computer games conferences GDC 2008 web 2.0

GDC08: The power of Free to Play (Adrian Crook)


EDIT: Slides + voiceover on Adrian’s site now –

A good introduction to people wanting to start paying attention to what’s been happening in MMO industry for the last 5 years. Didn’t delve into the recent changes in the last 1-2 years, more dwelling on the fact that the last 2 years have seen the cash-cows of the first wave of changes (F2P itself) delivering revenues that were no longer just “bestseller” status for a normal game, but were actually now much bigger even that that.

So, for instance, apart from a brief outline of FoodFight, there was no coverage of the way games have been colonising social networks, or where this seems to be heading next.

My own commentary in [ square brackets ], any mistakes/misunderstandings my own fault :).

Introduction / background

[Adam: I missed some of the start trying to find a seat in the massively over-crowded room]

Fundamentally with F2P, you’re banking on the fact that increased player base size increases options for alternative monetizations.

Top 15 or so MMO’s by number of players include only one pay-to-play MMO (WoW)

91% of the online games that any given kid plays are f2p

Virtual Item sales
– unlimited ARPU
– …

[Adam: …and so it went on, no new information, but a decent 101 guide to low-end MMO monetization and F2P.

Most of the talk at this point is just re-quoting statistics and information from the well-known players in the various branches of MMO industry (RPG, free RPG, merchandised/branded retail webkinz, information sale/food fight, etc) nothing you wouldn’t already know if you had come to the rountables and lectures at GDC, AGDC, etc over last few years. Decent catchup for newcomers.]

Looking Forward

– respect the free players: it’s tempting to overlook the non-paying players, but they are critically important, they make the game feel like a whole world of people

– Support integrated graphics: Nexxon claimed they’d lose 80% of their playerbase if their games required any retail purchased graphics card

– Go browser-based or small download: even WoW is now using a streamed client

[Adam: I feel that’s disingenuous: browser-based is at its heart a fundamentally different proposition from instant-play, e.g. because of the way it integrates into the Web 2.0 concept in a very different way; I’m pretty sure what he’s trying to say is the latter ONLY, i.e. “keep time-to-start-playing as low as possible”]

– Support regional payment systems:

[Adam: personally, I’d say just go to any of the main casual games conferences, and speak to the european publishers/portals/etc, there’s plenty of big companies who’ve been doing the multi-headed payment system game for a long time now.]

– Provide short compulsion loops: what’s the incremental investment of time needed to levelup or satisfy some gameplay pleasure?

– Defer user sign-up: Sherwood is a good example of minimal user-sign-up

[Adam: I’ll write something up about this in more detail soon, as it’s an area I’ve long argued internally, and I feel there’s quite a lot to say that Adrian didn’t mention at all here]


– virtual property
– slow broadband
– rising dev costs, as happened in the casual games industry, now with multi-million dollar production costs
– SL slowdown [Adam: actually, I think this is largely irrelevant – Adrian talks about money and confidence being affected, but IME no serious VC that knows enough of what it’s doing that it was going to stick around with this stuff longterm in the first place ever thought that SL’s success level was particularly relevant]
– secondary markets
– kids-only games: players stop playing F2P games when they stop being a teenager


– New platforms (software: Facebook, hardware: iPhone, etc): will be interesting to see how they get used
– Disappearance of walled-garden games: metaplace is a good example of where there are no walls making users play a particular game and stay loyal
[IMHO, this is a very dangerous direction to go in. Sure, a lot of people, especially the incumbents, need to explore it to ensure they don’t get left behind, but unlike general information (outside the games industry), where sharing is clearly fundamentally good, games are a different beast altogether, where it is FAR from obvious that games benefit from openness; Personally, I’d say the majority of evidence currently points the other way. So … openness may happen, but it may also disappear quite quickly too]
– Old NPD top sellers appearing as F2P games, e.g. Jagex/Runescape talking recently about making games from 5 years ago, but doing them as downloadable in a browser now technology has moved on
[This seems a bit of a no-brainer, the publising industry has always been exploring and improving it’s capitalization on back-catalogue items, so I think the exploration of this stuff by incumbents now is nothing new]

Q: Does the pareto principle hold true here: 20% of your users provide 80% of your income?

Yes, I think that holds true across the spectrum of games, web, etc.

Q: What comes after free? Once everything’s free, online, everyone’s playing, what next?

The ability to share content between games, to move avatar investment to a different game

Maybe *your* game would be what comes after…

[Adam: The person asking the question was the guy behind PMOG]

Q: What are best practices for user-acquisition in free to play games?

Viral word-of-mouth stuff is really good.


Q: From a game-design POV what would be the best thing to do to increase percentage of monetized users?

Make it as frictionless as possible to put money into your world.

[plus some fairly obvious ideas off the cuff]

3 replies on “GDC08: The power of Free to Play (Adrian Crook)”

Hi Adam,

Thanks for the writeup. A half an hour format doesn’t leave much room for any in-depth discussion, you’re right about that. I chose an overview format as a result.

Thanks for coming,


Yeah, it was a good talk – I was disappointed it stopped at half an hour. An hour next year, perhaps? :)

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