of life, they find themselves on just another treadmill without questioning.

In a sense, it is true there is reward in the game its self. You can call this ego reward, or what have you. The social rewards can be more dangerous because that then ties you to groups and if you later change your mind you will be shunned from that group.

Getting out of the game means you have to continuously face an innumerable number of choices. People do not like that. They want simple choices.

It also means they have to very often be in a place where they are not confident about a great many things. They do not know.

That works great for kids, to a degree, but adults see it as part of their role to know everything.

The problem, I see, however is in loss. Unlike in a game, when your world (the inner construct you have made of it which is massive) comes crashing down the consequences are dire.

End of your world, effectively.

Me July 12, 2013 2:28 PM

Uh.. Isn’t this the exact same logic as was used in arcade games? Put in another quarter to continue where you left off (with all your stuff) – or start over.

Warrior is about to die…

wumpus July 12, 2013 3:26 PM

[way too long, won’t read: This post describes DDO’s free to play launch and how the money game has been slowly injected into it. Unfortunately there are no squids in either game to justify it (although I haven’t played enough LORTO to be sure).]

Another, longer term example: Dungeons and Dragons Online (note this has almost nothing to do with the more recently released Neverwinter Nights MMO).

DDO was launched by Turbine in 2006 as a subscription based MMO, roughly the time World of Warcraft took off. It had something of a following, but seemed to falter. I would assume that there were also licensing issues during the 2009 (vast and mysterious) phase when there was neither updates nor communication from the parent company (and resulting loss of subscriptions and players).

In late 2009, DDO was relaunched in f2p format. The game retained the option for subscriptions (which made all content available) and offered other content a la carte. There were also a short-lived level gating system (leveling tokens: the lowest pretty much autodropped before you needed them, the next was a minor grind. I assume the rest needed to be purchased but they were before I needed them).

One of the big advantages to the a la carte (called premium in Turbine’s system) closely matched how D&D players purchased the pen and paper game. Non standard races and classes required specific purchases (much like current players tend to buy extra books to find such rules) and extra adventures were purchased separately (I bought a ton of modules back in the day). This allowed the a la carte buyer to at least budget purchases, and have a clear idea of the costs before purchasing (something I became keenly aware wasn’t true in Neverwinter Nights). At launch (and for a few years afterwards) the ability to pay to win (called a money game in the article) was typically only useful for matching some of the character generation options of more established players. The big “pay to win” options were buying the option of building (and this was a one time buy, not each character) 32 point characters instead of 28 point ones. To new players, this seemed a power way to make large swings of power. In reality, it only mattered on more obscure builds (character design systems) that were easy for a rookie to get wrong and get an even worse than normal character. Another means was through attribute tomes: tomes are critical items used to push attributes. They are critical in that many options require certain attributes, and using even 32 point builds gets far too expensive (more points are required to advance higher stats, tomes ignore this and simply bump it by the value on the tome). Aside from this, players can often find the loot needed to achieve most of the other abilities, but tomes remain a final, separate means for advancement. At roughly $25, the “tome of superior ability” seemed an opportunity to build an overpowered character for roughly the price of playing the game for a month (in reality it didn’t make that much of a difference).

This isn’t to say that Turbine made f2p entirely for the players’ advantage. There were plenty of ways to waste money on the game. One big seller appeared to be magic weapons/armor. The ingame store was filled with “+1 items” that new players familiar with the D&D system would likely lust over, only to find that they would be handed items just as good in 5 minutes (the end of the tutorial quest) and be handed even better weapons (at least against the main beginner enemy) after 4 quests (a bit under an hour)[After several years of this they finally claimed they were removing the vendor trash from the pay store. I’m sure there is still junk, but I am not aware of such “stuff to sucker newbies”]. I’ve mentioned the leveling token system, but that was quickly removed. One thing that was never removed was the “path” system. Basically, following a “path” lets Turbine build your character for you, and typically does in a way at least as bad as newbie players. While there have been published far superior ways of achieving the same thing (search “paths revisited” for how to build a character if you want to try this game), one suspects that Turbine hasn’t fixed it since they can sell a chance to rebuild your character at $10 a pop.

