Free-to-Play’s MECHANICS are Great – The Mini-Game Revolution – Extra Credits

Free-to-Play’s MECHANICS are Great – The Mini-Game Revolution – Extra Credits


All right. So, technically, the actual title for today’s topic should be: Free-to-Play mechanics actually work brilliantly as mini-games so long as you don’t actually have to spend the money and the games “microtransactions” are paid for with currency you earn by playing the game. But that sure ain’t fittin’ on a thumbnail, so: here we are. ♫ Intro Music ♫ And, yes: by ‘free-to-play mechanics’ I am talking about those horrible pay-to-win mechanics that have become a blight on the free-to-play model. So, what am I getting at when I say that they function great as mini-games? Well, take Gwent as an example case. Gwent was a fantastic card mini-game in The Witcher 3. One that people loved so much, they demanded that CD Project RED turned it into a full game. But if you think about it Gwent follows all the basic design patterns of a pay-to-win game. There’s a fair amount of strategy, but fundamentally, if you haven’t got a deck of cards with high enough numbers, you just aren’t going to win. And of course the way to get cards with higher numbers is to invest time and money into Gwent. But this is actually genius, because your money investment is all in-game money: money that the Witcher earns by doing Witcher-y things like slaying monsters and selling loot. And the time investment is mostly time spent, running around this big, beautiful world, getting sidetracked by the million other things to do. This all turns out to be great because, fundamentally, what they’ve done is put another RPG style treadmill into their game, but one that’s way better than the classic ‘grind for experience’ system. Because, when pay-to-win is all done with fake currency, that’s what it becomes: another kind of RPG treadmill. Better still, because this type of treadmill is highly self-guided and a small, completely non-integral part of a much larger experience, it doesn’t turn into the same Skinner Box trap that so many RPG treadmilling systems do. On top of that it also serves as a sink for in-game resources (which is something every RPG generally ends up needing) and it’s a way for the player to get a massive difference-in-kind whenever they’re looking for one. AND it allows the designers to do two powerful things with their mini-game. First, it lets them create an opportunity for players to play with the strategy that these sort of pay to win games provide. Often any strategy or enjoyment there is to be found in these games gets lost in the fact that you’ve got to spend $1,000 to even meaningfully play them. But as mini-game, it lets players enjoy searching for the best way to acquire things and continuously get to rethink the best way to apply whatever limited resources they have every time they unlock a new piece of that mini-games content. It actually creates interesting design possibilities that we don’t often get to see fully realized in games without the free-to-play model. But it also means that designers get to put something very important back into their mini-game: persistence. A lot of mini-games end up feeling shallow and like a waste of time, because, once you finish the mini-game, that’s it. You’re done. You’ve unlocked that lock, or gotten that bonus, or played that song, and now it’s time to move on. But much of the history of video game design is actually the history of us adding persistence where there was none. Whether it be adding level up mechanics to multiplayer games or adding player armories to shooters: Designers have found that people like to feel like they got something for their time. Even if it’s something they might never use and will, eventually, abandon. Players like to feel that because they fought hard and got that win that next time around they will be better, or, at the very least, cooler looking than they were last time. Tragically our main go-to approach for this has been just adding experience bars to everything. But the collection and acquisition mechanics taught to us by free-to-play games offer an interesting alternative. Those of you who played a lot of Final Fantasy 10: what mini-game do you remember most? I bet it’s Blitzball. But, depending on how you count it, there were, like, 5 other mini-games to play in Final Fantasy 10. Do you even remember any of them? I mean, other than those miserable side quests for the ultimate weapons? (Screw those things.) My point is: an element of a game that you don’t even remember (or worse: despise) isn’t worth your time, and isn’t worth the time it took to create. And, sure, you can argue that Blitzball had all sorts of flaws with it. It did. But I think it shows us the power of persistence even for mini-games. And serves as a serviceable example, because it integrated some of these aspects way before we really even thought of them as associated with a free-to-play world. It shows us where we might go with our mini-games. And Gwent shows us that, in the modern world, such mini games might eventually even turn into something profitable to create; a good testbed for smaller game ideas. It’ll be interesting to see how Gwent does outside of the world of Witcher 3. I’m very curious to see what changes they have to make to keep it from falling into the pay-to-win trap of so many other games of this nature. But, if nothing else, it’s shown us the value of persistence, even in our mini-games. Without it, so many of them just become the most forgettable differences-in-kind. Because the problem with pay-to-win games are threefold: one: there’s always somebody with more money out there, two: there’s always better things to spend your money on, and three: getting money is often not that fun in the first place. But in a single-player experience, where the money is earned by playing the game, all of those difficulties disappear. And, suddenly, all the mechanics we use for pay-to-win can actually be rewarding and different. So, let’s hope that we can take all the interesting design that we found was possible within the horrible pay-to-win games, and to relocate that to the single-player world, where it can be enjoyed and used positively. And, hey! Maybe we’ll even manage to sate all consumer desire for those games, and tank the current free-to-play market, so that we can get back to doing free-to-play right! Unlikely, I know, but it’s a lovely dream. See you all next week. ♫ Music ♫


