An Industry Perspective
While some of the games we listed are from newcomers, many are from veteran studios. Why would they abandon a model that has worked for them for years to risk it on free to play? Especially since their core audience shuns the genre so. We talked with Nick Tannahill of Firefly Studios, creators of the Stronghold series (Stronghold 1, Stronghold Crusader 2, etc) about that.
Firefly launched a free to play title, Stronghold Kingdoms, in 2009, at a time when the genre was only popular in countries like China and Korea. Firefly has a hardcore audience of strategy fans following the studio since the first game launched in 2001. This was a big risk. So what happened? “We essentially put the game out there and, with the help of our core fanbase, saw it grow month after month from thousands of players to tens of thousands and eventually millions,” said Tannahill.
Where did these people come from? Was it simply gamers willing to give the game a shot because it was free? Probably to some degree. But a lot of it had to do with a very real design decision. “ A large part of F2P game design, at least on the technical side, is making the graphics scale well for all kinds of machines,” Tannahill told us, “The added benefit of this is that people who don’t own a gaming rig can use their work desktop PC to play F2P games.”
With the increased players numbers and broader audience, success still wasn’t guaranteed. “The game’s core loop has to be fun, people have to like the art, there has to be depth and everything else that makes a game great has to be present,” said Tannahill.
I myself used to doubt this model of play. There was a time I went to PAX East in 2012 and saw nothing but wall to wall free to play titles. World of Tanks. League of Legends. Air Mech Arena. Neverwinter. Every booth seemed to showcase these titles and I just couldn’t find the appeal. The graphics seemed bland, the game play seemed to match. But like any market, these companies have adapted their games and new companies have found better ways to make a free to play game A GAME FIRST.