As far as how much of the game was free, my typical answer was roughly 33%. It seemed they used the old Id/Apogee/3drealms idea of giving away roughly a third of the game and selling the rest to those who were hooked. The first few levels (1-4, but remember pen and paper D&D only goes to 20, so don’t try to compare to WoW levels) had all the quests free, followed by levels with free and paid quests available, till about level 10-12 where there would be no more free quests (this is no longer true. While I don’t think that 33% of the quests are still free, there are plenty more of them at higher levels, at least till you hit the expansion at level 20). One big difference is that the paid content typically has better loot, and much of the desirable gear is bound to account (requiring an additional $10 purchase for non-subscribers to share gear between charcters) and can’t be bought or sold between players. While this may seem pay to win, it certainly doesn’t fit the “money game” described in the article: Turbine makes it fairly clear what the “minimum suggested payment” is, and once you pay that the others can’t buy their way past you (this way).

Once DDO went f2p, plenty of players showed up to play D&D for free. What was unexpected was just how many of them stuck around to pay for the non-free content. Turbine was claiming that subscriptions had doubled, and seemed to be outnumbered by “premium” players who had dropped between $50-$200 to buy content (such things become pretty obvious when discussing which quests to run in a group).

I’m sure Turbine management was always aware of how much money they “left on the table” keeping DDO a skill game instead of a money game. And there was always an effort to allow players to send them as much money as possible some “hits”:

anti-beholder potions. Part of advancing a character meant equiping yourself to make sure that you had protection from all the various nasties you might encounter. Some of these store items were designed to short-circuit that. Anti-beholder potions really got in my craw due to the fact that beholders had been so much a part of their advertising campaign. “In other f2p games, you fight traffic. In DDO you fight beholder.” In pay2win DDO, you pay and autowin against beholders. Note that at one point they managed to put an ad for such items that blocked your field of vision (it was for anti-level draining potions. Level drains are fairly common and wear off. You can imagine the joy players felt to have this spammed in their face in the heat of a battle).

Tome creep. Remember the +2 tomes in the store? These were followed by +3, +4, and (I think) +5 tomes in the store. Typically a few tomes would be sprinkled as loot elsewhere to make the new store tome “not raid loot”. The other odd thing about it was that from memory, they never decreased the old tome prices. In reality, standard MMO inflation made them cheap, but buying them through VISA didn’t work that way. Last I heard, you could still buy “TP codes” (TP are the currency used to buy game items) and sell them for in game gold (plat). The cost of cheap codes could cover a full character’s worth (or two) of +2 tomes.

SP pots. Probably the first big “pay2win” item in the store. They allow a sorcerer or other spell caster to instantly regain a bunch of spell points (spell points don’t automatically regenerate in DDO. You have to rest at certain places and at harder levels they are strictly limited). These are often used in raids (and often forcing costs onto healers that aren’t expected of others) to either save a failing raid or to play at a slightly higher level (or gulped down constantly to set records for solo play). Note that the “rescue a failed raid” scenario closely resembles the “keep the goods you have” trick described in the article (if the boss is low on health and you spent a long time to get there, it feels like the completion is being taken away from you).

Bravery Bonus: [this was one of the things that made me question why I was playing the game] For years, DDO allowed subscription players (VIP) to play quests at higher difficulties without first “unlocking” them by playing them at lower difficulties. The bravery bonus allowed such players to get extreme bonuses to xp (and thus level vastly faster) if they started at higher levels. The catch is that it really wasn’t feasible to allow premium players who owned the content to do the same (playing at higher difficulty levels is an important means of “grinding” “free” TP (with a $/hr return that won’t cover the electricity)). Eventually Turbine came out with a system that allowed players who had “TRed” (taken an old character back to level 1 to level him again) to do this depending on how many times they had “TRed” (such players already own all the content and have TP flowing from their ears due to such runs, Turbine would lose no money this way). Since I was one of the few with characters powerful enough to survive the higher difficulty, but hadn’t bothered to go through the long process of a TR, all I could do was rent something I had already bought to enjoy the new system. I left instead.

Daily Dice: new starting March. DDO’s own casino. You get one chance to pull the lesser prize wheel, and can pay for more. It is a straightforward money game, pretty much undisguised. As you might imagine, accessing the casino is instant from anywhere.

After the success of resurrecting DDO, Turbine decided to make Lord of the Rings Online free to play as well. They pretty much did the same things, only as far as I can tell anything in the game can be bought in the store as well. Daily Dice are called Hobbit Presents, and there are quite a few more expansions, but it is pretty much the same deal. One difference is that you almost have to subscribe for at least one month to get a whole slew of perks for any character who logged in while you were subscribed. Another big difference is that there is no paid content below level 20 (roughly) and no free content areas under level 35 (again, roughly). There are the odd high level free spots (newbies taking a wrong tern in certain goblin lairs aren’t warned when they are about to step into a high level area), there really isn’t a way to easily level once you go much past level 30 (although you likely accumulated enough “free TP” to buy at least the next quest pack, remember you went through 3-4 free packs to get there).

