There is something rotten in the state of video games, and if you’ve ever mindlessly tapped away at your touchscreen game only to be confronted with a blurb asking for your money, then you know all about the exploitative business model that is currently compromising the integrity of the gaming medium: Free-to-play games.
The F2P label is disingenuous. A more accurate phrase for the monetary agenda behind these games would be “free until not paying imposes significant disadvantages on the player,” but for brevity’s sake I’ll just stick with the former term.
Most F2P games —the bulk of which are mobile games — are terrible. But considering the absent price tag, people generally don’t mind the shallow content, hackneyed gameplay and relentless pop-ups that plague these games; the only thing that really matters is whether the game can “hook” them within the first 5 minutes. These aren’t as much video games as they are vapid casino machines designed to exploit people who have more money than common sense.
This monetization of gameplay occurs in the form of in-app micro-transactions, modest payments that allow the player to overcome virtual barriers to get their fix. Neglecting these charges will result in the game growing increasingly tedious until the player, pining for the winning sensation that accompanied his or her early bouts of screen tapping, surrenders his or her cash.
With the rising universality of mobile phones in our culture, most people’s gaming experience is limited to F2P mobile games, which are usually reserved to combat daily boredom as public transport time killers. This is a far cry from the people who actually play games as a hobby, who rightly deride F2P games as repetitive and catering to the lowest common denominator.
But why, then, should the gaming community be concerned about the rise of F2P games when they are not the target demographic?
Well, aside from reflecting badly on video games’ potential as an art form, F2P games are stifling the future development of good games. With every increase in the popularity of F2P games, the traditional payment-upfront model moves a little closer to extinction. Note that elements of F2P mobile gaming have already begun to seep into mass-market console games such as Battlefield 3 and FIFA 13, with both games offering modes of gameplay that reward the player who spends the most money.
Unless they are OK with paying for that sweet sniper upgrade with more than just their hard-earned points, gamers ought to be more wary of the F2P model.
In a recent interview with IGN, King Games Guru Tommy Palm — the man behind the mobile hit Candy Crush — spoke of the future of gaming becoming F2P.
“The micro-transaction is so strong, and it’s definitely a much better model,” he said. “I think all companies have to transition over to that. If you talk to many hardcore gamers, they’re not happy about it right now, but if you asked them about the long term, ‘Do you want to continue playing your favorite game for years to come?’ And the answer will be yes.”
Palm misunderstands gamers, or at least those who actually enjoy their time gaming rather than use it to kill time. Most gamers like to get the most bang out of their buck, and this includes all aspects of a game, including story, art design and gameplay. They’re not Pavlovian subjects solely fixated on the pleasure gained while winning.
When every aspect of a game is designed to goad the player into spending the most money, then that game is no better than a slot machine.
Reach the columnist at Alexander.Elder@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @ALEXxElder
Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.
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