The Deal with Free to Play

Here we are, only 2 months in and I’m already resorting to talking about video games. I’ve just been playing a lot of games recently and a good number of them fall into the “Free to Play” (FtP from here on) category. And if you don’t know what that means, welcome to the club, because FtP just rolls about 100 types of games and payment systems into one big umbrella term. I think I’ve narrowed them down to 3 basic types though with a couple subsets to boot.

Fully Free to Play Forever – These games are all about ad revenue. These are often flash games and you can find them just about everywhere. A great thing? They’re small diversions. They’re great if you’re a kid and you have no money and absolutely nothing to do. Another great thing? There are literally millions of these games out there. A bad thing? Well, most of them suck. A vast majority of them are just click bait. Once in a while one might grab your attention and hold it, but all these guys are trying to do is get you in the door to see an ad, and from then on it doesn’t matter. They’re not good, but they’re not going to cost you anything but time. So… whatever!

One and Done – These games don’t quite fall under the FtP header for most people, because most games are the type that you buy and can play on forever. I’m going to narrow this a bit to only include Massively Multiplayer types of games that usually involve a subscription. The best example of this is Guild Wars 2. Once you buy the game, you never have to buy anything else ever again. They of course give you the option, because Premium Content is never far from any FtP game, but they do it reservedly, and it doesn’t affect the way anyone plays the game. I respect that.

Premium Content – Here’s the type of monetary manipulation that really got me wanting to talk about FtP games. There are two really important sub-categories of premium content FtP games that makes one an absolute delight and the other a wretched mess of unholy marketing. The difference between the two is that one’s premium content changes the way the game is played, while the other doesn’t. And one of those two styles hurts the ways the basic game can be enjoyed by their players.

One of the most successful games in the world, called League of Legends, allows players to make purchases from their store that don’t affect the gameplay. They sell skins and upgrades that can’t be bought via the in-game currency but nothing they sell hurts the competitive nature of the game. League of Legends is a cutthroat and aggressive game, people that play it often times take it very seriously (too much so in my opinion, but that’s another article). That player base doesn’t want unfair advantages based on the amount of spending money a player has. And I commend League for doing it in this totally egalitarian way. They created an ultra popular game and they don’t make you pay a dime for anything –unless- you want to. Great.

On the other hand. The situation I abhor is the grim amalgamation of all of these parts. It’s a Frankenstein’s Monster of cash grabbing premiums. And as much as I hate to bash it, Star Wars: The Old Republic is the worst and most aggressive content limiting game I’ve ever played under the FtP header. From the very first screen you see, you’ll be limited in choosing who to play. And while in a very minimalistic interpretation that choice is 99% cosmetic, but you’re making a character that you have to be happy with for essentially what amounts to the rest of the time you play the game. Which could be 5 or 10 years if you like it enough. That first choice alone limits the amount of people that SW:TOR will draw in because it limits the player’s choices immediately. On top of that, they limit other functionalities (including max level, chat, social groups, etc) unless you pay for their subscription service, which is fine, just don’t call it Free to Play. Call it an Unlimited Trial period. Or Call it a Sample Version. I just can’t believe that any of their current players like the system. And as much as it seems like I’m railing against SW:TOR, I just think what they’ve done is bad business, and a little manipulative. The game itself is decent.

taken from http://www.heatherbrookes.org/hb-blog/?p=2341

FtP SW:TOR (acronym central)

I like Free to Play games. I think it’s a good business plan and in some cases I’m sure it makes bigger profits than normal sales. I just don’t like it when they offer something up as “free” but withhold anything that makes it good. or it a metaphorical sense… It’s kind of like a pay-toilet. Sometimes you just have to put the quarter in the slot to find out if the shit’s worth it. and It’s usually not.

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