Long time game developer and Free to Play consultant Ethan Levy had a long winded article go up on Kotaku today. His argument is that he isn’t a cancer on the gaming industry in the form of his work as a Free to Play consultant. While I agree he isn’t the cancer, I personally feel in his work as a F2P consultant he takes a role better defined as herpes on the genitalia of the gaming industry. He isn’t the cancer, he just increases the chance of it.
You see in his post he points out how capitalism is the driving force in the Free to Play nickle and dime-ing, pay to win and other repugnant practices in the industry that gamers are increasingly critical of. He’s absolutely correct on this, but he is a Free to Play Consultant. Does this mean he coaches companies towards these disreputable practices in order to boost their profits and make their investors and shareholders happy? It’s likely. This doesn’t make him responsible for the cancer, he is going to help design a system that meets the criteria of those purchasing his services. But as F2P becomes more prevalent, especially with imbalance created additions commonly referred to as Pay to Win, half finished games being launched only to be shortly (sometimes within in days) followed by DLC packs that actually make the game “good” ala Mass Effect 3, it is only natural for anger for these digital Faux Pas to be traced back.
Now I do feel sorry for the guy, to an extent, it is entirely possible that some of the studios he has consulted for in the past have basically used him as a scape goat for their own greed. But this does not absolve him of all guilt in this, he continues to engage in an industry model that is distasteful, and disreputable. His justification is simply he has to make money. I’m sure he does all right as a developer, and consultant financially, but his work as a consultant shows a certain lack of ethics. In exchange for a buck, he is willing to provide advice to companies that will lessen their products in the eyes of their consumers. The rise of F2P is a cancer, it provides a highly addictive means for companies to make more revenue for lack luster non-innovative games.
I’m serious on this, why should a company, any company spend the time to actually innovate when they can pump out a cookie cutter formula, or use a stock framework to create multiple games, slap a F2P system in place, add a “Market” of some type and make more money on micro-transactions than they could possibly do with subscriptions. Bethseda does it, you can see it in games like Skyrim, and their franchised out title Fall Out: New Vegas. The control interface is the same, right down to stock hotkeys. The two games basically swap out NPC Scripts, Art Assets, and Story Lines. SWTOR didn’t innovate, the first outcry was “It’s WoW with Lightsabers!” though what is more disturbing is the lack of effort put into the UI. SWTOR uses a re-skined stock Hero Engine UI. Trust me on this one, when Hero Engine was first being introduced I signed up for a Sandbox to play with it to get a feel for the benefits of it vs say CryEngine or Unreal Engine. Lets look at the implosion of Zygna and the flood of “Ville” games they introduced to Facebook based entirely on a F2P micro-transaction format.
Free to Play, destroys quality and innovation, it drives some companies to create multiple lack luster games quickly in a mad money grab instead of investing the time and talent into wowing the consumer. Take a look at Nexon America, 5 years ago they had 2 titles, in 2008 they doubled that to 4, in 2010 they released 4 titles, and every year since they have released 3-4 titles, with 4 original and 2 taken over from other companies in 2011. Take a moment and compare the games and then look at the decrease in overall quality and line it up with dis-satisfaction among Nexon America’s employees and consumers in the same time frame.
No Ethan Levy you are not a Cancer, just a peddler of it. You sir are unfortunately as I mentioned more of a case herpes on the genitalia of the gaming industry, your work increases the likelihood of cancer in the gaming industry. There comes a time when as a gamer we have to decide if a game is still entertaining, are we playing it and investing in it strictly for the “Fun” factor. Isn’t it quite possible there comes a time where a developer, consultant, or other industry insider, in truth anyone in any occupation has to sit back and decide if they are working strictly for financial gain or are they working at a job they truly enjoy and have the passion and desire to share that enthusiasm and enjoyment with their consumers. It is failure to answer this question that has gained Electronic Arts the “Golden Poo” award two years running, they traded profits for quality. It is failure to acknowledge an answer to this question that is causing the backlash you felt it necessary to respond to. There is nothing wrong with working strictly for financial benefit, but there is something wrong with feeling bitter about being called a douche-bag for it. Unfortunately until you answer the “Profit vs Enthusiasm” question honestly and fully people will continue to question your motives.
To read Ethan Levy’s article on Kotaku in full please visit http://kotaku.com/i-am-not-a-cancer-on-the-game-industry-1208376438