A few years ago, if a game was Free To Play it usually meant the game wasn’t really worth your time. Sure, you could get short term enjoyment out of it, but nothing about the game persuaded you to come back for more. Over the past couple of years, the perception of Free To Play games has slowly started to change. No longer are Free To Play games considered to be bad and lacking retail quality and you can find them on nearly every video game platform now. So how do you do a Free To Play game the right way?
When I see the term Free To Play I would like to think it means that I’ll have access to enough things and that allow me to actually play the game properly, see all its content and be able to compete. If it’s a F2P shooter, I want to be able to acquire all the weapons and usable items in the game without being required to pay a cent. In MMOs, I want an adequate amount of inventory space and bank slots, and I want to be able to fully develop my character without having to pay a cent. I don’t want to have to pay any money to be able to compete and be the best. Pay to Win is a no-go.
Team Fortress 2 is a brilliant example of a game that is Free To Play where you don’t have to pay to win (except if you want to win best dressed). You can pay for weapons in Team Fortress 2, but you can also find most weapons randomly while you are playing. If you are a free player you can’t find rare and cosmetic items, but each classes’s starter weapons are still good enough to rack up some kills with and top the scoreboard. The only items that you can’t find in-game and have to pay for with real money are hats, which are only cosmetic items and don’t affect character stats.
One example of a pay to win game is EverQuest 2, which went Free To Play last year. If you don’t pay, you can’t get access to the highest unlock tier for your skills, you have very limited inventory space, and you can’t wear certain higher tier gear. This is very bad if you want to play PvP against subscribers. EveryQuest 2 is an example of Free To Play done wrong, very wrong. EverQuest 2 player and Steam Forums user Lexinator shows his rage at the game’s Free To Play model in a forum post saying, “After jumping on my almost level capped character I found out that you are still charged real money to equip any and all items you get as quest rewards after about level 84. This is purely ridiculous! Yes, you are still unable to wear Legendary or Fabled items, and must pay real money every time you want to equip one of them on. This gets pricey real fast. Every quest in the later zones rewards you with Legendary or higher gear, and having to pay to equip every upgrade costs more in a day than the subscription. All the NPC’s and mobs are tuned to you wearing said gear, so at that point you pretty much have to subscribe… Or die constantly.”
Micro transactions are expected in Free To Play games nowadays. I believe micro-transactions should be limited to cosmetic items, or items that don’t give players an advantage over everyone else, like double experience points and things of that nature. I’m okay with players buying cosmetic items and extra experience for their characters as long as I’m not effected by it. Many developers have stated that they make more money from micro-transactions in a Free To Play game than from putting out a full priced retail game.
Some games, like PlanetSide 2, allow you to purchase weapons and items with in-game currency or real currency. This is mainly where the debate about Free To Play versus Play to Win comes into play. Developers have to make sure they strike the right balance between the amount of time someone who doesn’t want to pay for an item has to spend in-game to gain enough money to buy it and how much real world cash someone has to pay to gain access to the item. Developers also have to balance those items so they come down to personal player preference and not down to whoever can spend the most time or money on the game. I believe PlanetSide 2 strikes a nice mix between time and money and I can’t say I’ve seen a weapon that is noticeably unbalanced.
Of course, although I’m discussing how I think Free To Play should be done, the debate about the term Free To Play still exists. Should the term be Free To Play*, not Free To Play (take note of the asterisk on the aforementioned phrase)? Should these games make note that you only get access to certain parts of the game if you don’t want to pay? If you know me, I’m not one of those people who argue that we have rights as consumers- because we don’t- but can’t the term Free To Play be a bit misleading. Maybe we need a new term to classify some of these games. How about Completely Free To Play and Free to Play To A Certain Extent? It would makes things more clearer, and the genres could be abbreviated to CF2P and F2P2ACE respectively, making them much harder to mix up.
No matter what your opinion is on Free To Play games, you can’t deny that they are becoming more and more popular and worthwhile. Although not every Free To Play game has got the formula right, in my books, there are plenty of fans who will pay for the content because it’s good and engaging content. In my opinion, the best Free To Play games are the ones that give you enough access to content that allows you to play the game to the full extent that was intended. Who knows, maybe the next massive console hit will be Free To Play?