Free2Play is the Future (If People Weren’t Idiots)
Free2Play games get a lot of hate. Sometimes it is for good reason and sometimes not. Personally, I think that Free2Play with micro-transactions for content is the way games should be in the future.
Before you respond, let me explain.
There used to be a time when I could find a demo for a game and try it to see if I wanted to get the full game. This practice is becoming rarer by the day. Now, even if I wait for a price drop, getting a game is a significant risk of not recouping the monetary value in some other way (enjoyment of the game, in particular). If you’re going to tell me to pirate the game and then buy it if I like it, I tell you this: I do not condone piracy in any way. In fact, I think my vision of the future will eliminate piracy quite a bit! (Just a hunch, so take it with skepticism – I’m not an expert)
Furthermore, microtransactions can possibly provide just as much influx of cash as a full priced game according to a study.
Here’s the hypothesis:
I want a game. I see that Game A looks good and want to play it. At this point, I should be able to download a Free2Play version. I can play this fully fledged game that’s not compromised in any way and if I like it, I can then spend my money to expand my experience. If I do not enjoy the game, then I can move on to Game B, and try that out as well.
The ground rules:
1. Free2Play DOES NOT MEAN Pay2Win
If Game A wants me to enjoy it, I should not be at a disadvantage because I have not purchased anything for it. If it’s a single player game, the experience should not be more difficult than intended or somehow limited because I did not buy some pack for the game. If it is multiplayer, I shouldn’t be handicapped because I didn’t buy a weapon set.
A limited inventory/skill set/whatever is fine as long as it is balanced with purchaseable content. I should be able to play just as effectively and have just as much fun in the free version as with any paid content.
Don’t get me wrong – the new content should be fun too, but the goal should be to extend the length of time I have fun. Playing with the same set of options, no matter how fun, gets boring eventually, and this is where the paid content comes in. If I enjoyed the game, I can extend the length of time I enjoy the game by purchasing more options (that are balanced) and thus the increased diversity lends itself to a longer period of enjoyment.
In no way should paid content break the balance, however.
2. The Free2Play game should be complete. Paid content should expand on the content, not fill in gaps.
You’re careening down the roads running from the bad guys. The car chase is chaotic and there are explosions everywhere, just like you want it. You decide to make a hard right when suddenly, “For access to this area, please purchase DLC Pack A.”
It can be argued that this area expansion is adding to the game, but let me specify further: a single game experience should not be broken at any point by paid content. If I am in a city to explore, I should be able to explore that entire city as that character. Here are ways developers can work with this:
1. Create a new city to explore that is entirely separate from the original city, with references but no hard links to the original (I.E. – don’t make me do a fetch quest in City 1 from City 2)
2. Recreate the content from the perspective of a different character or role. A great example would be a GTA-type game where you first play as the traditional protagonist of these games, while the developers have a paid pack that lets you play the role of the law enforcement trying to stop this madman. Same city, mostly same content, but entirely different perspective and one is not limited by not having the other.
3. Paid content should be reasonably priced.
Remember Oblivion’s horse armor? The pack did nothing functionally for the game and as a result the price for it was way, way too high. It’s even been called, “the most useless, over-priced piece of DLC in video game history.” Pricing appropriately is not that difficult and furthermore low-balling might even work out better! Remember how Valve discounted games by 75% and saw an increase in total gross revenue by a FACTOR OF 40? There is a lot of evidence that decreasing the barrier for entry increases profits. (Want another example?) Applying the same philosophy to Free2Play games with micro-transactions is a no-brainer.
Do I think that these rules are reasonable? Yes. Do I think they’ll be followed? No. So what’s the answer? I have no idea.
I think that at least for now and the foreseeable future the gaming industry – both the makers and the consumers – are far too immature to handle such a thing. Publishers will want to charge too much and the under-educated (about games) masses will still buy it.
For a true gamer, I think that is the saddest truth of all – what used to be relegated to a niche by obscurity and novelty has grown to popularity and is suffering for it.
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