Is Free-to-Play really the future?


It’s all doom and gloom nowadays. First it was “handhelds are dying.” Then it was “consoles will be extinct in ten years.” “Apple is going to take over the world.” “Retail games are doomed.” “Free-to-Play is the future.”

Wait… what? Free-to-play is the future?

Let me back up a bit. With console game sales going down and prices going up, people have come out to say that free-to-play games are the future. I, for one, find this ridiculous. Why? For a number of reasons. But before I begin, it’s important to know exactly what free-to-play is.

The free-to-play model, or F2P, is used to describe any game that doesn’t require a paid fee to play. This includes many MMO’s and online games. Sounds great, being able to play stuff for free, right? Well I’m here to tell you this: it’s not at all what it seems.

For the past month, I’ve been covering and giving my impressions on a plethora of Steam games. Two weeks ago, I wrote about my feelings toward the free-to-play game Realm of the Mad God. I described my reluctance to play F2P games because though a game may look good, it can actually play like crap. Case in point – Pandora Saga: Weapons of Balance. I downloaded the game expecting a Final Fantasy-like experience for free. I was stupid. The game sucked.

In fact, the biggest problem with the free-to-play model is quality assurance. At least in retail, if a game lands on the shelf with a respectable publisher, you expect a certain quality from the product, and the overall experience more or less reflects that expectation. But with F2P games, looks can be very deceiving. A game that looks good like Pandora Saga can end up being a complete waste of space.

The Apple App Store is the perfect place to learn about how F2P goes wrong. With no quality assurance, most of the free games found in the App Store are utter garbage. Sure, there are several gems like Jetpack Joyride or Zenonia 4, but it’s virtually impossible to find these games through the piles of crap that gets uploaded onto the App Store each day. In fact, it’s gotten so bad in the past year that I’ve decided never to download a free game from the App Store again. There’s just no way to gauge how good a game will be before you download it. Why waste your time?

There’s even more things to consider when finding F2P games, including the effects of DLC. Now, not all DLC is bad. In fact, I think DLC is great. But when it comes to F2P, DLC can pose a problem, not one of cost, but one of fairness. Will a player who has purchased DLC gain an unfair advantage over other players who have not, effectively turning a free-to-play game into a pay-to-win? It’s hard to say, and unfortunately, the F2P model can end up being a race about who can spend the most money on one game. And that’s ridiculous.

It’s just too bad, because DLC is the primary way F2P developers make money. With the model’s largest cash flow being also its biggest flaw, it’s almost as if F2P is killing itself. And there actually are some great F2P games out there, including the aforementioned Realm of the Mad God and the ever-so-popular League of Legends. They do F2P right. But all too often, people do F2P wrong.

It’s a shame that most F2P games out there are complete pieces of sh*t whose real existence is only to rake in cash from victims looking just to have fun. Have you heard of those stories in which players “accidentally” spend hundreds of dollars on DLC? How about the ones in which someone’s credit card information was “accidentally” stolen? These are all the works of the evil minds behind the F2P model.

Now, I know I may seem like a complete poop-face with my strong feelings against free-to-play, but I actually agree on some points with F2P proponents. Console games have gotten too damn expensive. There’s a risk when investing in a game. You purchase a game with expectations, and the harsh reality is, sometimes those games just don’t reach that mark of excellence. That’s why I only purchase games from the publishers I trust, whereas I’m willing to try out any F2P game no matter what it is or who it’s made by. In many ways, F2P is the gateway to trying something new.

Don’t get me wrong; I do see a future for free-to-play games. I want to be able to choose a free game and not worry about getting cheated. But I just don’t see it replacing the traditional retail model as it is. There are just way too many problems with F2P right now, and if it is to become “the future,” there needs to be a complete overhaul in how F2P games run. But for now, it’s hard to see free-to-play replacing retail, especially when it can’t even hold itself together.

So tell me, fellow MyIGNers. Is free-to-play really the future?


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