In defense of the free to play model: It’s not the devs that decide, it’s you!

In defense of the free to play model: It’s not the devs that decide, it’s you!


Micro transactions in gaming are treated as a virulent plague that has taken the entire mobile gaming industry hostage. Almost every gamer/blogger/streamer worth their salt has taken a shot at the model and have dissed game developers that choose to earn their bread and butter this way.

Free to Play (F2P) games are those that do not charge any money to download or play the game but instead have in-game currencies and virtual economies that are pegged on real money. These can be bought in packs that vary from game to game from ‘PokéCoins’ in Pokémon GO to gems in Clash of Clans. Many feel that this system is unfair as it gives players willing to shell out cash an unfair advantage leading to lopsided gameplay experiences.

Core gamers are known to often dismiss the entire mobile gaming audience as too ‘casual’ and are a big source of hostility towards F2P. They are also vehemently against In-App Purchases adopted by mobile developers, choosing to see the system as flawed as a whole. However, devs who have chosen to price their games up front have failed to find much traction on Play store or iOS with most of the top grossing games being F2P such as Clash of Clans, Candy Crush, Clash Royale and more. This is mostly because players are becoming more and more price sensitive, especially in the mobile space.

Core gamers say that game demos (essentially free levels) that help gamers get a feel of the mechanics is the best practice in gaming as it gives the advantage of a free trial without diminishing the value of the content. However, the strong backlash faced by Nintendo when it chose to price Super Mario run at $10 speaks volumes of the aggressiveness towards even this kind of upfront pricing model.

Nintendo’s strategy of letting players play a few levels for free and paying to unlock the whole game and fresh content led to many one star reviews and negative ratings on the app store. These ratings could spell the death knell of smaller indie developers. If established and premium IPs such as Mario can be gutted for upfront pricing other developers have no choice but to listen to the pulse of the market which is overwhelmingly favouring F2P.

The design of F2P games is such that players can essentially try out the entire mechanics of the game and also get a feel of the storyline before investing any money. They have a choice to invest in enriching their gameplay experience or to not spend a single penny on the game completely averting any sense of buyer’s remorse. There is, however, a world of difference between F2P and pay to win. If developers give paying players unfair advantages in gameplay, it is only natural that players will stop playing such games in droves which benefit neither the devs or gamers. The trick lies in finding the right balance, what players will be willing to pay for without endangering the gameplay experience of free players.

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