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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.'"
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Do Free-To-Play Games Get a Fair Shake?

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  • by jargonburn ( 1950578 ) on Wednesday April 09, 2014 @08:33PM (#46709883)
    No, no I don't think I do. I've heard free-to-play broken down into three categories:

    * Free-to-Play: The entire game is free to play and experience; you may be able to purchase some benefits in-game, but they do not skew the balance. They either provide minimal perks, or are purely aesthetic or to support to developer.
    * Freemium: The entire game is technically available, but it will take you much longer to go through it without paying some meaningful amount. Available purchases include benefits that can't be earned any other way or require a lot of time/work to accumulate in-game. Balance is skewed to favor those who pay, but you can still compete at a disadvantage.
    * Pay-to-Win: The game is there, and you can play it, but a number of important features or content are locked behind pay-walls. Benefits possible cannot be meaningfully earned by any other method. If you aren't paying, you can't hope to compete with those who do.

    I scorn and deride Pay-to-Win (I feel, appropriately). I'll regard Freemium games with suspicion, but may play depending on the game itself and how exactly the "store" component is structured. I'll embrace Free-to-Play conceptually; play and support it if I like it.

    I've...played Freemium and Pay-to-win. I'm not interested in paying as much as I would for a full game to enjoy said benefits for one or two months. I also hate how it feels not being able to compete because I'm unwilling to pay a bunch of money. If I find the story or mechanics engaging, I'll check it out...but I leave my wallet at home.

  • by MtHuurne ( 602934 ) on Wednesday April 09, 2014 @08:59PM (#46710043) Homepage

    I'm enjoying Hearthstone as well.

    Something some players may not realize is that when you're playing other humans in a ranked system, if you win half your matches, you're doing OK. You can win more if you're new or if you're improving rapidly, but then your ranking gets adjusted and you'll face tougher opponents.

    It's a collectable card game, so having more cards will give you more options. If you want to be able to compete with people who have been playing for months on your first day, you'd have to spend a lot of money. But you wouldn't be able to build a good deck out of those purchased cards with so little experience, so it's a rather pointless criticism. If you play now and then for a few weeks you'll get a decent set of cards and you'll learn how to use them. And every level of rarity has good cards, you don't need a lot of rare cards to make a good deck.

    Reading the forum posts about Gelbin Mekkatorque (a promo card given to people who purchased something during beta) was hilarious. Some people complained that handing out a promo card like that was pay2win. Others complained that the card was seriously underpowered and they felt ripped off. So in the end it shows that you simply cannot make everyone happy. (In my opinion, the card is way too random to be used in a competitive deck, but it is quite funny.)

  • by rsmith-mac ( 639075 ) on Wednesday April 09, 2014 @09:21PM (#46710171)


    As a whole, mobile game players don't actually buy anything. It's the tiny, tiny percentage of whales that brings in much of the revenue (and ads fill in much of the rest).

    0.22 percent of players account for 46 percent of mobile app revenue []

    Given this, it's no surprise that mobile game development is so damn broken. It's impossible to have a healthy development environment if most players aren't actually willing to pay for the game.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 09, 2014 @09:25PM (#46710199)
    These are games that aren't really free-to-play. But there are good fully free-to-play games: Team Fortress, DOTA, Guild Wars 2, although with the last one, you still need to buy the game first. Team Fortress is completely free-to-play, unless you mistake it for a hat simulator.
  • Re:New? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ildon ( 413912 ) on Wednesday April 09, 2014 @10:37PM (#46710625)

    "Free-to-play" does not literally mean "free to play." It means a game that is specifically designed around microtransactions. A game that was designed, scoped, and balanced around the idea that you will just barely not be able to succeed, or just barely not be able to get what you want done, unless you fork over some cash a little bit at a time.

    In order for a shareware classic like DOOM to be designed in the Free-to-Play model, imagine that instead of the levels having 3 colored key cards with associated doors, they had 10 colored key cards, and you could only pick up one per day. You might reach the second key, but you would have to wait a day or fork over $0.50, or have someone click your post on Facebook to pick up the next card. Not only that, but as you progressed through the level, monster health, damage, and density increased, to the point that it would generally not be possible to complete a level unless you paid for a "boost" such as bonus healing or ammo or a temporary damage power up. There would also be no cheat codes in the game, and no difficulty level selector at the start. But you wouldn't have to pay for episodes 2-4! They'd be included but extremely hard to complete without paying for boosts, and without paying for the extra keycard access it would take you weeks to reach them.

    So yes, the current "free-to-play" design paradigm is completely different from the old shareware system. In a shareware system, the most unscrupulous thing a game designer might do is front load the best level designs into the first episode, and get lazy with the designs of the later episodes, but they still had to actually make the core gameplay and difficulty progression fun, and the main gameplay loop fun. In the F2P model you create a core gameplay loop that is fun and balanced, and then you intentionally skew it to be impossible, time consuming, or frustrating, and add payment opportunities at those points of near defeat or frustration or "I'm just 2 points away" or "I just want to play one more level." And the worst part is that once you actually fork over the money, and the restrictions are released, the resulting game is bland and repetitive. The challenge disappeared because the only challenge the games usually provided were in the management of limited resources. You literally just paid $1 to make the game less fun for yourself by effectively cheating. It leaves you feeling empty and unfulfilled.

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