December 2018
S M T W T F S
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There’s No Such Thing As “Free Paper Towels”

Recently, a salesman came to my door holding a roll of paper towels. It was early one Saturday morning, and I guess I wasn’t fully awake yet because I actually opened the door for him – something I normally wouldn’t do. He immediately tells me that he’s giving me a free brand-new roll of paper towels today, with a huge grin like he’s actually giving me a new car. I tell him “No, thank you.” and close the door. As the door is closing, I can tell he looks extremely confused – who turns down free? But I knew better – he wasn’t giving me anything for free, he was looking for an “in” so he could harass me about buying something, hoping that I would then feel indebted to him and allow him to give me his sales pitch. Those paper towels would cost me my time, and that was more valuable to me than the $1.50 or so they would cost me at the store.

Outernauts

Outernauts

About two weeks ago I decided to try out Insomniac’s latest game, Outernauts. It’s a Facebook game, which I typically avoid like the plague, but being a long-time Insomniac fan I suppose curiosity got the better of me. After starting up this “free” game I was quickly reminded of that salesman and his paper towels. Insomniac wasn’t giving me a free game, they were looking for a way not only to pester me but to coerce me into pestering my friends, thereby doing their marketing work for them. Every time I did even the simplest of things, a prompt would pop up asking me to post about it & tell my friends what I had done! And if I actually wanted to play this game for any normal length of time I’d either have to pester a LOT of friends so they would give me more “energy” – aka, turns to do things in the game – or I’d flat-out have to pay for the turns myself. I quietly mourned the fact that Insomniac has fallen to this, thinking that if their Pokemon-clone had been released on the PSN for $15 or so I would have snatched it up. But then I closed the game and moved on.

Sadly, this is how most free-to-play games are today. Instead of giving you a fun gaming experience, they trap you in an endless marketing loop that makes you feel completely disconnected from the gameplay. You’re constantly weighing the slight fun you’ve been allowed to have against the continuing cost of buying more units of gameplay. Or in some cases, you feel like an unpaid employee of the company, forced to hawk their game to everyone you know to be allowed a sliver of actual gameplay as your “reward”. When I play a game, I want to be concerned with the actual gameplay, not marketing or microtransactions. These things are distractions that pull me out of the game, and once that has occurred you can forget me playing your game anymore, let alone recommending it to someone else.

Free to play gaming has succeeded using less penalizing methods. Team Fortress 2 is the most cited example of this – they only charge for hats, which are a purely cosmetic addition. And from all reports I’ve heard, they’ve done very well with this model. Then again, it’s Valve – they have the benefit of being a proven developer with a huge built-in following. A smaller developer wouldn’t have this luxury. Still, does this mean there’s no other way for this system to work?

Phantasy Star Online 2

Phantasy Star Online 2

Two upcoming games that I am very interested in think they’ve figured out a way. Phantasy Star Online 2, which has been in open beta in Japan now for a few months, supposedly only walls off non-gameplay critical components behind a pay wall. And with these, you can choose to either buy individual elements or pay a monthly fee for the “premium” experience. American players who have braved the language barrier of the beta say that the game is perfectly playable, and more than that, enjoyable without paying a dime. But since the game doesn’t launch in the US until next year, and there’s been no word on exactly what model the US game will follow, we will have to wait and see.

Firefall

Firefall

The other upcoming F2P game that I’m anticipating is lesser known – Firefall. They plan to follow a similar model, in that their game will be funded by microtransactions, but these purchasable items are said to NOT be game critical in any way. They, to quote the FAQ on their site, “will be limited to things along the lines of cosmetics, boosts, and convenience items.” This is exactly what I want to hear, but I will remain sceptical until I get to play it myself.

Ideally, I’d prefer all of my game purchasing considerations to be made upfront. I see a game is releasing, I weigh my desire for the game against my current cash (or store credit) and assuming I decide to purchase it my only remaining concern is to play it. For better or worse, this is no longer the world we live in. Free-to-play, DLC and subscription plans are all common elements of gaming today. And when handled correctly, these things are not bad. But I’m no idiot, I know when all I’m playing is a glorified commercial, and there are too many actual games on the market for me to waste my time promoting your brand.

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