Free-to-play can work, but it’s up to publishers to get it right.
Love it or hate it the concept of ‘free-to-play’ and its micro-transactions appear to be now firmly entrenched in the gaming world. And this model has grown beyond its beginnings to now include games from all kinds of genres. While playing the recently released F2P third-person shooter Zombies Monsters Robots, I was discussing with a friend whether the idea of F2P was a good thing for video games or not.
For the most part we were on opposite sides of the debate. My friend raised an excellent point that many F2P games are simply poorly designed. Not that the game play is poor but that with all of the “good stuff” hidden behind pay walls it becomes “pay-to-win” which is simply not fun. Her main point was that she would rather spend the money on a game and have full access to all its content rather then have to purchase it piecemeal and end up paying more.
Zombies Monsters Robots is a relatively new and good example of this. While the game itself is fun to play and has solid mechanics (it is literally Gears of War with a different skin), the good weapons and gear are not readily available to a player who does not wish to spend money. Even worse some of the best items are only available through real money transactions which are not even guaranteed but rather through a loot box, just another RNG slot machine. To be fair, the game is still technically in open beta and not all of the content for the game has been released yet and the pricing system is still open to adjustment. But when I’ve read accounts from several different people who spend $300 or more obtain a full set of armour I get a little depressed.
Both my friend and I agreed that any game that relies on RNG to get players to spend money is a horrendous idea. It just feels shady and cheap of the publisher to do.
I personally disliked the F2P model of Star Wars: The Old Republic. Its clear looking at their model that it was simply bolted onto the exterior of a previously paid game system. Which it totally was. But its upsetting that the system is so limited to players who don’t want to pay. A free player should not be punished but rather a paying player should be rewarded. And unfortunately far too many F2P titles fall into this trap.
I on the other hand really like the idea behind F2P. It opens up the option to try a very large number of games without having to invest money in something you might not like. And when its done well, F2P is actually very rewarding to play. Games like Warframe, DOTA 2, and League of Legends have all done F2P right.
In Warframe the cash shop is only for cosmetic items (which for some reason that is the one item people are always willing to shell out for, myself included; the sydannas are badass looking) and convenience. You can craft any weapon and frame in the game with patience. Or if you would rather not spend the time farming you pay money to buy the gun. In either case the weapon has the same stats and it does not matter where it came from. Paying money makes the game less time intensive but it does not give you an advantage over another.
League of Legends is largely the same with cash being used for convenience items and character skins which have no direct influence on game play. This is the type of F2P I like seeing and am willing to drop money on. Sadly games like this at least appear to be the exception rather then the rule.
I have taken full advantage of the many F2P games out there and am always willing to give a new one a try. After all it costs me nothing to give it a shot. But on the other hand my friend has a point: if I’m only getting access to part of a game and can only see the full thing after being nickel and dimed to death then perhaps just paying the $60 up front is a better option. I’m not quite ready to give up on F2P games yet, though I do wish there were more that did not feel like they were trying to steal my money at every turn.