100 thoughts on “Free-to-Play’s MECHANICS are Great – The Mini-Game Revolution – Extra Credits

  1. I'm fascinated with the constant rumors that the NX will use cartridges instead of discs. Why do this? What kind of benefits do cartridges have over optical discs (other than scratches won't render a cartridge unplayable)

  2. um, one thing about "gwent" is that it is a card game, all card games out there you need to pay to win.
    like magic or yugioh, you cant play those without buying some card packs,
    in hearthstone you buy a bunch of packs to make the best deck and experiment with the cards. the fact that you dont need to pay is nice, but people who actually buy packs can get further.
    so instead looking at gwent or hearthstone as "pay to win" games or "minigames" look at them like the card games they are

  3. Wait, you mean to have good F2P games that aren't F2W, we need to basically translate the experience of RPG grinding in the single player world of Witcher 3 into our real everyday lives? Find a way to earn some sort of in-game resource/currency by connecting it with something you do throughout the day? Then you can use the collected resource to pay for in-game purchases? And somehow find a way to monetize the out-of-game activities without being blatantly money-siphoning?

    It sounds like the formula for Pokemon GO. … And we all know how that went. 🙁

  4. I already commented on the main page, but I want to say again that if you want to see a brilliant example of free to play that isn't pay to win, check out Path of Exile. It is a brilliant example of how to do almost everything right in a free MMO, why love is as important as experience in the creation of games, and also of an interesting and innovative (if not groundbreaking) mechanical system. One of the best parts is that Grinding Gear Games has a commitment to never sell anything that grants a mechanical advantage.
    In fact, I think it would make a decent starter if you wanted to restart the old "James Recommends" subseries, and it would make me happy as a fan just to see it even in a GYMNHT. Seriously, check it out. It should make you guys happy to see a game that does so much right that so many other games do wrong, a fair amount of which is stuff you've ranted about seeing done wrong in the past.

  5. Good show, Extra Credit!

    You know, this reminds me of the stuff I thought about with the Captain Toad levels in Super Mario 3D World. It was an awesome concept, and I loved the cube design. It made me wish they made it where you could create your own Captain Toad courses, but instead, they had to make Treasure Tracker. Totally not worth $50!

  6. No.. they aren't, even with the expanded definition, because the state they evolve into is the only natural state they can and inevitably WILL evolve into.

    See thats why the F2P problem is as bad as it is because when the monstrosity first crawled out of its primordial ooze idealistic people made the heinously grievous error of not snuffing it in its cradle because it looked so cute with its novel approach to paying for game production.

    People should not be allowed to try to go back and justify their errors in judgement when those errors had catastrophic results to the industry that now run amok and has been allowed to become so embedded into the industry that there is functionally no way to remove the cancerous tumor without killing the host industry in the process.

    So no, it is inexcusable to agree with this thought in any way shape or form for any duration of time. F2P is NEVER acceptable regardless of how amiable it might seem because buying into it is nothing more than allowing junkie/pusher culture to take hold that gives ridiculously undue control over the product in question to the developer by taking the control over transaction out of the hands of the consumer and that is never going to end well.

    TL; DR " – Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it."

  7. Pay to win wouldn't be so bad if the game paid you with real money. Not that any game company will ever do this, and even if they did, they'd only pay you for the tedious grindy tasks.

  8. one mini game I sunk unholy amounts of hours into was the chao's in sonic adventure 2, I loved those cute little bastards and nailing every trick on levels while collecting glow sticks/rings to make them stronger was just sweet icing on the sugary cake.

  9. This is interesting because for a long time I've thought it should be STANDARD that anything you can buy with out-game currency, you can eventually buy with in-game currency — so the difference ought to be that the players who spend money get things FASTER, not that they have a much wider variety of things to get. When I played Kingdom of Loathing regularly, when I returned to it time and again after months doing other things, I loved the fact that any item I wanted, I was capable of getting IF I put time and energy into playing the game enough to get it. (Having a cap on my ability to play during the day was helpful for my addictive personality, so I didn't spend too many hours on this pursuit on any given day.)

