The reason I say this is because several games are already showcasing why this method is bad for you as a gamer. Sure there are games like Team Fortress that do free to play right, but there were games early this generation that also did Downloadable Content correctly. Look at DLC today, its absurd to see some of the “day 1” content released for games. Before DLC added to a game, made the game better, and overall the game was finished when released. Last generation we didn’t have online networks, so they had to release finished games and that carried over to this generation. However publishers are always looking for ways to make more money, and thats where the idea of half finished games release at full price, with “bonus” content added shortly after for more money.
Look at it this way. Before, games used to release with tons of maps, tons of content, and tons of features. Unreal Tournament 3 for example had over 30 maps, that number might be higher actually, and still added content to the game through free DLC. Today shooters have maybe 10 maps if you are lucky, and then have “map pack” DLC planned from day one. Some publishers take it further by adding guns, skins, or other accessories that could easily just be added to the game. Is DLC bad as a whole? No, other games like Dragon Age, Mass Effect, etc… still believe in “expansion packs,” but what happens when they start a new trend?
Head over to Facebook or mobile gaming where free-to-play titles are booming and you’ll notice a trend. The core gameplay experience is entirely broken due to the micro-transaction systems put in place. Let’s take a look at how:
The Timeout Method
The most popular method to get your cash, is the timeout method. What happens is you are playing a game, doing perfectly fine, then you hit a wall. This wall tells you “in order to advance you have to wait X amount of time,” and a timer starts ticking down. If you want to bash through this wall you can simply toss a few “real life” dollars at the developer and keep playing until you hit yet another wall within minutes.
On Facebook the most common wall is “energy,” where you need this fake energy to do every little task the developers could think of. Walk over here, click this, click that, everything you NEED to do requires this stupid energy. A good example of this practice is SimCity Social. The game is basically the SimCity you want, but stripped down to be more casual friendly. It takes days to do one mission unless you pay for energy to click on things. Want to build this new building? Not only do you need energy to build it, but you need energy to find “rare” items by clicking on houses and helping neighbors. Of course you could pay to get the items and pay to get energy, but according to some of the packages in the game, you will end up spending several hundred dollars fast.
Paying to Win
The “cheat” method is another game breaking advantage in the FTP model. In every game you will be earning something or working towards something. To make your life easier the game will constantly tell you about key items or things you can “earn” and unlock. Yet in order to get to these items you will have to spend countless hours saving up and hammer it out over time. Oh wait, you don’t want to waste your time? Then why not just buy it with real money?
Some things are so far out of reach that you literally either decide to forget about it, or you will end up paying for it. Essentially this creates a scenario in which anyone playing the game (no matter what level of skill or investment) can win the game simply by forking over enough money. While in single-player social games this isn’t as big a deal, as you’re only playing against yourself, but in multi-player experiences, this is damn near game breaking.
The “I Just Want To Play!” Method
Then there are the added objects, places, or other related gaming things you simply cannot attain until you open up your wallet. Whether it’s “special tokens” you can only pay to get, or the “free to play” area only being a trial area. This is where games start to trick you. Sure you are playing, maybe you enjoy the experience, but in order to go further you need to pay (much like the trial period for MMOs). This is why I call it the “I just want to play” method, because at the end of the day I want to pay 60 dollars and be done with it. I want to know I’m sitting down to play a game for a few hours without interruption. I don’t want to end up paying 100 dollars or more, I just want to play.
These are some of the methods already used, and I’m sure there are more out there. However what’s going to stop it from going further? People are paying thousands of dollars into these methods, that’s why the businessmen want it to transfer over to everyone. What’s next? A limit on respawns in a shooter? We have to pay a dollar for respawns, and when we run out it will ask for our credit card or kick us out of the game? We have to pay real money to fix an in-game car? (that one recently happened!) We can only play RPG titles 15 minutes at a time?
It can, and it most likely will, get out of hand extremely fast. The publishers only want free-to-play models because it benefits them in terms of payments. Do you want the “option” to pay 100 dollars, or would you rather just pay 60 and get it done with? Whatever happened to free demo’s for every game? Same concept right? Except it doesn’t have nickel and dime gates all throughout it.
The overall reason it breaks games is because its a straight out lie to every person out there. “Come play our game for free!” Yeah, well what’s the catch? I absolutely hate hearing “free-to-play” at this point. It never is free and it never will be. If there wasn’t more money to be made in this model, no publisher or developer would ever want to fully switch to it. Hitting roadblocks, taking forever to do a simple task, and simply not being able to enjoy my game is what free-to-play really means and feels like.
To the developers that do it right, they are awesome and I do truly hope everyone follows their lead. However looking at Facebook (where this model gained popularity to begin with) that doesn’t seem to be the case. Publishers will take the model and push it further until every last person stops paying. With how well Facebook credits sell, and how well “cheating” sells as DLC, we might be in trouble.