Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive


Forgot your password?
Businesses The Almighty Buck Games

Do Free-To-Play Games Get a Fair Shake? 181

An anonymous reader writes "This article makes the case that most gamers treat 'free-to-play' games with derision and scorn when they really shouldn't. The author refers to it as 'snobbery.' We've all either encountered or heard about a game company using shady business practices to squeeze every cent from their users through in-app purchases (a.k.a. microtransations, a.k.a. cash shops), or a simple pay-to-win format. But these stories don't represent all games — by a long shot. It's something endemic to shady developers and publishers, not the business model. Think about traditionally-sold games, and how often you've seen a trailer that horribly misrepresents gameplay. Or a $60 game that was an unfinished, buggy mess. Or a Kickstarted project that didn't deliver on its promises. The author says, 'When something is new, when it isn't aimed at you, when it is created by strange people in strange places, when it breaks established norms and when it is becoming hugely popular... it's scary for the establishment. The ethical critique is an easy way to fight these changes, a call to protect the children or protect the irrational people who obviously can't like these games on their own merits. We begin to sound as reactionary as the ban on pinball or the fears over jazz music corrupting the minds of our youth.'"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Do Free-To-Play Games Get a Fair Shake?

Comments Filter:
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 09, 2014 @07:09PM (#46709261)

    usually when we're criticizing "think of the children" positions it's because they threaten something of value. we're talking about games that are designed from the ground up to exploit people for money on a continuous basis, and the best defence they have is that "hey, we're not that bad, some people actually like it"

  • New? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by aardvarkjoe ( 156801 ) on Wednesday April 09, 2014 @07:10PM (#46709275)

    According to the author, apparently "free-to-play" is a new business model. Funny, I've been playing "free-to-play" games for well over twenty years now; and back in the old shareware days it was fairly common to have a feature-limited free version that you had to upgrade to get the whole game.

    Yes, some of the mechanics of ways to make money off of a free-to-play game have changed along with technology, but in concept things really haven't changed that much.

  • by Todd Knarr ( 15451 ) on Wednesday April 09, 2014 @07:12PM (#46709279) Homepage

    The attitude stems from something more basic. In conventional games, even bad ones, once you have the game you have everything and how well you do is then up to your own skill and ability. In many free-to-play games, though, the game itself is just the hook. Once you're in, you find that you can't, for all practical purposes, go beyond a certain point without spending money and how much further beyond that you can go depends on how much you can afford to spend. It's why the derisive term is "pay-to-win". In large part how well you do in that type of game doesn't depend on your skill or ability, it depends on how deep your wallet is. And a lot of gamers are offended by the idea that a skilled, knowledgeable player who happens to not be that well-off will by design be less successful in the game than an unskilled, not-very-good player who happens to have well-off parents who'll toss him a couple of hundred dollars a week to fund his entertainment.

  • by tepples ( 727027 ) <> on Wednesday April 09, 2014 @07:19PM (#46709313) Homepage Journal

    There's a difference between old free-to-play, which was based on "entitlements" (purchases that you keep for an indefinite time once you buy them), and new free-to-play, which is based on "consumables" (purchases that you have to make and remake to continue progressing). The old shareware model involved making the first chapter free-to-play and making further chapters entitlements. For example, the first episode of Doom was provided without charge and ended on a cliffhanger. The Ultimate Doom paid entitlement brought three more episodes* ("The Shores of Hell", "Inferno", and "Thy Flesh Consumed"); and the Doom II paid entitlement brought another game's worth of missions. Energy mechanics in newer F2P games, such as "gems" or "berries" or "lives", are different: they force you to wait hours or days at a time to progress if you don't pay, and completing the game within reasonable time requires spending more on energy than a player would have originally spent on a whole game under a pay-up-front or entitlement model.

    * Before Ultimate Doom was completed, Id Software sold Doom (registered version), which was the same as Ultimate Doom without "Thy Flesh Consumed".

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 09, 2014 @07:20PM (#46709317)

    Most programmers believe it is immoral to trick people into spending money on things.
    Pay to Win games are designed with that sole purpose; that's why we hate Pay to Win.

