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C_Menz

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Free to Play Games: Good or Bad? And How They Should Be Done

PC gamers have been experiencing a wide array of free to play games in the recent years and now the phenomenon (or curse) is crossing over to platforms with Killzone 3 and now Dust 514 now becoming free to play in different ways.

Games that follow a free to play model can go about it a few ways. First off is the model like Team Fortress 2 or the soon to be released End of Nations where it is completely feasible to not spend any money on the game and enjoy it for a good amount of time since most bought in-game items do not affect game play. Other games allow you to play for “free” but unlike the previously mentioned games they also sell in-game items that do affect game play. One game that does this and succeeds is World of Tanks since the “bought” content is balanced well with the free-content and in it isn’t an annoyance.

And then there are the games that label themselves as “free to play” but however require you to spend money to be competitive and actually enjoy the game or games that give you a “preview” of part of the game for free but charge to the complete package. These games give the free to play "genre" a bad name and are a good example on "how not to" produce a free to play game.

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Now lets get down to the positive and negatives of free to play games.

Good:

1. Increased Population - Since the game is free to play many more will try the game out and even if most don’t stick around it will continually draw in new players due to the $0 upfront. It will boost the population so that your paying payers don’t leave due to decreasing population since new players will always be entering the game even after new releases come out.

2. Pay for What you Want - A well designed free to play model will allow you to spend as much or as little as you want in game while not making it “pay to win”. If you find yourself enjoying the game then you won’t mind spending money on the paid items, if you dislike the game then there is no disappointment of loosing that $60 the day after.

3. Great for Referring New Players – Everyone has those friends who buy the same games every year and are stuck in a rut and refuse to spend any money on great games since they don’t want to venture outside of their shell. Now what if they could try a game for free? Most likely they would give it a shot and might like the game and thank you for expanding their game selection.

Bad:

1. Public Perception – Some free to play games give the genre a bad reputation by nickel and diming players while playing. This leaves a bad memory in that gamers mind and to them they might think that every free to play game is like this and would be reluctant to try any more free to play games.

2. Pay to Win – If a game is labeled as free to play then it should not base most of it’s income off of selling in-game items that are required to be competitive in-game. For example, selling a gun for your soldier that does 100 damage per shot and fires 10 rounds/minute for $5 and then having the normal gun do 40 damage per shot and fires 10 rounds/minute will ruin the game for many.

3. Development Costs – A lot of free to play games suffer from low budgets. Why? Because getting funding from supporters to develop a “free” game is much harder than if you say to them you will be charging $60 or $15/month. Granted that some games do receive the support they show, like upcoming End of Nations, but many do not and it shows in the final product.

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How Free to Play Games Should Be Done

Here is my opinion on how free to play games should be implemented. Each game will likely be slightly different but the main points should stay the same.

1. The game for the most part should be entirely accessible to every player whether they are spending money or not. For example in World of Tanks you have full access to over 100 tanks, while there are around two dozen tanks available for purchase by real money. These purchasable tanks are not better stat wise than their free counterparts, but rather make earning in-game credits easier to help get into the stronger free tanks. Also all maps, weapons, modules, etc. are available without spending a dime including all future patches.

2. Purchasable items should not provide an unfair advantage over standard items. A free to play game should not sell items in-game that provides an edge over the standard items. A FPS for example shouldn’t sell a weapon that is drastically better than other weapons. Instead if they must they should provide select purchasable weapons that are balanced to their standard counterparts.

3. Future Maps will be available for all. Splitting a community through DLC, updates, etc. is a common issue many games face now-a-days. However this should be phased out. A game that revolves around matches on different maps (shooters, World of Tanks, RTS’s, etc.) shouldn’t charge for additional maps. An exception to this would be a MMO game that adds on separate areas onto a game, then since it doesn’t affect any sort of matchmaker than it wouldn’t be a problem.

4. Main source of revenue. Above all a free to play game’s revenue should be made through small cheap items and also a “premium account”. Small items could be an item such as Team Fortress 2’s hats or World of Tank’s custom camouflages. Sell small things like this for $1 or so and overtime it will bring in the money for a small investment development wise. As far as a premium account it shouldn’t give an unfair advantage over free players. Instead it should make it slightly easier to gain experience or in-game currency (+25%50% for example) and other small perks like premium only camouflage, expanded clan making ability (more members), in-game symbols, and slightly easier to use add-ons. Most will buy for the increased exp/credits and small perks and then stay subscribed.

In a nutshell a free to play game shouldn’t look to make money off of items that unbalance the game or give players spending money an unfair advantage. These games also shouldn’t segment the community in a way that if the game using some sort of matchmaking that some portions will be paying only.

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If games that head down this revenue structure follow these basic guidelines then I openly embrace free to play games becoming more prevalent especially on consoles. As a Playstation 3 gamer who recently added PC gaming into my video game world I appreciate the flexibility games like this provide on the PC side of gaming. It is something the console market is missing besides the titles that are starting to trickle out on the PS3 and hopefully all three of the major console providers are open to the idea.

So do you feel about free to play games (if you are still reading this small novel)?

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Hufandpuf3553d ago

I like how TF2 has set it up the most. You can unlock various items and use them forever if you get them. You can pay for better equipment, but it isn't nessesary to play the game and have a good time.

I hate F2P that let you "borrow" items, then charge you in-game currency. I think they should make enough small items to bait the customer into buying bigger items.

"Here's a small reward for playing our game, but if you buy a bigger item you can add to this experience" <- That's how I view successful F2P games

C_Menz3552d ago

Team Fortresses F2P model is one of the best and hopefully other developers draw from it.

As far as buying items as long as they are purely cosmetic, "premium" items that arent unbalanced compared to free ones, or simply allowing people to buy items faster than earning experience in-game is fine.

But ripping off your customers like you said, or selling unbalanced items will just hurt the game.

Moncole3551d ago

I like how Tribes Ascend does F2P. You can unlock everything by playing to pay for stuff to get stuff faster.

Bladesfist3550d ago

Yep tribes and tf2 do it the best in my opionion.

3538d ago
3534d ago