There was once a time when ‘Free-to-Play’ was something to be congratulated and enjoyed, paid content did exist but you could easily ignore it and sometimes even play alongside these paid players (e.g. Mmorpg’s). However it started to sour a bit when Mmorpg’s technically stopped being free and got more aggressive with ‘Premium’ content (especially with alot of them needing subscriptions these days). What killed it for most people though was Mobile Gaming, something that was once claimed it would kill consoles but failed miserably due to greedy developers and phone/tablet manufacturers focusing on the wrong aspects of the devices (although the bad free-to-play may of started on Facebook). The genre isn’t truly dead, there are still good ones out there but no one can deny you have to sift through tonnes of bad ones to find any.
Note that I won’t mention ‘Free with ads’ games, while there are alot that aren’t that good and some that are just ad-spam most of them are decent games. There are sometimes seperate paid versions of these apps but most simply have a ‘Remove ads’ option for a small amount of money (which I’ve heard is sadly abused now and then). With that out the way, lets start the main topic:
First thing you see in most games like this are daily rewards which I’m not entirely against the idea of, however they do seem to be abused in a sad attempt to make people play for longer with the decent rewards needind up to a month of play every day. I’d do it if the game was extremely fun but thats rarely the case here. Some games also have referral systems which grant you ‘free’ stuff if you get other people playing the game. I mostly see this on badly made games in a desperate way to get more downloads and sadly it works, it won’t cost money but can easily cost you your friends and your reputation (if they find out the game is shit).
As for gameplay itself, One of the worst game mechanics to come from ‘free’ games is Lives/Energy Systems. A lives system is something that constricts the lengh of each session mostly depending on the players skill (and other factors), you have a certain number of lives and like most games you lose one every time you fail. This means good players could last a long time when first playing the game while bad players sometimes not even lasting 10 minutes. Energy systems are far worse than this as you use it whether you lose or not and in a surprising amount of cases use it on things that shouldn’t need anything as well as some levels using more than usual. They can both recharge but you have to wait crazy amounts of time for that to happen which most people hate.
Somehow a surprising amount of developers decided that waiting was a good thing though and while it did exist for a very long time (e.g. progress bars) you didn’t need to wait long and you’d usually get something good at the end of it. Some games these days decide to make you wait for everything with interactions that can take days to complete, you can either carry on doing the tiny and almost pointless tasks or simply not play the game until the timers over. As you can tell i don’t call that playing whatsoever and there is only one real reason they exist just like the Lives/Energy system, to make you spend money (you can ‘conveniently’ speed up timers for example).
And thats where i talk about microtransactions, which can mostly be split into various categories: Lives/Energy, powerups, items, cosmetics and premium currency (with some being impossible to get during ‘normal’ gameplay). I’m completely fine with things that don’t effect gameplay as much like cosmetics and I’m kind of ok with lives/energy in rare cases but i will never like paid powerups. However its not the powerups themselves that i truly hate, its the way some games are built around them. Items that give players an unfair advantage is something I’ll always hate in multiplayer games but i don’t really care if someone wants to in a single player game, after all the game itself had probably been made so its a grind otherwise.
In fact, anyone that has played a free-to-play game has probably noticed that games rarely give out free powerups, Daily rewards and referral schemes might give a small amount but you’re ultimately left with what you’re given when each powerup is introduced and the occasional top up for winning a certain amount of levels. Despite this alot of games purposely use difficulty spikes in levels in order to try and get people to use them ranging from suddenly getting a much lower ranking in levels to almost finding it impossible without them. Not to mention you usually use up powerups whether you win or lose so you can easily spend money and practically throw it away. Although if you’re rich you could literally pay to win by just buying loads of them and spamming them every level.
Most of the games have leaderboards too which i immediately ignore these days. There’s no seperation between free players and those who have paid on them so ‘All time Scores’ is less an indicator of who has the most skilled and more who has the biggest wallet. If ‘Friend’ and ‘Local’ leaderboards didn’t exist the games then using any real effort would be pointless and you wouldn’t want to challenge yourself either, thus killing any kind of replayability in the game.
Of course developers know this and thats why there is 100’s and sometimes 1000’s of levels in some types of game (Match 3 types for example). While there usually is variation between levels its inevitable that you’ll end up pretty much doing the same thing at some point. And thats not even mentioning some of the games are essentially reskins of eachother. In other words, alot of these devs don’t really even respect their own content. Most games end up as grindfests while some are like that from the start and i find it hard to see whats enjoyable about them.
Last of all is Premium/VIP which used to a decent thing, its true that these people always had some advantage over free players but it wasn’t so broken back then but like everything else it got corrupted. Not only does being a premium member make everything incredibly easier but there are even times when simple things (like skipping battle animations in 2d RPGs) are taken away from free players simply to be called ‘premium’ features. And merely having premium/vip wasn’t enough for some companies and tiers were created depending on how much a player has paid and while it isn’t subscription based and could technically be cheaper (compared to a subscription) in the long run the higher tiers usually need insane amounts of money. On top of this for every tier they have to add or upgrade the benefits which not only causes the game to become pointlessly easy but also means more simple things are held hostage.
Overall, i believe the Free-to-Play thats currently flooding the mobile appstores and even creeping onto consoles (also known as Fee-to-Pay or Pay-to-Win) is one of the worst things in gaming. You could say microtransactions in big AAA titles is far worse since you already paid alot of money but at the end of the day it was the success of these shitty games that caused them to be introduced in the bigger ones. Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed it and feel free to suggest what i should write about next.