  • Re:Coin operated (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 09, 2014 @07:39PM (#46709451)

    Then you are paying for the electricity, rental of the building, and wear/tear on hardware. Same reason that f2p MMOs aren't hated nearly as much as single player f2p phone games, servers cost money to run.

    But if it is a single player game on your own hardware, charging for tokens/berries/etc without an expense to justify the price is just deliberately making the game less fun in an attempt to milk players.

  • Re:New? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 09, 2014 @07:41PM (#46709469)

    The difference is that in the old model, you paid to have more fun. In the new model, you pay to skip boredom.

    I loved Plants vs Zombies 1. I gladly paid $20 for it (or whatever the price is). Plants vs Zombies 2 was a completely different story. Even at "free", it was boring. I do not want to pay just to progress. Let me just play a flat fee for a game that is completely optimized for fun.

  • Re:New? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Wednesday April 09, 2014 @08:01PM (#46709651) Homepage

    The difference is that in the old model, you paid to have more fun. In the new model, you pay to skip boredom.

    This AC is spot on the money, that's exactly how I feel. And that boredom tastes artificially added, usually not that bad at first to get you addicted but the deeper you go the more the paid and free paths diverge. Like you can have the normal game or you can have the game with lots of extra grind, would you like to pay $1 to skip it? I guess some feel that's less of a dick move than setting up a paywall and say pay $1 to proceed or it's game over, but at least then it's in their best interest to make the experience as good as possible for you. Not that I like being heckled for money with tiny little DLCs everywhere either, give me large expansions and leave the sales booth out of the game itself. Nothing worse than an in-game NPC with a dollar sign over his head.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Wednesday April 09, 2014 @08:03PM (#46709679) Journal
    I'm not exactly certain what this hypothetical 'fair shake' is; but the obvious elephant in the room, when considering 'free to play' games, is that they aren't free to make, or free to run(and are almost always online, so they are 'not free to run' as in 'will die the moment the hosting bill goes unpaid') so you do always have to keep an eye on your wallet.

    Nothing precludes 'traditional' games from also using assorted 'freemium' tricks as well as costing money (Hi there, Dead Space 3! I was totally jazzed about buying crafting components from EA in a game that costs $60!); but when you can see the transaction ahead of time (I give you $x, you give me the game or massively-multiplayer-something-something costs $y/month), there is economic room for products where you can relax and stop watching your wallet. There can, and will, be bad actors, bad deals, overhyped games sold pre-release, etc. but you are freed from the fundamental, nagging, "He obviously needs to make money, and I haven't given him any yet, so when and how does the other shoe drop?" question that dogs 'free-to-play' titles.

    As for the 'protect irrational people who obviously can't like these games on their own merits' dig, same basic elephant: we know that the game costs money to make and run, and that the maker ideally wants to actually profit. We also know that monetization rates are comparatively low (something that the inevitable 'Well, $GAME$ gets called 'pay to win'; but I'm just good enough to get by on pure skill. In fact, I actually make money!' brigade exists to remind us of), so we have pretty good reason to suspect the existence of 'Whales'(just like in the casino business) who keep the average income/player high enough for the game to stay in the black.

    None of this is proof that any specific operator is running a notably shady deal; but there is a reason why this business model gets special scrutiny: If a 'free to play' game is actually free-to-play, on average, it's either burning VC cash or bleeding out. So, any given title is either dying or on average not free. Similarly, if a game has a lousy monetization rate, with many players actually playing for free, it must clearly be the case that the game is either dying or really bleeding some customers. At that point, you either stick your fingers in your ears and shout "FREE WILL! I can't hear you! RATIONAL ACTORS!" or you must at least consider whether the best customers happen to be children making in-app purchases with somebody else's payment information(not that that, um, actually happened, a lot, or anything. Definitely not enough that it went to court.) or Facebook's equivalent of pathalogical gamblers.
  • by egarland ( 120202 ) on Wednesday April 09, 2014 @08:15PM (#46709765)

    * Ad supported
    * Pay to win
    * Microtransactions
    * Completely free

    They should change the "Free" button where the cost usually would be to one of these.

    This information is important to to know up front and I should be able to filter out "pay to win" because screw that.

FORTUNE'S FUN FACTS TO KNOW AND TELL: A giant panda bear is really a member of the racoon family.