Something that I've been thinking about for a while now are Free to Play (F2P) games. In being completely upfront, I have to say: I don't trust them. Whenever I see them advertised or talk to somebody I know who plays them, I can't get the image out of my head of a cheap floozy, hand in your wallet and flirting with your friends over Facebook when your back is turned.
It's common sense when it comes to most things in life, you get what you pay for. That's not to say that bargains can't be had and every overpriced luxury item is worth it's price tag, but in the gaming world it's generally agreed upon that $70 - 100 is the standard price point you'd expect to pay for a new release. Personally, I don't mind paying this much for a solid game. The question you need to ask yourself is, would you appreciate a game as much if it didn't cost you anything?
For most people, the answer is yes. But think about it for a second - are you really going to spend your free time playing a game that didn't cost you a cent, or a game you've forked out a reasonable sum of money for? Ask any game pirate how much time they put into their ill gotten booty and whether they truly appreciate these experiences at the end of the day. Most new release games are designed based upon the fact that you've paid a premium up front to play the game, with the added bonus that you can usually sell the game once you've finished it for a small return.
However, Free to Play games are designed with a different set of principles in mind which make them more of a long con. Rather than hitting you with a $100 fee to start playing their game, many F2P games operate on the idea that it's easier to get small amounts of money from a person over a long period of time rather than a large sum all at once.
The fact it, this approach works. It's how the majority of people pay for things, from houses and cars to consoles and computers. It's why the majority of MMO's have switched to a microtransaction based payment model - this type of game requires a large investment of time. Once that is in place, a player is much more likely to have no qualms about dropping some real world money into their experience.
The reason I don't trust F2P games is simple: they are, like poker machines, purposely designed to extract as much money from the player as possible. If you think this isn't true, then my advice is to never get into business. If the designers and publishers thought they could get more money by setting a standard retail price point, they would take that approach. But what we as consumers have taught them is that we are likely to forget every little $2 transaction we make on your game, and more importantly, we are impatient.
Every F2P title I've tried follows the same formula: rapid rewards as you begin, only to have those same rewards slow down to a snails pace. How to get around this? Spend real world money buying virtual currency which will reduce the amount of time the game is making you wait so that you can - and this is the kicker - keep playing the game and gain further rewards and progress.
We live in a culture of convenience, and the question of time vs money is something dealt with everyday. Starbucks coffee, fast food, we are bombarded constantly with ways to speed up our acquisition of things through money. It was only a matter of time before this same thinking found its way into other areas of our lives.
To cap this of is the very nature of F2P design - are these titles designed to be finished, or simply abandoned once you've hit your spending limit?
In my humble opinion, none of the F2P titles I've played have made for compelling experiences that could compare with console or PC counterparts. What do other Screenplay readers have to say on this issue, are there any experiences you could share?
- Stephen Foote
Screen Play readers can submit articles game reviews for consideration in Your Turn and Your Review using the email address SPYourTurn@gmail.com. The best blog post published on Screen Play between 1 August 2012 and 31 August 2012, as judged by James Dominguez, will win a PlayStation 3 console from Sony Computer Entertainment. The PS3 has a 160GB hard drive and is worth $349. The next prize winner will be announced on Friday 31 August. Only Australian residents are eligible and the judge's decision is final.
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