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Guardian profoundly misses the point about FIFA Online

By on February 16, 2010

Oh dear. The Guardian has gone and got me all steamed up. Normally, that’s the job of the Daily Mail.

In a blog post this morning entitled EA unveil … Fifa Farmville?, Guardian blogger Jack Arnott reports on EA’s new downloadable, free-to-play game, FIFA Online.

Only he turns it into a diatribe against the entire free-to-play business model. His accusations: that kids might be tempted to swipe their parents credit cards to spend money they can ill-afford, that people are being tempted to buy “things that aren’t real” and that the virtual goods model is somehow bad for gaming.

This seemed so ill-informed, so reactionary and just so lazy, that it made me fume. So I posted a detailed response in the comments, which I repost here:

I don’t where to begin on how wrong headed I believe your analysis/concerns to be:

You state "it’s only a matter of time before kids start spending their pocket money – or using their parents credit cards".

Do you have any evidence that this is a kid’s game, or are you just hiding behind "must protect the kids" in fear at the emergence of a new business model.


"Large numbers of people end up frittering money away on something that is, literally, nothing."

How is this different from spending £60 on Modern Warfare 2 (which is also, "literally nothing", unless you are actually valuing the shiny disc) Or for that matter a boxed set of Skins or an iTunes download of Lily Allen’s latest track.


"Who wouldn’t want to sell items that cost literally nothing to produce?"

That’s only part of what EA is doing. They are producing somethng very expensive to develop (the entire game) and giving it away for free. Some people choose to pay to enhance their enjoyment. On balance, that seems like a huge benefit to all concerned.


“Fifa Online, on the other hand, allows you to spend money on helping you beat your friends"

Many online games in Germany and China have successfully used this model for years. It’s a peculiarly US/UK thing that this is deemed as wrong. To many, it seems perfectly fair that some people want to dedicate time to a game and others want to dedicate money. Those who put time in are deeply unprofitable for the company (although they are often very valuable marketing evangelists) while those who put money in subsidise the time-spenders enjoyment. Everyone wins.


"Fifa Online represents a worrying trend for gaming, I think, no matter how fun it may be."

Personally, I think the worrying trend in gaming was the feeling that you had to pay £30-40 or more for a game that fewer than 10% of purchasers generally finished. What a waste of my money on levels I would never see and the marketing budget to persuade me to buy it anyway. Far better to let me play the game, for free, for ever. And if I like it, I can then choose to spend money on in-game items. I really struggle to see how this is worrying.


I write a blog on the business of games at, in case you are interested, and worry whenever I see kneejerk reactions to new business models.

About Nicholas Lovell

Nicholas is the founder of Gamesbrief, a blog dedicated to the business of games. It aims to be informative, authoritative and above all helpful to developers grappling with business strategy. He is the author of a growing list of books about making money in the games industry and other digital media, including How to Publish a Game and Design Rules for Free-to-Play Games, and Penguin-published title The Curve: