The Free to Play Model of Gaming

Recently, a lot of video game publishers have adopted a “free to play” model. This allows players to play their favorite new games for free, but charging them “microtransactions” for certain actions, such as new cards in a card game or new weapons in a shooter. Although it sounds like a promising business model, it has changed the video game world as we know it, possibly for the worse.

Don’t Let the “Free” Fool You

Free admission sounds too good to be true, and it indeed is. One popular game “Team Fortress 2” was one of the first to go Free-To-Play on PC, and everyone immediately started playing it. Valve, the game’s publisher, had boosted their player base at no cost to themselves, and more people than ever were playing their game. However, there was still money to be made. The in-game shop made players pay anywhere from $1 to $100 for in-game items that used to drop freely to players, and ended up creating a huge micro-transaction market. Although a large group of casual players played without spending too much money, the hardcore players needed to spend money in order to get the weapons they wanted or needed. Some items were only obtainable in the shop, where they were traded for large amounts of real life currency. Even though it was free to get in, many players ended up spending tons of money for items that should’ve been free in the first place.

Want to Win? You’ll Have to Pay

The problem with recent free-to-play games is that they have become pay-to-win. If a player wants to win more matches or play as much as he wants, he’ll have to pay with real life currency. An example of this would be Hearthstone, a virtual card game made by Blizzard Entertainment. In Hearthstone, although packs of cards can be bought with in-game currency, it takes hours and hours of play and ultimately luck to get a card pack, which could end up not even having the card you wanted. However, players can pay with real life money to buy packs and craft them into the card they want. Even though this is the player’s choice, it seems as if paying for packs is necessary to get the cards that major league players use. Without paying for card packs using in-game microtransactions, players will be stuck with default cards, and need to endlessly grind until they get packs that contain the cards they want. This leaves them at a disadvantage to the players who have money and are able to buy new packs, showing that the game has become a pay-to-win model.

Other Adopters

It’s not only free-to-play games taking the microtransaction model into play, but also games that cost lots of money to buy in the first place. Big titles like Call of Duty and Battlefield also have picked up the microtransaction models after seeing it in free-to-play games, and these are the games that use it in the worst way. Not only do new players have to pay $60+ for the new game, but end up paying $30+ per year for the new maps and weapons to come out that will help them win. Video games have become a competition of who has more money to spend instead of who has the most skill, and more and more titles have been adopting the view.

Watch Out for Your Wallet

If a player gets addicted to a free-to-play game with microtransactions, it will end up costing way more than before. In Hearthstone, the card game mentioned earlier, it was calculated to cost around $500 to obtain all the cards in the game, or a whopping $1500 for rare versions of the same cards. Addictions no longer cost just the entrance fee, but a constant buying of new items, cards, or weapons that are released. Gaming has never been more expensive, and the prices are only rising. One of the ways that companies like this are able to earn so much money is by storing credit card information, making it as easy as clicking a button to spend a few dollars and unlock the newest, best weapon that was just released. Players can think lightly about spending such small amounts, however they compound quick. $2.99 (the cost of 1 pack of cards in Hearthstone) a day adds up to almost $100 month, a whopping $1200 per year. At the time it may seem like only a $3 purchase, which is why so many players are suckered into buying these micro-transactions.

The App Surge

Mobile apps have been doing this for a while, however. A large portion of the games in any given app store contain in-app purchases almost required to play the game, and they are only getting more and more expensive. In Plants vs. Zombies 2, a mobile app/game released semi-recently, new plants and weapons were required to play the game, and cost up to $5 each. Players couldn’t even enjoy the full gaming experience without dropping a few bucks, which cost more than the game would itself if released as a paid version without any in-app purchases. When playing on a phone, it’s easy to want to “Continue…?” when a timer is running and your credit card is linked. Although the games are free-to-play, they turn out being more like “free-to-pay” than anything. In-app purchases are what bring free games higher than paid games on the Most Grossing list of iTunes; they bring in more money per person. Instead of each person paying $0.99 for the app and getting everything for free, players download the app for free and spend $20 or more in-game. Mobile apps are changing the way the gaming scene is monetized.

Why Free-To-Play Must be Modified

With all the hype surrounding free-to-play, companies feel encouraged to update to the model or else be left behind. However, publishers are handling it the wrong way and end up annoying their main player base, casual gamers, who just want to play the game without paying real money in order to have a fair shot at winning.


QR Code
QR Code free_to_play (generated for current page)