“Free to Play” or “Pay to Win”… That is the Question


Unfortunately, the former would usually result in you having your ass handed to you on a platter lovingly inscribed with the words “lol. noob” by someone more inclined to open up their wallet than you might be. Yes, the so called ‘free to play’ genre-come-business-model is as seemingly popular as it is controversial. Is it necessarily a bad thing? As usual, topics of hot gaming debate rage to and fro in the office this week.

Free to Play, but Not to Pro

There are some great games out there such as Tribes: Ascend or Planetside 2 where you can log in and enjoy a frankly astounding amount of production value for absolutely no cost. If you’d never seen a game like this before, it’s worth checking out just because it’s so genuinely impressive.

The downside here is that you may be about to meet that engraved silver platter with your name on it. In order to buy the good weapons, you’ll need to grind away pretty hard at your stats which is going to be especially difficult as there are many gamers out there who have paid their way to the phat lootz and beating them will take some serious headshotting skills.

Once you’ve broken that seal to your bank account that holds the line against concerns over paying real, hard cash for digital wares and you start nurturing a little game addiction, it can be difficult to know when to draw the line. Game developers arguably take advantage of this, continually releasing new and better items into the game, forcing players to spend money if they want to stay ahead of the curve.

Anyone who’s ever worked in marketing will be recognize this is a combination between a video game and a beautifully refined marketing funnel for the purposes of generating profit.

The Good, the Bad and the Expensive

Earlier this year, an EA Games executive told the press Morgan Stanley Technology, Media and Telecom Conference that all of its future games would feature the so-called ‘micro-transaction’ model whereby gamers can log on and pay money for phat lootz. He’s quoted to have said “consumers are enjoying and embracing that way of business”.

Now, we might be wrong, but we’re pretty sure we just want the phat lootz. We don’t want to pay monies for the phat lootz. The reality is that we want the bragging rights and if somebody’s going to tear us apart because they spent three bucks on a big gun, we want to level the playing field so we can come out on top by displaying the gaming superiority that we so obviously possess and have practiced so hard for.

One difference here with the EA Games titles are not necessarily ‘free to play’, but rather games we buy that also have the micro-transaction system. Can you say “squeezed dry?”

When is Free to Play Good?

It’s not all bad. Valve is arguably a pioneer of the free to play model and puts gamers first. After 2 years in open Beta, the already phenomenally successful Dota 2 is a free to play business model where the micro-transactions are purely cosmetic, making a level playing field for everyone even if it does leave gamers figuring out excuses for why we’re playing Barbie with our digital characters.

Team Fortress 2 is another shining example. Because of free to play, we can buy one of the most polished online FPS games ever made, boasting a Metacritic score of 92/100 at absolutely zero cost. Other games out there follow a similar suit and many other game dev’s are leading with serious value for the gamers.

In Conclusion

Free to play isn’t an inherently evil business model; it’s just that some profiteering developers are maybe taking advantage of the weaknesses of us poor gamers and it’s hard not to feel like our desperate need for pwnage isn’t being capitalized on in the process.

If you’re a serious gamer and here on the blog, the likes of Zynga’s titles (Farmville etc) may not be your cup of Red Bull, but unless you have either the time to grind out good gear or stay ahead of the competition with a plentiful bank account, be prepared to improve your gaming skills if you want to keep hold of your scoreboard positions. It’s certainly worth a browse around what’s on offer.

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