Playdom's Raph Koster: 'Free to play is not evil, it's just different'

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WhaleIf you're surprised at the fact that people out there think social games are evil, than you must not talk to many gamers. Much of that popular opinion points toward the business model social games employ: free to play. Many knock the genre for celebrating games that work painstakingly to create paying players. But Gardens of Time maker Playdom's Raph Koster asks, "What's your beef, really, yo?" (paraphrased, of course) in an informative if lengthy post on his blog.

Koster points out that, while the free-to-play business model (selling virtual goods to players in games that are free to play) social games is seen as predatory and exploitative, it's not much different from those almost everywhere else, even in traditional games. "These people only pay because they really want to, by and large, though of course, like any business, there are many tricks used in order to get people to convert to payers," Koster writes.

Which leads Playdom VP of design to "whales", a casino term used to describe social gamers that pay enormous sums of money to get ahead in their favorite social games. (So much so that they collectively keep most social game makers afloat.) Koster argues that whales aren't a product of the free-to-play model, citing fans of traditional games that purchase every limited edition package and spend thousands on enthusiast conventions annually.

It's true: Some social games allow those that pay to get ahead, but Koster points to industries surrounding other competitive sports or hobbies: "This is not a new debate-we have seen it in everything from sleeker swimsuit fabrics for competitive swimmers, to horse breeders with dough getting access to the right bloodlines, to salaries for Major League Baseball teams," Koster writes.

"Free to play is not evil, it's just different," Koster concludes. "If you're freaked out by seeing business practices nakedly, realize that what's changed is that you can see them. And to my mind, that's actually better for you than blissful ignorance." For those interested in a take on the larger debate revolving around the merits of how social games handle virtual goods, this is a read you cannot miss out on.

[Via Massively]

Are you not a fan of the way social games handle virtual goods offers? How do you think social game makers can make the business model more appealing or less ingrained in the games' design? Sound off in the comments. Add Comment.
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