    Eventually I paid them close to a hundred dollars, all told, because I so enjoyed the freedom to get games with in-game money (bought from players who spent out-game money, through the in-game market) that it felt good to support the game's development and hand over ten or twenty bucks in a month to get an item without having to grind for it. And I figure I've spent way more than that in a month on other stuff, let alone subscription content, so I don't at all feel bad for having put that much into the game over a couple of years.

    Being able to use in-game money to buy any item you want — eventually — is one of those key factors that says "You guys respect the players and aren't just trying to suck money out of our wallets."

  10. so your asking companies to abandon ways of making easy money and start putting more game-play into their games? It may just be me but I don't think they will take too well to that.

  11. – Hey I have this great game, it's like 5mb, runs on any device and is really appealing to a lot of people.
    – Great, wanna embed it into my 15gb current-gen-gaming-hardware diehard-genre-fan-exclusive but completely unrelated game?

  12. This video gave me PTSD flashbacks to the Chocobo minigame you have to play to get Tidus's ultimate weapon… I was obsessed with that and it took me HOURS.

  13. People should stop calling every game with microtransactions "Pay to Win". Most of the good ones should be called something like "Paid to Enter Higher Tiers", because everyone knows that, in games like Hearthstone or Magic: The Gathering, spending the money to build a high tier deck, and reaching high ranks with said decks are two completely different things. Matter of fact, you can build high tier decks in Hearthstone without spending money, or spending little, depending on how much you play, and in MTG Modern you may spend a lot of money to build a strong deck, but without rotation and stuff like that, it will probably last forever. So, soon you'll be facing a lot of mirror matches or high level plays with different decks, and paying more money here won't really make you win anything. And with arena and draft games, you essentially pay to play, but not necessarily to win (is it worse, then?).
    But well, off course SOME games definitely ARE "you pay, you win". Just some random thought, not a direct criticism to the video itself.

  14. I had a revelation in Gwent when I learned I could steal an opponent's spy with a decoy card. Also the artwork of the gwent cards is just nice to look at.

  15. How can you talk about minigames in FFX without talking about the the monster arena?! Blitzball was all right but didn't integrate very well; it could pretty much stand alone so it didn't engage with or encourage the treadmill in the main game. The arena, though, was hugely rewarding in both resources and in lessons about the game's mechanics. And it benefited from grinding in the main game, not just the initial (admittedly exhausting) fetch quest to populate the arena but also collecting abilities and equipment that would allow the player to make the most of what the arena offered.

    ~sigh~ Such a missed opportunity!

  16. I never touched Gwent in The Witcher. Not once haha but the fact that it was there made me feel !ike the world was that much bigger.

  17. One of the few free to play games that I have found and actually enjoyed how it works is Clash Royale. I haven't spent a penny on it, but have still managed to move high up the ranks.

  18. What About a video that explains if the Free Weekend Hurt or benefit some games, i personally tried Titanfall 2 last week and it was really good i was not expecting that and i kinda want to buy it because i had the chance to play it, does companies make research about free weekend?

  19. Seems like a great idea, small problem though. Companies will never do because they won't be able to squeeze us money sponges anymore.

  20. I'm going to guess that Gwent won't be played by betting as usual. Like how sometimes I play poker with my friends but all of us are dirt poor so we don't use money. We use potato chips as……………………..chips 😗

  21. What if free to play could be linked as a peripheral to a console or pc game? Making it possible to add more depth to certain mini games like Gwent, allowing them to stay free to play while also allowing the developers to make money… or something, I dunno, just a thought.

  22. This is why i like games like brawlhalla. Fun, you pay with in game currency and you only pay real money for skins, and other cosmetics.

  23. You are right but they got to earn 💰 so either F2P pay to win kind of games
    Or the pay to play kind of games but maybe + micro transactions

  24. You know, you spoke about persistence here, but I don't think you guys have ever talked about the best way of achieving that in games. Specifically, New Game +. As a player of both RPGs and many other types of games, this has been one of those things I really look for in a game, and even create myself by either modding or just straight up cheating.

  25. It felt soooooo good when you beat a tough opponent in Gwent. Almost moreso than a tough monster boss! It's like chess with cards, and that felt like I beat a chess master. If Gwent takes off you can bet I will be right up there trying to get them.

