There are plenty of games that tote themselves as free, then try to sell you things throughout the game. Although it was once a huge risk, pay-to-play has become a standard marketing strategy in the gaming world and a viable way to make a successful and sustainable game. Although the bulk of the game is free and no subscription is required, these games still make revenue through those extra items, accessories, or events. Here are five things that can make or break this strategy and determine whether a pay-to-play game is successful, while still being fair to gamers who play for free.
5. Minor Premium Membership Perks
Many games offer huge bonuses to premium members, often intentionally limiting the experience of regular players in the hopes that they will upgrade to premium. However, this only serves to inhibit regular players, rather than encourage gameplay. Making the perks of premium membership small, but useful, keeps the subscription attractive while not giving premium users an advantage over regular users.
4. Don’t Unbalance Game
A lot of the list can fall under this point, but this one is specifically for PvP interactions. If a gamer can simply buy the best equipment at any point in the game, then they’ll obvious destroy any fellow newbies they come across, even if those newbies put more time and effort into their weapons, armor, or training. Limiting the amount of weapons available at any time and making all bonus items somehow obtainable in-game reduces the amount the game is unbalanced by purchases of upgraded armor.
3. Make Tedious Things Faster
Anyone who’s played an MMO can relate to the tedious grinding that you need for leveling up to a regular number. Selling items that give timed bonuses in battle—especially where experience is concerned—can make the game more enjoyable, save the player some time, and keep the game fair for people unable to purchase those bonus items. Because it simply saves the gamer time and tedious work, and doesn’t give them a huge advantage over other players, items like this only serve to enhance the game.
2. Cash Items Resalable In-game
This is a major thing that not many pay-to-play games practice. However, in the games that do practice it, the in-game economy always prospers. Special cash items are bought for a fixed actual monetary price—but that item can then be sold for in-game money. It’s an easy way for the purchaser to obtain in-game money, but it also allows cash items to be obtainable by people without money to spare. Making these items limited edition means it stimulates the in-game economy even more, and that is ultimately beneficial to everyone playing, whether or not they make use of the cash items.
1. Don’t Take from the Rest of the Game
There was a huge issue with Mass Effect 3’s ending—it didn’t play as advertised, and led up to DLC that they likely had finished before the game was even released. Although the ending was released for free—after a huge amount of backlash—it was probably going to be sold as ‘extra’ content. Games that take crucial content and then force users to pay for it is unethical, and while I understand that pay-to-play games need to make money, if you have to require users to pay up for crucial content, you shouldn’t be advertising it as free-to-play. Charging for important MMO expansions, admissions to expansive and well-developed parts of the game, and exclusive and essential features of a game are all ways to take the fun out of gaming for gamers who started to play because they assumed it was free. It’s an easy way to get negative feedback and lose players. Overall, the tiny, optional purchases are what adds up to make a great ‘free’-to-play game, and keeping these purchases optional keeps the game’s user base from shrinking.