Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Buy Into Free-To-Play Games!

I can't say it any other way: I like free-to-play games. I think F2P games are great. Not only does it provide an escape from the "AAA game" cycle for both developers and gamers alike, but the games are actually good. Or great. Maybe excellent, even. But, I really don't know why everyone else doesn't see it the same way.

It's really strange how people hang such a heavy stigma on the free-to-play market. I've attempted to share my excitement with close friends, family, and distant brothers-in-arms, but I get no response. I don't know if they're just being nice or what, but it seems to me that being so excited about F2P games is taboo. I don't know who started the rumors or how people started thinking badly of F2P games, but they have such a bad reputation (well, at least here in North America).

Both of these games were released in 2013. Warframe is free-to-play.
Both of these games were released in 2013. Warframe is free-to-play.
Considering the current landscape of the AAA market, there isn't much difference between the two markets, other than you having to pay a "fee"—the $60 retail price tag—to get started on a AAA game. Otherwise, the AAA market has fallen from grace a bit to level with the quickly-rising F2P market. They both require you to sign up for exclusive accounts to play online (I'm looking at you, UPlay!), they both aggressively encourage in-app purchases, and some AAA games even offer premium memberships (I shake my head at Elder Scrolls Online, especially). From a presentation standpoint, F2P games have gotten just as pretty as their AAA counterparts, and their gameplay just as solid. So, from a general point of view, I really don't see why F2P games don't get the respect they deserve.

You paid HOW MUCH to try this game??
Alas, my cry for respect does come with a footnote. I don't speak for ALL free-to-play games because not all free-to-play games are good. I only speak for the few games I have played and continue to play because of their solid gameplay and their high replay value. Ultimately, good F2P games seem to be more of the exception than the rule. Despite this drawback for F2P games, couldn't we say the same thing about big-budget games? These days (in my experience), it's not uncommon that highly-anticipated titles turn out to be worse than expected. What's worse, you pay a pretty penny to find this out, so it's not too smart to consistently rely on a high price to determine the value of a game.

And now, let's address the "pay-to-win" phenomenon. This is probably THE factor that most gamers associate F2P games with. People have this idea that you can't have a good experience in a F2P game unless you make an in-game purchase for that one weapon, item, or set of armor that makes you effectively unbeatable. The way I see it, people that subscribe to the "pay-to-win" idea are just psyching themselves out. While premium content may actually give players an apparent advantage over others, nothing beats experience. For first-person shooters, knowing the layout of the maps, understanding the common tendencies of the average player, being familiar of your equipment, and other factors can prove very effective against a player with superior equipment. However, experience is ultimately at the mercy of how the game was designed and balanced. The magnitude of the "pay-to-win" factor in a F2P game is directly determined by the intent of the game's design and how much care the developers put into keeping the gameplay fair and solid. Some games, like Candy Crush Saga, are designed mostly just to generate revenue, while others, like DOTA 2, are designed to provide a rich gameplay experience while keeping the price tag of the game optional.

Unlike CCS, some F2P games are a little
more polite and a little less imposing
about in-app purchases.
It's true that you have to sift through a glut of samey muck to find the honestly good F2P gems, but as I've said before, how is that different from picking the one or two games you want out of the wave of full-retail games that come out during release season? It's unfortunate that, while I feel that F2P games should be scrutinized the same way AAA games are, it doesn't help that most gaming-related media channels share a generally negative disposition towards the F2P market. It's very difficult to find fair reviews for games, but they do exist. If you put in the effort, you will be able to find the information that is useful for you to ultimately make decisions on which free-to-play games you want to try out. Some of the good games might actually need you to try or the game for a few hours before you like the game, but at least you don't need to ask for a refund if you don't like it in the end. Just uninstall the game and walk away.

Given my experiences, I really wish that more people—especially those people I know—could see the perks of free-to-play gaming. With all the great gameplay and aesthetics one can experience without any financial obligation, I feel there is nothing more practical in gaming. With the free-to-play market thriving in Asia and South America, I certainly can't be the only one that sees this. Why more North Americans don't see it the same way is totally beyond me, especially when the demand for better games is growing quickly.

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