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Those who criticize the ethics of free-to-play are driven by "snobbery and fear" former EA boss says

Traditional packaged games are the real bait-and-switch, Ben Cousins says.


In a new opinion piece written for Polygon, former Electronic Arts and Lionhead Studios manager Ben Cousins argues that critics of the ethics of free-to-play are driven by "snobbery and fear." He goes on to claim that in fact it's traditional packaged games, not free-to-play mobile titles, that represent the real bait-and-switch scenario.

Ben Cousins
Ben Cousins

"The attacks and criticism of free-to-play mechanics are often unfair and selective, and leave questionable but traditional business practices alone," Cousins, who is now general manager of free-to-play studio Scattered Entertainment said. "This is snobbery; evidence that the old guard is scared of where the industry is headed."

One major criticism levied against the free-to-play business model is that it uses the well-known bait-and-switch sales technique. Cousins says "innocent" players are "baited" into downloading a free game only to later find out that you can't progress through it without spending money--that's the "switch," he says.

Cousins says the problem with this critique is that this "switch" is ineffective. He pointed out that Candy Crush Saga developer King said last year that 70 percent of players who reached the end of the game never spent a dime on the game.

He further explains that gamers can play a free-to-play title extensively before they make a purchase, while the same cannot be said for traditional $60 boxed products. Cousins said he's seen many great trailers for terrible games, and pointed out that getting a refund for traditional games is all but impossible.

"This is why the real bait-and-switch techniques take place in traditional gaming," Cousins said. "Free-to-play games successfully avoid the bait-and-switch trap. You get to try the game, and invest more of your time or money if you enjoy the experience. Traditional games don't give you that luxury."

Overall, because the free-to-play model "breaks established norms" as it becomes more and more popular, "it's scary for the establishment," Cousins says. Offering up an ethical critique of the model is a misguided way to fight the changes, he went on to say. In doing so, opponents to free-to-play begin to sound just as reactionary as those who thought jazz music or rock 'n' roll would corrupt the minds of our youth, he claims.

"We fear what we don't recognize, and in this case it's the industry not recognizing where it's heading," Cousins said. He ended his note saying those in the game industry will look back with amusement at the thought that free-to-play could pose a threat to the gaming landscape.

Cousins also recently responded to a new report from app testing firm Swrve that claimed two-thirds of players ditch free mobile games after 24 hours. He accused Swrve of "trying to paint a depressing picture to sell [its] services."

For their part, Nintendo and EA maintain that the proliferation in gaming on smart-devices does not spell a demise for traditional console gaming. In fact, EA CFO Blake Jorgensen says that mobile gaming can actually help draw more consumers to the console market over time.

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