Recently resigned former EA CEO John Riccitiello is none too hopeful about the emergence of the free-to-play market, which he believes poorly influences game design.
"If you think deeply about free-to-play, it's not just a business model, it's a game design," he said in an interview with GamesIndustry International - his first since stepping down from his EA mantle. "When you're trying to work out how far you can get in a game with a certain amount of resources, that is a game design feature. It's an enjoyable feature, the management of resources to accomplish a goal," he explained.
So if it's an "enjoyable feature," why is this a bad thing, you ask? It depends on the game, and what its goals are. "If you think about BioShock, I was completely captured by Ken Levine's world. I didn't want to be interrupted to resource manage," Riccitiello said.
But BioShock is a narrative-focused single-player game - a rarity for a shooter. Riccitiello stated that most shooter players don't even bother with single-player campaigns and go straight for the multiplayer. It's here where the former exec finds the free-to-play structure especially damning.
"Core to what their definition of what makes a good multiplayer is that it's a completely level playing field. I hate to break it to you,but mobile games with microtransactions don't provide a level playing field. Unless you consider that the bag of gold I bought to offset my lack of skill is level with you because you're more skilled with your thumbs than I am," he explained. "So it's a different concept, the level of investment is different. We've already seen Battlefield premium, which was a sort of mini-subscription for a lot of added content. But I don't know if any of those games would have been anywhere near as good as they are if they were driven by microtransactions."
"My only point is that there is more to game design than resource management around the money that you put into a game. There are other things that are equally as good or better in terms of satisfying entertainment. In those circumstances, I don't think we're going to see a free-to-play model prevail."
While Riccitiello is skeptical about free-to-play, he remains hopeful about the next generation of consoles, which he believes will sell better than the current gen. "I think they'll be bigger than the last generation," he predicted. The reason for this is due to the current gen's somewhat cumbersome approach to online. "The entirety of the online communication and being able to connect to your friends and all that stuff, a seamless, smooth, social experience, was just masking tape - barely put together. Remember that this was eight years ago. Most people were just moving on from their 28k modems. Now these are fully functioning, fully integrated online computers connected to the best screen in your house."
"The next generation of consoles are going to be a massive improvement on user interface. So I think that 's going to matter," he stated. That being said, he still sees mobile games expanding at least as much and predicts the two markets will "happily coexist."
Elseswhere in the GamesIndustry interview, Riccitiello gushed about how much he loved BioShock Infinite. "Ken Levine and the world he built in Columbia is perhaps the most fully realised world ever created, in my view, in any medium since Lord of the Rings. It is that deep and rich an interesting place. It rivals, as I say, some of the great creations of our time in any form." How's that for a box quote? And from a former competitor to boot!