DICE 2011: PopCap, Nexon On Overcoming the Stigma of "Free Games"


Posted February 10, 2011 - By Jake Gaskill

DICE 2011: PopCap, Nexon On Overcoming the Stigma of

For the opening session of EEDAR’s Hot Topics session at DICE 2011, G4’s own Adam Sessler sat down with Nexon developer Min Kim and PopGames dev Matt Johnston to discuss the strategies and philosophies behind two seemingly disparate schools of thought on how to make money on games: free vs. pay.

For Nexon, makers of such popular free MMOs as MapleStory and Vindictus, the big shift came over 10 years ago, when the company started to move away from a paid subscription model like that found in a typical MMO to one that focuses primarily on virtual goods sales. This model has proved hugely successful for the company, especially in Asian markets,

“By going free, we think we kind of open up the opportunity for a lot of other people to play,” say Kim. And because Nexon views it’s games as social experiences as well, and people who play its games tend to play in groups, “if we charge them up front, we might lose part of that pack, which would mean we lose that whole pack.”

This idea of an upfront payment model is something PopCap has maneuvered around as well, but in a slightly different way, by letting players “test drive” games before they buy them.

“It’s pretty much the let them drive the car off the lot model’ put it in the garage, look at it, check it out, and then they’re like, ‘I don’t want to take it back. Here’s $20,’” Johnston explained. “That was one of our original things. The game would time out, and it would basically say, ‘Hey, you’ve been playing this game for free for eight hours. Don’t feel guilty or anything, but…’”

Of course, Johnston continued, the developer simply wouldn’t be able to survive if it avoided the payment conversation for too long. “At the end of the day, we have to get paid for something. We’re a business. But PopCap has traditionally been a culture, especially in the studio where I sit, of a bunch of people who aren’t really focused on that. There are other people who get paid to focus on the business, and I think they probably get frustrated by our lack of concern in that area. But we just try to make the great games that we can stand behind, that we can feel proud of, that we love, and I think we just trust that people will want to pay us for those things.”

One of the biggest challenges facing “free-to-play” games is the stigma that is attached to the notion of a “free game,” and Kim says this trepidation isn’t unjustified but can be overcome with time.

“If I started walking around the street and handed you an envelope and said it was free, you’d be like, ‘What the heck is that?’ And there might be $100 in there. But as time goes on, I think people are going to understand that there’s going to be bad free games and good free games, and we’re businesses. We’re going to make money, and the business of microtransactions, we’re going to sell virtual items; they’re free to play, but ultimately we’re going to sell those.”

DICE 2011: PopCap, Nexon On Overcoming the Stigma of "Free Games"


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