The Problem With Free To Play, Or, Why You’ll Never Own A T-Rex
Every month in Play Magazine, we take a hot topic and look at the arguments for and against. Free to play is the subject of debate this time. We recently hadPlay’s Drew Sleep arguing that free to play games don’t deserve the hate they get. Now we’ve got the counter argument from Retro Gamer’s Darran Jones.
Normally I love these columns, as it’s a chance to get angry at the videogames industry and say words such as jib-jobs and doobries. Every now and then, though, I have to dial my unbridled rage back, and sadly, this is one of those times. It would be stupid to say that all free-to-play games are shit and a bad idea, because that’s simply not the case. Yes, there are some terrible examples of free-to-play games on Sony consoles (and other systems for that matter) but there are also plenty of decent ones.
Interestingly, when most publishers talk about free-to-play, they’re actually suggesting that you’re free to pay. Yes, you can play the game for free and you can make a huge amount of progress if you really want to, but if you want to do certain things then you’ve going to have to pay for it, and pay dearly. Now I’m a big fan of Jurassic Park Builder on iOS, a free-to-play game that I’ve spent several months on without spending a single penny on it. As much as I enjoy tapping dinosaurs (and I enjoy it immensely) I know that my park is nowhere near as impressive as it could be. I know this, safe in the knowledge that it’s my choice to live in a world where I simply can’t afford to buy a Tyrannosaurus Rex. One day, it might be made available to me without having to spend a small fortune, but that day is likely to forever elude me.
The thing that I despise about free-to-play games the most is those that punish you for not spending actual cash. Fortunately, these are quickly becoming a lesser issue on PSN, but they still crop up and they’re still bloody annoying. One particular example is Ultimate Team, which effectively locks the very best cards behind a pay-wall. Admittedly, it’s not a particularly steep pay-wall, but it’s still there and it’s still high enough that you could snag your balls on it as you try clamber over it. Basically, the chances of you opening someone like Messi are incredibly low when playing for free, with your chances skyrocketing should you start dropping cash. I’m fine with this as when you’re playing in a vacuum, you don’t suffer. It’s when you start playing with others in numerous free-to-play games that things turn dark.
For some publishers (not all, mind) the success of their free-to-play model hinges on the type of gamers they like to call ‘whales’. I prefer to use the term ‘idiots’. A whale is someone who’s more than happy to spend large amounts of their money on a free-to-play game, and it is the whales where most publishers get their income. Whales are all well and good, but when you actually encounter them in games (and, by the way, it’s no surprise that so many free-to-play games focus on multiplayer) it sucks. It’s like sharing a pool with a turd – it’s fun splashing around on your own terms but eventually, you’re going to get shit on you. Games like PlanetSide 2 carefully sidestep this unfair lack of equilibrium, but it’s surprising how many games will happily throw you into situations where you’re outgunned and outplayed because you didn’t pay your way like the developers wanted you to.
If you want to earn money from free-to-play games, do it in a transparent and fair way or just simply charge money up-front in the first place. That way, hopefully everyone will be happy. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to feed my Triceratops and dream about having a Tyrannosaurus Rex…