Sofakinbd July 12, 2013 10:19 PM

It is outstanding to see this information passed out to the public, even if some never see it.

Candy Crush is state of the art at the moment, and this article nails it:

Knowing how the scam/trick is performed is key to not getting caught.

It is as though gaming has passed an inflection point, it used to be $50 a game, and then the App Store came along and really good games were only $5-10 only to fall to $1-$2 and be very fun. Next came the rise of IAP (In App Purchases) came and those same $1-2 games rise back to $50 or beyond just as it was. From death by one big cut, to death by a thousand smalls ones.

I’m grateful to Bruce for posting this as it will gather much more exposure than it might have otherwise.

Carl 'SAI' Mitchell July 12, 2013 11:11 PM

I like the model Riot Games uses for “League of Legends.” They don’t sell “power,” only cosmetics. The game has several things that can be bought, and two forms of currency. There’s an in-game currency earned by winning matches, and a currency purchased with real money. Characters can be purchased with either, “runes” (items to improve the characters) with the in-game currency only, and “skins” (change the appearance of the characters) with real money only.
The more you play, the faster you get the in-game currency, so you don’t need to use real money to get the characters. And you can’t use real money to get the runes, which are very important to win. The only things you must pay for are cosmetic.
Yet it’s the most successful online game in the world right now. I’ve spent plenty of money there, not because I need to (I don’t) but because I like the company’s way of running things, and want to support them. Even though a cosmetic skin does nothing to help me win it’s still pretty, and worth buying as is any other piece of good art.
The closest thing to a trick they use to get people’s money is that you can buy characters faster with real money, but the prices with in-game currency are quite reasonable (indeed, they lower the prices of at least one older character every time a new character is released.) It’s also not particularly necessary to have more than a few characters, easily achievable during normal play.

So really, before playing a “free” game, I learn if the company tries to sell power (pay to win) or just cosmetics (free to play) and only give money to the latter type. Pay to win is a nasty model, and doesn’t lead to healthy, competitive, fun games.

Anon Techie July 13, 2013 5:31 AM

Maybe this video is relevant to this discussion:

The Common Mistakes You Make in Both Money and Love:

How we treat money is surprisingly similar to how we act in romantic relationships. That is, we tend to act irrationally with both. In this TEDx talk, psychologist Daniel Crosby points out the biases people tend to have that can sabotage our finances or love life. It’s an eighteen minute video, but one that’s both entertaining and informative. Dr. Crosby talks about four specific psychological biases that lead us to irrational behavior:


Jim July 13, 2013 9:43 AM

Sticking to the gaming angle:

Gaming for me is serious business, and I do believe a good game is qualified by how immersive it is. A key component of immersion is that the gamer is kept “in the zone”. Never too difficult, never too easy.

Everything is gaming.

Security wise, life wise — very wise for a person to understand. Once you understand this, you can be more selective about what games you decide to play. And what games, once you are in, you decide to get out of.

This does involve security, personal – even national – security. Do you think you would want to play the game of Soviet Communism or Saudi Arabian Islam? You can observe from a distance that game and see it is a game where the costs and rewards are jacked. You do not want to play that game. You do not want your society to play that game.

Then there is the exception to the rule (or is there). Where if you want great reward, you have to pay great cost. 🙂

Great cost is where people start to say, “This is no game”.

[i] But, this, its’ self, is the key component of the immersion of life, far more so then the incredible detail which goes into reality. [/i]

So, gaming, and the security aspects of it, is truly a deep subject. 😉

Jim July 13, 2013 10:04 AM

Nick P • July 12, 2013 7:44 AM
Perhaps we need more bright minds working out ways for companies to use such psychology to their benefit for defence.

How can this be used for the defense of companies? For one, I think it is wise to consider, “What game am I playing, and should I stay in this game, or get out of it and play another game?”

Consider, what is your game in security? Is it a companies security? Is it protecting end users? Is it even national security? Is the threat severe and so the reward more high? Does it keep you in the zone, never being too difficult or too easy?

