Anna Marsh is design director at Lady Shotgun Games, a co-operative of freelance game developers.
Its easy to think on Twitter that free to play is one of those things that you must either love or loathe – if you’re not for it you’re against it and vice versa.
Making a comment either way seems a sure fire way to trigger a heated debate.
Personally I’m ambivalent. I don’t think free to play is inherently evil, but at the same time, I’ve not (up till now) really enjoyed a F2P title for any length of time. In fact, I have far more paid than F2P games on my mobile devices.
However, over the last six months, Clash of Clans has begun to demonstrate to me how freemium can be really become part of the game design.
The Profit System
Clash of Clans is, of course, a fantastic game on many levels, and I reckon only a real stubborn F2P hater will find nothing to like about it.
I like it so much that I’ve been playing for over six months and it’s become the only F2P game I’ve ever monetised – £2.99 to date, which is equal to the highest priced premium game I’ve bought on mobile and I’ve played it a heck of a lot more than that title.
I may even put another £2.99 in someday.
Several commentators have already examined why Clash of Clans is a great game in depth.
The stand out thing for me as a game designer is how the premium currency works not just as a pay wall, but as a proper game system that intersects with, not disrupts, the other game mechanics.
Mixing it up
Game design boils down to having a collection of systems that overlap with each other to create an experience that yields predictable results, but analogue outcomes.
For example, in a shooter, the systems governing weapons, aiming, ammo, AI and environment come together to create a game where I can predict the range and direction I will fire in when I hit the trigger, but the actual result of shot – hit, fatal headshot, miss – is analogue collusion between all those systems at the moment I fired.
Therein lies the fun, depth and progression of a game.
With F2P games I’ve played previously, the premium currency options have appeared rather digital – pay, or don’t pay. In contrast, Clash of Clans’s use of premium currency (better known as gems) feels far more analogue.
Of course, I can directly pump gems into buying an item I don’t have the resources for or instantly completing a time-based task. Or I can simply wait – for free. But, there is also a third option, and that’s to combine the two.
The number of gems I need to put in to buy or complete an object goes down according to how much of the soft currency I have available or (in the case of time) have already put in.
Rather than pay 500 gems or wait eight hours, I can choose to wait six and a half hours and pay 150 gems. Or raise three quarters of the necessary gold and subsidise the rest of the price with gems.