The Division Dev Boss "Scared to Death" of F2P Pushing Away Blockbusters

Massive Entertainment's David Polfeldt discusses the use of data in game design and the "ethical problem" that can arise.

David Polfeldt, managing director of The Division developer Massive Entertainment, readily admits he likes the data that game developers now have access to. At the same time, he believes there is an ethical problem with data being used to wring as much money as possible out of gamers, and his love for blockbuster games has caused him to worry about the future.

"I think it's super interesting what we can do now with big data and that type of research we can do. We find patterns that we didn't know of. That to me is incredibly sexy," Polfeldt told GamesIndustry International. "Then there's a another step, where you get that data and the only thing you use it for is to fool people into paying for things that they didn't intend to. Then it becomes unethical. Then to me it's no longer a conversation. Then it's just, I'm just trying to find your trigger mechanisms and fool you."

Particularly in the free-to-play space, data-driven game design has become increasingly common in recent years. FarmVille maker Zynga is one of the preeminent examples of data-driven design, which, put simply, is the practice of relying heavily on data and metrics when making design choices.

"I do think there's an ethical problem there," Polfeldt continued. "Now you've found out everything about David. Good, will you now use that to tell him a story that matters to him--or are you going to use that to make him pay for things that he didn't want to pay for? To me, that's completely different."

"I embrace data. I think it's enormously educational, but it is important to ask yourself, what am I using this information for?" -- Massive Entertainment managing director David Polfeldt

Free-to-play design is not always such a negative thing for gamers, and there are many examples of games that are widely accepted because they aren't perceived as being manipulative. The model has come to dominate the mobile space, and there are those who believe it will eventually pervade the entire industry. Polfeldt sees a clear distinction between the development of traditional games and other types of games that will only become more apparent, but that doesn't mean part of him doesn't worry about the future.

"I actually think they're not so close together," he said when asked about mobile and console game development. "I think we will see a separation where it's like nobody today thinks that a one-armed bandit is a games developer, like, 'Why aren't the one-armed bandits at E3?' Of course, they're not games. It's something else.

"I think many of the free-to-play games we will start looking upon them more as one-armed bandits. It's not a bad product in its own genre, but it's probably not an interactive experience as I mean that it is. Long answer, but it is a really complicated question because I like it. I embrace data. I think it's enormously educational, but it is important to ask yourself, what am I using this information for? That is where we do have a responsibility.

"As a gamer I'm afraid to death of it, because I love blockbuster games. I love big, long, epic games that will occupy my attention for a long time. I love the games that other people are doing, so I'm really afraid that it's all going to be different. It's all going to be small games. It's all going to be free. That to me is just something else. I can't see how that would replace my need for an epic experience. I just don't get it. They have to be different. That's really my conclusion. They just cannot be seen as the same for very long."

Polfeldt and Massive won't have to grapple with these issues directly when developing The Division, which is expected to be a traditional retail title when it's released next year. The open-world RPG was recently delayed until 2015, but would appear to comfortably fit into the "blockbuster" category that Polfeldt is so fond of.

Do you worry about the future of the sorts of games you like to play, or do you believe there will always be a market for them? Let us know in the comments below.

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MrBlondeX

Chris Pereira

Twitter/Xbox Live/PSN/Nintendo Network: TheSmokingManX
173 comments
omar_q
omar_q

This game looks fucking gorgeous. 

sdinh225
sdinh225

Meh, both sides have bads to them imo. There are some good free2plays that will never require a penny out of you while there are some especially those Asian MMOs that either require huge amounts of grind or luck to be on par with those that can easily spend money to be at the current endgame. More often than I want to, I'd hear of so and so goldbuyer whiffing out the credit card and spending thousands on said game.


On the flip side a lot of these blockbuster titles are also greedy as heck charging full retail price then charge extra out the wazoo for DLC (which may or may not be on disc content) that can cost as much or more for the game. 

GunEye
GunEye

I can't stand F2P games, so I just don't bother with them anymore. F2P = P2W Pay to Win.

I will pay fully for your game: if you deliver a finished, long, substantial product.

MonkerzX
MonkerzX

As long as The Division DELIVERS, then he has nothing to worry about.

dannydopamine8
dannydopamine8

free2play is like a cancer in gaming that is constantly growing

PsychoChick966
PsychoChick966

"They just cannot be seen as the same for very long." 


- I don't think anyone views them to be the same, do they?  I'm glad for his fear, because I have the same fear myself.  If someone in the industry thinks like I do, maybe they'll work to keep epic, AAA games in play.  A future without them, would likely be a future without me.

mr_nee
mr_nee

Me too. I don't give a single f for a different gun or an outfit. All I want is hollywood (in a good meaning) level writers and hollywood level acting to deliver stuff like ME, Uncharted or Brutal Legend

Unfallen_Satan
Unfallen_Satan

I completely agree with his broader concern, but I think it's unfair to single out F2P. As some, and increasing by the year, blockbusters have shown, AAA games are just as capable of milking players with smart nickel-n-diming as F2P.