(And for this matter, if you find your life is always keeping you in the zone, never being too difficult, nor too easy… maybe you should ask your self “how the fuck is this possible” — only like where you may question whether or not “reality is real, and not some kind of dream”, expect them to accidentally have your hand slammed in the door. Ouch! VERY real. 🙂 )

Right now, in US National Security, you see some gaming go on. With Snowden and the US Leaders. The interplay between the liberal Obama and his ilk and Snowden is where the gaming, I find, is especially interesting.

I would argue they are both being gamed. (Whether or not they themselves are gaming the public and nations, is an entirely different matter. They could be.)

In company security, you have an adversary. The hacker. There are other adversaries. Red tape can be an adversity. Security and usability thresholds are adversaries. The results of incorrect decisions are adversarial, though it can take some time to really understand that. Experience required.

Your peers can be adversarial. If you wish to come out with a solution that really works, you have to consider alternatives that won’t be accepted immediately by your peers. A lot of security innovation is not innovative at all.

It is, instead, designed not to work, but rather to work for a different way. To gain peer acceptance, even acclaim is the goal. Not to actually achieve a desired security function.

So you find true thought leaders not playing that game. Instead, they find the right game to play.

GregW July 13, 2013 10:38 AM

A number of “open source business model” approaches (or “free for developers/students” proprietary software) end up performing their own version of this delicate transition of F2P to a money game.

Learn a new computer language for free, then buy some relatively inexpensive developer tools to make yourself more effective, then buying some enterprise server components that make you even more effective, then having the company you were bought from sold to a (Oracle/CA/et) and now you have to pay even more to get more enterprise features or avoid losing what capability you now have… all that does seem like an analogous transition from “FreeToPlay” to an “ante game” as described in this article. You can try to play the game completely as a “skill game” without the monetary-requiring components, but it’s not necessarily an effective use of time and it may leave you at a disadvantage to competitors who don’t play… unless you get truly significant scale.

One might argue that the process is a bit more transparent up front, but few if any players begin with the domain knowledge to understand the full territory, and while to some extent the motivations of persons/companies involved is guessable in advance, ultimately the future of the industry and companies/persons writing the code is subject to unpredictable manipulation

wumpus July 13, 2013 10:47 AM

@MingoV Fark.com recently had “news” of a hp product with a backdoor. Someone managed to post a “Mr. Potatohead” reference (and the next guy followed up perfectly) within roughly the same number of responses as dbCooper. I suspect few missed it on this forum.

Adam July 14, 2013 8:19 AM

If you want to see how bad some f2p games are, load up the Google app store and observe that most the games in the “free” list also appear in the “top grossing” list.

Most of these are of the crappy Farmville time management ilk where the game becomes progressively impossible to play without spending real cash. What amazes me is not that these games exist but that people actually play them and continue to play them even though by now I would have thought that the tactics would be instantly recognizable.

John July 14, 2013 5:04 PM

@dbCooper: WarGames is 20 years old. Do you think anyone else got it?

Let me spoil it for everybody: “the only way to win is not to play”.

Peter T July 16, 2013 1:13 PM

While tricks and coertion no doubt a serious risk in these cases, from IT point view the technical background and its security also interesting. Surely there are black hat techniques to clone high value objects, speed up gold farming, unlock features, etc and such action will greatly affect the internal economy of these games. Since we are talking about real money here, it’s no longer just a game in my opinion.

Autolykos July 17, 2013 4:26 AM

World of Tanks is at least fair in theory. You can get anywhere in the game without spending real money if you “grind” ingame currency in the mid-tiers (actually, I still make a healthy profit with most Tier 7 vehicles – my top moneymaker was the T29 – and roughly break even at Tier 8, even without premium account). You just get there faster (and, arguably, with better ingame stats) if you spend some money.
There are vehicles you can only buy with money, but they tend to be slightly weaker than regular vehicles of the same tier. They just make more money. Well, at least that’s the theory [cough]Type59[/cough].
Premium ammo/consumables are more of a concern, but I even played clan wars without (and we were quite successful in Africa). The advantage is small enough that you can compensate it with skill.
In fact, I got to my first Tier 10 without spending a single cent. Later on, I paid some money for extra garage slots and a premium vehicle to cut down money grinding time, but I probably won’t ever again. Once you get used to play without premium account, you’ll find that you don’t need it. I pretty much stopped grinding and only play the tanks I really like (low-mid tier mostly, like the PzIII), so why should I pay money so I “have to” play less?
All in all, I think they show how F2P should be done (even if they slip up now and then).

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