One of the new developments for this generation has been the evolution of the free to play genre of game. Originally these games were reserved for hardcore Korean grind-fest MMOs were micro-transactions were the only way to stay competitive. Companies used this free to play model because they knew once they got the player hooked, they’d be willing to throw down cash to stay competitive with their friends. While this business model certainly works well for drug dealers and the business end of things, it’s not so great for consumers. Thankfully, over the past few years that has begun to change.
How Hats Changed it All
Did you know that hats were the start of the free to play revolution? It might seem strange, but it’s true. In 2009, Valve Software introduced micro-transactions to its pay-to-play FPS, Team Fortress 2. Avid fans of the game flocked to buy headwear that was purely cosmetic and served little purpose, showing the business world and investors in gaming companies that players will vote with their wallet when the game is good enough to do so.
Two years later, Valve rocked the world again by announcing that Team Fortress 2 would go free-to-play, supported entirely by micro-transactions. This may not seem revolutionary since many MMOs have gone free-to-play before, but it turns out that as a F2P game, Team Fortress 2 earned 12 times more revenue than when it was behind a paywall. TF2 continues to be a top earner for Valve and for that reason, many Western companies are re-examining the way they offer games to consumers.
Free to Play vs. Pay to Win
One of the main problems with F2P games is finding a balance between what’s perceived as free-to-play and pay-to-win. No player wants to spend months on a game to achieve what can be bought for a few dollars. Korean MMOs suffered from this which is why Western markets were hesitant to embrace the model. However, the introduction of hats with absolutely no stats or innate abilities as micro-transactions showed the world that cosmetic items are a great way for developers to earn cash.
This is something that games are doing even now to attract bigger numbers and have more people willing to pay for items they want to see on their characters. A good example of this is Dust 514 on Playstation 3. Players in Dust 514 can purchase dropsuits or guns that have different abilities that increase with leveling up, but there are numerous dropsuits that start with the same basic stats but sport different appearances.
Another example of this is Zen Pinball 2 for Wii U. The basic game is available for free in the Wii U eShop and has a few default tables for people to play on. If you want more, you can choose the tables you want to add to your collection in the form of DLC. This is less pay-to-win and more akin to going to a buffet and only eating the food you want instead of being served something you might not like.
Other games that have balanced the free-to-play versus pay-to-win concept are mainly on PC–Planetside 2, Blacklight Retribution, Warframe, and Lord of the Rings Online–just to name a few. With so many great free-to-play games available to PC gamers, isn’t it time that console players get a bone?
Benefits of Free-to-Play
Currently Dust 514 is one of the definitive examples of free-to-play when it comes to current generation consoles. However, developers who hope to embrace the future could definitely profit by creating free-to-play games for next generation, including the Wii U. Zen Pinball 2 has kicked it off by offering the initial game for free, but I can think of several other games whose model would support this type of play as well.
The upcoming Toki Tori 2 could offer the first two stages to gamers for free, while offering up the other stages as a $1.99 download. Two Tribes would still make the same amount of money if a player enjoys the game and buys all the packs, with the option to expand the game in a more timely fashion instead of waiting to issue large patches that add more and more content. Most gamers seem more willing to put small amounts of money on things and invest in them further if they enjoy them. This is why the mobile market for games is currently booming.
What are your thoughts on free-to-play games? If some of the aforementioned games were to be released on Wii U, would you support them? Tell us your ideas for free-to-play and whether or not you support the movement in the comments below.