Needless to say the lion's share of the games industry is now investment-driven. It was unavoidable as gaming became profitable in capitalist societies. At the same time, I am heartened by Cryengine's becoming widely available, affordable, and I hear royalty-free (though I haven't read the fine print). Instead of worrying about people in it for the money trying to make money, we should instead give better support, which includes tools and infrastructure, to those who want to make games so they can actually make games while living better than poverty. If we should curb anything, it's efforts by for-profit businessmen to prevent game makers from making games directly for gamers.

bsim500
bsim500

Kooken58 - "What you should be afraid of is some of these indie developers who are offering more and more games that are actually innovative."


^ This. I've had more fun playing Transistor and Q.U.B.E over the past week than hyped-up-to-the-eyeballs Watch Dogs. And after the past week, I'm VERY vary of any demo on The Division's (or any Ubisoft game in general) claimed graphical quality... Its pummeling on Metacritic (4.5/10) has more to do with backlash of dishonest, deceptive advertising than the game itself.


It really is way past time marketing budgets for AAA games were halved (if not quartered) and the money instead spent on a larger quality control / optimization / bug-fixing team during the final 3 months of development.

Johny_47
Johny_47

Well if it's any consolation to this guy, 'free to play' *cough* pay to win games are repetitive as f**k, I'm going by world of tanks for an example, I play that for around an hour with a buddy on steam then I get bored with it. Then I might play it the day after next if I feel like it.


They're not an example of great quality in my opinion, there's so much that can be done in games like this that can make it so much better. 

Now, The Division is one new game I'm really looking forward to ever since I saw it at E3, one of those games I might think that it's hard to stop playing it and end up losing track of time with =P

starjay009
starjay009

This is a meaningless article. As long as Triple A devs develop proper IPs, they have nothing to be afraid of. Obviously, we have seen some poor, over hyped games in the past 3-4 years thanks to ridiculous PR, budget and time constraints etc. If that trend continues, then yes. Otherwise, just keep doing what you guys do best - produce good quality games with a MASS appeal. F2P games are irritating like pests because we allow them to be. Not to mention, some really outrageous game prices; the recent DAI Collector's Edition being a prime example. So the average gamer with little cash goes for easy choices. This is classic human nature in play here. Just make good games and sell them at affordable prices, we can all then kiss F2P goodbye. 

youmadd
youmadd

I'm more "scared to death" of The Division ending up as another WatchDogs disappointment after its impressive E3 trailers.

spacecadet25
spacecadet25

That's why I hope more mid-tier indies can get into the fray, using Unity, CryEngine, or Unreal Engine, and make games for gamers.  Those companies are less likely to have the statisticians needed that can make an effective F2P game, they would just have developers that make great experiences instead.

IanNottinghamX
IanNottinghamX

Free to play in most cases is pay to win Id rather pay for something once and thats it. Design games and let them stand on their own. To have to keep paying for something or to be tricked into paying for something where I come from is called a Scam! Call it what it is!

jeremywm
jeremywm

Since Free to Play is the future it is scary if you think your pay games are going to survive in a free to play world. Now that Battlefield 3 went Free it has taken Battlefield Free to Play's place as my team based shooter and the co-op missions are a blast :)

L0vnThatBuddah
L0vnThatBuddah

After watching Danny on the point speaking about verticle slices I don't trust any demos shown two years from release cough cough watch dogs cough cough

Setzera
Setzera

The Division is one of the few games I'm actually still looking forward to.  I believe I have less than 5 games to look forward to in the future.  Only problem is I had more, but once they're released and I find out that what I expected is not the reality, I don't buy them, and they become "what could have been" games.


Really hope they don't mess this up somehow, I haven't bought a game in over a year, on any platform. :(

Gankstar_VX84
Gankstar_VX84

i thought the division wasn't comming to pc anyway? who cares anyway? does anyone actually want the division now? after the hype settled down looked like another crappy hybrid to me.

Sozialminister
Sozialminister

F2P-games are always multiplayer, while most blockbuster games are singleplayer campaigns. So this is a bad comparison. F2P are on the rise. The best multiplayer games in the last years are F2P. Sorry, but those blockbuster studios are not able to deliver good multiplayer experience anymore, so I rather spend some money on pay 2 win than paying $ 60 for a mediocre AAA game.


Blockbuster games have become too generic, thats their biggest problem. Most campaign games also have a pointless multiplayer mode included, that nobody wants but should attract more gamers. Blockbuster mp games also have a campaign mode nobody wants (like Battlefield). In both ways they need to cut content that matters just to make their games more likelable for a wider consumer base. Stop this crap and make better games again. Blockbuster games can compete very well with F2P-games. The only problem are the greedy publishers, their anti-gaming business models and that they mostly care about their shareholders and not their gaming customers.

Mar_Sama
Mar_Sama

And of course this will be delayed as well.

