The free-to-play model has taken a strong hold on the world of online multiplayer gaming. Recent additions to the annals of the free-to-play model are titles such as Tribes: Ascend and Star Wars: The Old Republic – the latter being a big surprise in the way that it may very well be the fastest conversion from a paid structure to a free one to date. It makes you wonder whether titles such as Blizzard’s World of Warcraft will have a place in the industry as little as five years from now.
For a bit of perspective, I cannot attest to being a devoted MMO player in any way; however, what I do bring to the table is analysis from the view of an individual who enjoys playing a large number of games. I’ve ventured into the world of Guild Wars and the like and have found those titles to be quite enjoyable. My opinion is also catalyzed by my having been in touch with this industry for a number of years. Having seen the industrial trends that have come and gone from time to time it is safe to say that free-to-play is model that may reap the most commercial success for the online market moving forward.
For one, let’s take a look at Apple’s App Store. A large number of titles that have a spot on the ‘top grossing’ apps section of the site are indeed free-to-play. Which makes complete sense does it not? For example, if you are a prospective customer, having little to no experience in the world of games, your eyes would instantly light up at the opportunity to have fun at no cost. This is a reality that has taken a firm grip on the online market with titles such as League of Legends making bank on the model.
Of course, criticism of the free-to-play model usually delves into the realm of a lack of balance and the like which is a justified and understandable qualm to have in light of the conflict between players who simply play for free facing off against players who have invested hundreds of dollars to achieve dominance over their adversaries. This leads to titles such as Blacklight Retribution which, for all intents and purposes, provides solid gameplay for a grand majority of its players who pay while making it incredibly difficult to enjoy the title if you are one of those individuals like myself who would rather be beaten half to death and strangled afterwards before deciding to part with a nickel. Though my previous assertion may portray an individual like myself as a cheapskate, the problem must be acknowledged by the grand majority of video game developers in some way or fashion or we will end up with more and more titles that reel in a large fan base due to the prevalence of the word ‘free’ plastered all over them only to subject their aforementioned basis of fans to portentous attempts to part with their hard earned cash with the only reward being the prospect of commanding ‘the best arsenal in the game’ or even ‘the shiniest armor on the face of the planet’.
As consumers, we have to be better than this.
Sure free-to-play is amazing in its own right but let’s not make marketers and developers turn online gaming into a class-based hierarchy on the same lines as an Orwellian take on the subject which would inevitably lead to a class struggle which no one wants to get into.
Too extreme, huh?
Just stick to your guns developers, and deliver balanced, premium content for the cheap and generous alike.