    One minor complaint about the Gwent AI is that a "meta" emerged for me in how to beat them, but then that probably cause I was stuck with the Northern Realms deck for waaaaay too long.

  26. I hated Blitzball. I always lost because the other team was always ridiculously powerful. As a result, I pretty much stopped playing it after three or four games. Whenever I go back to FF10 again, I never bother with it.

  27. I remember in the game Rage the best part of it was playing the in-game card game and beating all 3 other players and all of their difficulty levels, plus building decks for it was kinda fun, and i ended up only wanting to go to the next zone so i could find more cards and i had a wiki pulled up to show me every location (Since many were missable and couldn't be retrieved later if you didn't get it on your first run through a zone or dungeon) though sadly it was the only fun part of the game, everything else was bland and mediocre, nothing really awful, but nothing all that great. The only other moment i kinda enjoyed was the Arena but its 1 quest and non-repeatable.

  28. Hey! I love the drawings on this one and you guys actually have some animations now 😀 Would love to see a new season of Extra Frames

  29. Fallout New Vegas does this perfectly. there are a bunch of casino Minigames that take in-game caps. and you can even earn more caps if you're lucky (10 in Luck). it's the main reason why I wanted to play Fallout New Vegas, the rush of gambling, and the payoff, without the real world risk. even in game, you can just quickload, wait a minute while you go get a snack, and keep going from your last peak.

  30. I have paid almost 200 dollars for gwent before it's come out. Hearthstone burned me that bad, and now sucks that much. I'm not the only one. Talk to Lifecoach.

  31. Uh, we remember Blitzball because we were forced to play it? No time to practice it, you've just got to play it and if you suck at the game you've never played before, you're in for a bad experience that interrupts the arc its trying to develop for Waka. Nobody forced us to play Triple Triad or FF9's game but, uh, there's a reason why people remember Triple Triad and not its successor. It was just fun.

  32. The TF2 bash made me exhale through my nose quicker than normal laugh out loud.

  33. Ah, 10 out of 10 intro. I love it guys.
    Sigh, but… Minigameception. There I said it, have some terrible meme for you.

  34. Star trek online is a great example of p2w running riot I mean just look at there ships it's insane kinda why I walked away.

  35. This would make an interesting money sink for an mmo like having harthstone playable through wow and charging 10 gold for each game on top of the card costs but offering sweet loot for the tournament winner that is scalled to match the number of players per tournament.

  36. I can just imagine Geralt turning in jobs, collecting pay for risking his life killing things no one else can, and then going and spending everything on card packs

  37. I just love how they announced the Gwent standalone game at E3. "We gave you an entire open world to explore, and you spent hours in a tavern playing a card game!"

  38. I HATE BLITZBALL SO MUCH, but I do have to admit Gwent is amazing in The Witcher and as it's standalone free game.

  39. i preferred dice poker… took me a long time to start liking gwent…. but now i would say gwent is awesome and i love it

  40. The example from Final Fantasy that you should have used wasn't Blitzball (although it was definitely my fav FFX minigame and I played it a ton) but rather, Triple Triad from FF8. I love Triple Triad. I have a phone app right now where I can play it. It requires both a good deck AND strategy. I'd say that qualifies it as a successful minigame.

  41. anyone remember Caravan from New Vegas? In my opinion, it was also very well implemented in the game same as Gwent in a way. It took some time for me to grasp the idea on how to use my deck and i was very happy when i beat someone and got some bottlecaps. Same as gwent. For me the the most difficult opponent to beat was that nobleman in the palace in Vizima. After many tries over 30 matches i managed somehow to beat him i was so happy!
    Can i get an AMEN for Gwent and Caravan!

  42. I am so happy to see a cute drawing from this show, even though Im a man im still amazed hy the drawings and artstyle of this show

  43. This is one of the reasons that I'm excited for Super Dragon Ball Heroes: World Mission . It's a preemium game that's mostly single-player, but its gacha-style summoning, character collecting, team building, and quick matches remind me of free-to-play games like Fire Emblem Heroes . The great thing about World Mission is that it has no microtransactions. Players earn the currency used to unlock cards through gameplay only. That means you play to unlock cards to find new ways to play the game. It seems like a way to experience the fun and satisfaction of gacha games without the risk of wasting real money on random drops.

  44. Ironic how f2p games started as real free games in java gaming website. 99% of them can be traced back to the hours of actual joy early 2000's kids enjoyed for real, free of charge

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