“Zynga has done free-to-play a terrible disservice,” says SOE president John Smedley


Sony Online Entertainment president John Smedley has strongly criticised Zynga, saying that he believes the FarmVille creator has seriously damaged the reputation of free-to-play. Despite that damage, however, he feels the business model is maturing thanks to the broader range of “hardcore” games making use of it.

“I think Zynga has done free-to-play a terrible disservice because many of their releases are monetisation products – not games,” he tells PC Gamer in an interview published today. “The truth is that now there are loads of really great free-to-play games.”

One of those games, of course, is SOE’s own Planetside 2 (pictured above), a MMOFPS launched last month, and which he feels is now part of the “hardcore community’s free-to-play library”. But despite all this progress, Smedley doesn’t believe the model will usurp traditional up-front payments just yet, pointing to the length of time it would take to download large games like Uncharted as an ongoing stumbling block.

The enormous cost of creating something like a Call Of Duty singleplayer campaign, he continues, would make it difficult to turn a profit using free-to-play, too – separating the multiplayer, however, could be a viable alternative. Smedley goes on to describe the business model as “pure”, because it allows players to decide whether they like a game before stumping up the cash to pay for it.

“If they don’t like your game they can just walk away because they didn’t pay anything for it – it’s the most democratic way to make games,” he says. “And if they don’t want to pay for it now, our hope is that they pay for it later, but they don’t have to.

“So it makes me feel good that the games we make are being judged on their merit, not just how well we can market them or force them to play and pay like Zynga tried. It’s pure and I love that.”

Smedley, along with creative director Matt Higby, recently set out exactly why a subscription would kill a game like Planetside 2, while nDreams CEO Patrick O’Luanaigh echoed Smedley’s criticisms of Zynga in his Evolve 2012 talk last week on how to make money from free-to-play without selling your soul.