The Danger of the Free-To-Play Model

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First I would like to make clear that I absolutely adore the free-to-play model. Games like Neverwinter, Planetside 2, and league of legends offer quality gaming experience at no upfront fee; what more could you ask for as a gamer? After building my PC last year, I feel like I am being spoiled rotten by bargain games and completely free gaming experiences.

However, by analyzing the gaming market as a whole it has become clear that other publishers now see how valuable the free-to-play model is. With a next generation of consoles on the horizon, there’s no doubt that we will see this free-to-play model become a regular thing on these platforms. Hell we’re seeing it already with games like Dust 514 on the PS3.

That doesn’t sound like a bad thing in theory right? It means console gamers will literally be able to download free games, and only pay for in-game items they feel they need.

In truth, the first wave of free-to-play games will be a thing of joy. However, once the big publishers begin to flood the market with free-to-play games you can expect things to go downhill very quickly.

Warframe Free-to-play

Here’s why…

Currently free-to-play experiences allow users to register and play the game however they feel. They can choose to buy upgrades, weapons, armor or any other micro-transaction items they like. This is how the publishers make their money back. They know that for every user they hook in with the free-to-play model, it’s another potential customer. Some of these optional items for purchase may include upgrades that give you an edge in combat, in-game currency that can help you buy the best equipment for your character or team, and rare weapons. That seems fair for the most part right?

Well here is where it will begin to get scary. I can fully see these publishers beginning to scale back the amount of effectiveness the player has in a game until they start purchasing items. Let’s use Call of Duty as an example. If Call of Duty multi-player went free-to-play, imagine being extremely underpowered compared to everybody else unless you begin to buy an abundance of items that will make things more balanced for you. Yes you get the Call of Duty experience free of charge, but you’ll literally be the weakest person in the game unless you start buying stuff. Eventually, other players will be so over-powered that you’ll likely end up spending much more than $60 dollars to be a serious contender in the Call of Duty universe. And then addiction kicks in, you’re finally owning everybody in the game. Your stats are no longer laughable, you’re clearly seen as one of the skilled players now. Until Activision adds completely new items that raise the bar even further, and to keep up you must keep buying.

Do you see the danger? If free-to-play games do indeed begin to flood the market, you may end up losing much more money than you ever did when you had to pay to play.

I’m not saying this will definitely happen, but if you read the market right now the signs are clearly there. The responsibility lies in the publishers themselves. If they choose to exploit the free-to-play model, gamers will clearly be at their mercy. For now though, there are tons of trusted publishers (such as: Riot games, Perfect World, SOE, Cryptic and tons of others) that are using the free-to-play model responsibly.

The good news is, if my fears are to be true, then it won’t become reality for at least a few more years.


Too long, didn’t Read LOL!!

For those who don’t like to read, here is a bulleted summary of why we should fear the free-to-play model.

  • Free-To-play will make its way to next gen consoles.
  • Big publishers will begin to adopt the free-to-play model.
  • Millions of customers will register with publishers as customers in exchange for the free-to-play games.
  • Publishers will scale back the effectiveness a player can have in a game until they actually purchase some items to stand a chance (unbalanced gameplay).
  • You’ll end up paying well over $60 in every game just to be able to play on a competitive level.
  • Almost every other popular game will be like this, meaning your wallet will be worse off than it is by paying upfront for a game.
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