Free-to-play games are becoming more and more common these days, most so on Facebook, your phone or as a payment model for MMORPGs. This, in my opinion, is great. I get to play video games AND they’re free… what could possible be downside? Well it turns out developer greed is the downside. And so we have “freemium” games.
And to help explain the concept freemium games, South Park:
While freemium is a little bit evil in its payment methodology, most freemium games allow you to play a good majority of the game without paying a cent (though at a slower rate), and aren’t wholly freemium in their set up. My real issue with freemium games is when their presented as “free-to-play”, an idea which is being stretched by freemium payment models. And I’ve never encountered a game which stretches the idea of “free-to-play” more than Warframe. If anything, it’s not so much a stretch as it more smearing up three kilometres of road.
Warframe is a very well-polished, very good-looking, fun, third-person shooter. It derives a bit from Borderlands. Each kill gets you XP, money, loot thatupgrades your warframe, weapons and pets. After playing an energetic and enjoyable tutorial that was delivered in the latest patch, you start off with one warframe (each with unique abilities and traits), gun and melee weapon. It’s possible to craft all other warframes and weapons, but that requires phenomenally rare loot drops, a lot of hours devoted to playing (I played 25 hours and got two of the same component – out of 5 – required to craft a warframe). It’s a lot easier to just pay a small amount of money and buy the warframe. But… after spending $20, I got one warframe and a little pet thing. So now I have two warframs out of two dozen (each one costing around $15 or so), one weapon out of the five you can buy with in-game money and one melee weapon out of 6 you can buy with in-game money. The hundred other weapons, warframes and crap else costs real-world money, and a lot of it. You can only experience a small out of the game for free, and that gets stale very quickly. There’s nothing wrong with sinking a bit of money into a game that deserves it, and Warframe is a good enough game for this, maybe a $50 spend for everything. But Warframe could have you spending hundreds of dollars for relatively little. To categorise Warframe as free-to-play is nothing short of deceptive, deception being the real evil of freemium games (if you’re thinking of some sort of Satan parable, South Park already did it).
An example of a free-to-play game which isn’t deceptive in the slightest, and one I recommend, is The Simpsons: Tapped Out. Every step of the way, Tapped Out very thoroughly explains its payment model, often through wit and satire. The content your money buys isn’t integral to the game and only add extra stuff for your town. Most tasks or buildings take no more than a day and there’s no reason to rush through it. I’ve been playing for a year now and have spent $5 (I really wanted Rex Banner). It also frequently awards the player with the currency that your real world money buys (donuts). It’s possible, albeit very slowly, to unlock all the content in the game.
Free-to-play isn’t to be used synonymously with freemium, though most free-to-play games integrate some freemium concepts. It’s a bit like communism. Taking small bits of it here and there and integrating it in works quite well. Full-blown freemium is a hideous idea where the developers probably should be compared to Stalin.