December 10, 2012 by Tim

The term “free to play” has obviously undergone a lot of changes over the past few years. I remember not too long ago when “free to play” was synonymous with “crap”, but that is no longer the case. One of the biggest games in the world, League of Legends, is a free to play title.

But the term “free to play” or F2P, is not universal. It doesn’t mean the same thing in every game. It doesn’t mean developers don’t want to make money. Quite the opposite, actually. And so there are a dozen different ways in which these games try to get your cash without outright demanding it up front.

And I’m fine with that. As far as I’m concerned, if a developer puts out a game, they have every right to ask for my money, and they have every right to do it in whichever way they think will be the most effective. But in that regard, I do feel like there are some ways that are far more effective than others. I do feel like there is a way to “do it wrong.”

Some games do it right. League of Legends is a good example of a strong F2P model. They created a solid, entertaining game. Everything in the game that you need to compete can be earned by playing. Some of that, you can get a little faster if you want to pay for it. And some strictly cosmetic items, you can only get by paying for it.

That’s the appropriate breakdown as far as I’m concerned. Great product that people really enjoy, never feel forced to spend money on to play it. Instead they spend money because they really want the items you’re offering. You may not need that Champion skin to play the game, but oh man doesn’t it look so cool you just have to have it? And that’s why Riot is swimming in cash.

I have recently been seeing games that are not doing it quite so well. In fact I’d suggest that perhaps they are doing it wrong. Two in recent weeks have caught my attention, both of them are mobile games. And I wonder if perhaps this is a methodology that is limited to mobile gaming.

The first offender is the My Little Pony game I mentioned a couple of weeks back. I’ve watched my wife play it, and I knew you could buy “gems” in order to speed up the progress of the game, etc. What I didn’t realize, and she later explained to me, is that it’s nearly impossible to actually beat the game unless you spend money, on account of a few necessary ponies locked away behind a pay gate. In fact, when all is said and done, bare minimum just to complete the game, you either need to spend $64 or two and a half years playing.

I thought that was absurd. And then just this past weekend I found myself away from home, looking for a little time to kill, and downloaded Dragon Slayer on my phone. Dragon Slayer is a fairly graphically impressive little swipe-game, in the vein of Infinity Blade. I was attracted to the very cool dragon designs, which reminded me in a way of Monster Hunter, though I knew there was no resemblance in gameplay.

I played for a little while, and it was interesting… it was mostly a reflex game, trying to 1v1 dragons, dodging and blocking their attacks, and throwing, I dunno, magic at them inbetween. It wasn’t super complex, but it was great for a mobile game to kill some time, so I dug into it.

Before long though I realized that based on the amount of money and experience I was earning, it would take me ages to afford some of the gear in the shop. Oh, unless I purchased a sack of credits for $100.

Again, I have no problem with (single player) games that let people buy their way ahead. And actually, I don’t even really have a problem with games witholding the ability to beat the game for some money. But be reasonable about it. Sixty to a hundred dollars? That’s insanity.

Five, maybe ten bucks. That’s a price that makes sense. That’s a price where if the game was decent enough, and I was going to get 5-10 hours out of it, I’d pay it. Less than the price of a movie and twice the hours of entertainment, I’ll call that a good deal.

If they had flat out sold that Pony game for $20 upfront, with everything earnable through play, I guarantee my wife would have bought it. Or I would have bought it for her, because given the amount of time she’s spent playing it, it would have more than earned its entertainment value.

But to hook players deep into the game and then hold completion hostage behind absolutely ridiculous prices… what’s the point of that? You can buy a triple-A console/PC game for $60. Are people really spending that to buy some magical gloves in a little, incredibly repetitive mobile game?

They’re called micro transactions for a reason. They’re supposed to be micro, right?

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