Good or Bad: Free to Play Games

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There are a few different models of how to monetize video games. There are the games you pay full price at retail, the kind you pay full price before you download, and there are free to play games, (sometimes called free to start), where the game is a free download, but some content can be paid for to make for a smoother gaming experience. Today, I will be looking at the free to play model, explore what is different in these games, and give my opinion on whether I think they are good or bad. Keep in mind that these are my own opinion, and not anyone else’s. It may not match your own, and that is okay, I’d like to hear why you think otherwise in the comments.

First, let me mention that I own very few free to play games, so my experience with them is limited. I have not seen everything and every way they try to make money, nor have I seen the full range of quality that comes with these games. Even so, I have noticed some trends that make them different from games that you pay for up-front before you own them.

So, free to play games frequently do something to encourage players to pay for more content. In some cases, you can only play a few times per day (or every few hours, and so forth). You can play more often by using an in-game form of currency (called something different in each game). Free to play games give you a limited supply of this currency, sometimes giving you a set amount each day, and/or occasionally giving more for playing. In almost all of these games, you can pay real money for in game goods, or for more of this rare currency to play even more often, or make the game easier. Often, this currency allows you to purchase handy rewards in the game as well.

Some free to play games slow down progress considerably if you do not pay at all. Others make it possible to play the whole game without any payment, but it takes a while. Some free to play games make some content completely unavailable to non paying players. As a result some players pay nothing, while others can spend way more than other games, especially if they are hooked and want everything the game has to offer right now.

Free to play games are tricky, as some encourage frequent use of the currency that you can pay real money for. When I tried to play Plants vs. Zombies 2, I found that there were a lot of things to pay for, and that even early levels were unusually difficult with what you were given for free. I didn’t get far in this game at all, and had since quit playing the game for a while.

A lot of what makes any free to play game fun depends a lot on the core system of play, and how much the game forces you to pay more to complete the game. If much of the game requires frequent payment to win or progress, none of the non-paying players won’t enjoy the game much. If the game is fun in short bursts, it might not matter that you aren’t paying for more progress right away. It is all a matter of whether it is fun with or without payment.

Now, I’d like to look at what pro’s and con’s free to play games might offer:

Pro’s:

  • This allows relatively unknown game developers to get noticed, especially on smart phones or computers. This doesn’t necessarily help the player.
  • Good for players that want to limit their play time. Perhaps this can limit game addiction?
  • Handy if you are on a budget and can limit your in-app purchases.

Con’s:

  • It is possible to pay way too much, especially if the game has frequent pay walls.
  • Some games you pay the full price for have similar purchasing options, and similar design decisions in response to some of the more popular free to play games, limiting the fun of a game you already paid for.
  • Some of these games aren’t fun due to limited play times.

Now my hopes in regards to free to play games:

  • That they remain most common on smart devices.
  • That full priced games don’t borrow the worst ideas from free to play games, particularly with DLC.
  • That pay walls aren’t too common in the best free to play games.

And now my recommendations concerning free to play games:

  • If you don’t like this type of game, don’t even download them!
  • If you are playing one you like, try not to pay more than you think it is worth.
  • Consider what you are paying for if you do pay anything.
  • If you are on a budget, see how far you can play for free.

And finally, my opinion on Free to play games:

  • I dislike the way most of these games play.
  • I find it weird to hold a game in my hands, and not play to my heart’s content.
  • I have yet to pay for any of the free to play games I do own.
  • Paying more frequently for more play time should be limited outside of arcade machines.
  • Some of these games are massive time and/or money sinks.

So those are my thoughts on free to play games. I ultimately don’t like them, but I want to see if you, the reader, feel differently. What free to play games do you like? Why are they better than others? Should I cover more of these games? Of note, I am covering some of them as a game journalist to inform others about them. Let me know all about your experiences in the comments below! Maybe you can change my mind!

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