Everyone loves free stuff right? Especially free games.
But just because it’s free, doesn’t mean it’s good. The idea of free to play (F2P) games have been around since the early noughties, with games like Runescape and Furcadia being the first major successful examples.
I know what some of you are thinking: “If a game is free, and they haven’t used slave labour to make it, how are they getting paid?”, and you raise a good question – which is the crux of the matter.
These early free-to-play games made their money by essentially operating a freemium pay scheme. This means that you can play the game and get a lot of features for free but by paying a set amount each month you would gain access to new skills, new quests, new areas etc. Now, whether this is worth it or not is completely up to the person playing the game but I think its pretty safe to say that the early freemium model isn’t unfair, it won’t give anyone a distinct advantage and the games are still very fun without the premium access.
However, recently there has been a move away from this model and towards a more microtransaction based system. This has the potential to be a LOT worse…and often is. A few games that just pop into my mind are World of Tanks where you can buy tanks for a currency you can buy with real money, Star Wars: The Old Republic charging for items and even Forza Motorsport 5 charging the player as much as the game itself for some of its DLC. I don’t think there can be any reasonable argument supporting that action at all.
These types of microtransactions are bad because they milk the consumer for every penny they have – just look at Assassin’s Creed: Unity for a recent example of how not to do it.. Although, there are microtransactions that are even worse than that while not only taking money from the consumer unnecessarily but also can completely ruin the balance of any player vs. player type game. This is basically known as selling power to the player. I have had a recent experience with this in the game Planetside 2 (An MMOFPS) where I was constantly getting beaten by players who had brought weapons that, when I researched it, turns out cost about £8 to buy and that is the only way to get it. There are other weapons that can be brought with credits that are earned in-game but over about a three hour play session I earned about 50 credits…the weapons cost between 1000 and 2000 credits and I think you can do the maths for that.
However, there are things that can be brought with real money that only affect the aesthetics of the game. These don’t affect the gameplay at all but mean that the developer still earns a little money. This is a much fairer income stream for free to play games but this method isn’t widely implemented as the sole way for players to spend money in the game.
In short, there’s a fine line between a developer making money and that method of making money completely screwing with the game, and that line really needs to be looked and really needs to be researched by game developers before making a free-to-play game with the type of microtransactions I described above. The great shame is that a lot of the games have fundamentally good concepts but are ruined to varying degrees by microtransactions. Planetside has massive player battles with hundreds of infantry, tanks firing and fighting around the infantry and jets flying overhead and creates a real sense of scale and continuity.
Mobile games which really have a tendency to get on my nerves are an even worse example of this microtransactions phenomenon (I never said this wasn’t biased). Have you ever heard of candy crush? I bet you probably have, what about clash of clans? Yep, probably that too. What about the horror stories where children have managed to rack up three figure sums buying gems to speed up their building construction time or to buy more gold or to buy more troops for their army. I firmly believe that 85% of mobile games are legitimately just made to make money from the consumer and provide little to no gameplay value whatsoever and are designed to just hook the player and empty their bank account of every penny they have. They are the worst type of game for the microtransactions that I mentioned earlier in this post. The game I have played the most on my phone is actually a game that I paid £5 for and that game is Bloons Tower Defence 5. It’s almost a reversal of logic when it comes to mobile games and it seems that spending money to buy a game will actually get you better value than a game that is free but has microtransactions.
The thing that concerns me about this whole microtransaction malarkey – whether it be on console/PC games or mobile games – is that developers will reach the mindset where they design their game in such a way that it basically forces you to buy these microtransactions. This could be through huge difficulty spikes, making the player feel like they need to pay to complete the game, or relying on the players who might buy super powerful weapons in the first place to get the other players to buy it so they can feel like they stand a chance when going up against the players with the bought weapons.
I’m aware that I have probably rambled on for a bit, and might not have made much sense – so let me just say this: microtransactions are fundamentally bad for gaming. They encourage a level of greed from developers and publishers that previously wasn’t available them but yet no one seems to care. People are wasting big portions of their hard-earned money to buy something that really shouldn’t have been available to purchase in the first place. They also encourage bad developer practice and the potential for them to make games that rely on some kind of microtransactions.
And if we start to encourage bad practice, what does that say about us as players?