PlatinumPaladin
PlatinumPaladin

I'm on the same page as this guy. I don't think blockbusters will necessarily disappear, but I do fear there will be less and less of them. It'll be interesting to see how things work out with Namco. They've taken four of their cornerstone franchises, not particularly blockbusters as far as the industry goes but they've survived two decades, and taken them F2P. And they're all games who's origins began in the arcades, the original pay-as-you-play. (Braces for wrathful backlash.) I just think it'll be interesting to see if the new format is more successful.

Creed02
Creed02

I hope this will live up to the hype unlike watch dogs

Aaronp2k
Aaronp2k

free to play will never push away blockbusters. In fact I think it will go the other way. Everyone moans about free to play being pay to win, free to play will die out mark my words.

theprismhead
theprismhead

Maybe because "blockbusters" are so crappy these days. I'm actually more interested in a few Kickstarter games than any AAA games right now. Torment: Tides of Numenera and Project Eternity seem way more interesting than DA:I, WD, Division, Destiny...etc. Even DS2 was disappointing.

domisbatman
domisbatman

So you F2P haters hate Everquest , Dota , TF2 , LoL , and others am I correct ? All I hear is crying about F2P games and the ones I've played weren't pay to win or grind fests .

Lehikex
Lehikex

They make a Assassins creed like buggy and design disaster game like watchdogs and sell it for $60 and they wonder why F2P game are squeezing them out?

wexorian
wexorian

I love f2p haters, talk so illogical , don't like don't play but don't trash coz many ppl include me play f2p games a lot of em, and last 2 year better and better games are on way, haters gonna hate.

couly
couly

I'm scared to death of them pulling a watchdogs and downgrading this one. I bet that car door doesn't close! . 

Abanaa
Abanaa

@GunEye You "pay to win" in you'r subscription games also. and you pay alot more.... you play 2,3 hours a day and they charge you full month no matter how much you play. 

In subscription games are more gold sellers than in FTP games, so wich ones are P2W? Why do you think are gold sellers in there?


15$ is too much in my opinion and especialy when i only play 2, 3 days a week. Why not charge you based on how much you play? 

Like i said subscription games are the kings and queens of P2W.

Abanaa
Abanaa

@sonicblast19 Does insulting ppl make you feel smarter or something? 

I've only spent 10$ on years of F2P. How much did YOU spent on subscriptions on last 5 years?

Kooken58
Kooken58

@Johny_47 Seems like all a matter of opinion. I personally enjoyed World of Tanks, same with War Thunder. Its a bit more action paced.  Planetside 2, Team Fortress 2, Tribes:Acend, DOTA 2, Path of Exile, and League of Legends. All examples of great Free to play games that are not pay to win.


Still there are crappy F2P games out there too, just as there are crappy 60 dollar games.  Seems like you have more to lose with a 60 dollar game, than a game that is free and was crap.

Johny_47
Johny_47

@starjay009 I agree with everything except the 'mass appeal' thing. I really think that's the massive problem with developers and games these days, they try so hard to please everyone they end up losing track of what they actually want their games to be, money on the brain.

hammerfall22
hammerfall22

These engines is very cheap. Any indie can afford. Even single developer can.

spacecadet25
spacecadet25

@Gankstar_VX84  Yeah, PC gamers don't need it either.  They've got so many pirated games to play (such as 100,000 pirated copies of Wolfenstein, for example), how would they have time to pirate another one?

The-Neon-Seal
The-Neon-Seal

@Creed02 Watch dogs was hyped to infinity like Avatar was. The main diffrence is that I like Watch dogs.

xkami786
xkami786

So far haven't enjoyed any of the F2P games yet.

Thanatos2k
Thanatos2k

@domisbatman TF2 was not designed as a free to play game.  Dota 2 and LOL were competing with Dota which was already free to play, so they couldn't charge for it.


People still play Everquest?

iamllamapie
iamllamapie

@wexorian It's the unethical practices devs/pubs use in free to play "ppl" don't like. For example, games in which you pay money to speed up otherwise it takes hours to complete one task.


You're so illogical because you don't state why people who dislike F2P are illogical. Your only argument is the typical "If ya dun't lyk it dun't play it" and F2P is good because you and many others play them. The obvious argument here could be: Justin Beiber has many fans so he's a good singer. If you disagree, don't listen to him.


Fool.

Lhomity
Lhomity

@couly  Downgrade, downgrade.


Such decisions to downgrade graphics are usually made to benefit gameplay or improve performance.


Which surely is an upgrade, not a downgrade. Gameplay >>> graphics, right?. Or am I just a dinosaur with outdated values? Maybe I am... ;<

IanNottinghamX
IanNottinghamX

@Abanaa @IanNottinghamX No because a subscription is a flat fee. F2P is technically a fee for content. Which is too subjective. F2P long term is more costly than P2p because F2p can be implemented in ways that cost way more.

PlatinumPaladin
PlatinumPaladin

@xkami786 Ace Combat Infinity. It's like an old relationship that's been rekindled. It just might work, but we've got some issues to work out.

Kooken58
Kooken58

@Thanatos2k Path of Exiles, Tribes: Ascend, War Thunder...also f2p.  Everquest Landmark is also looking pretty good if you are into a more complex version of Minecraft.