The psychological deviance of the Free to Play model

The free to play model of video games at first glimpse may appear harmless. Look deeper and you begin to see the psychological deviance in its design.

The free to play model for video games is something that has existed for years now. Bit by bit, this business model has become more and more effective, and more developers are using it. At first glance, it is something that can look harmless. A free to play game sounds like something that you don't have to pay for to play. But if you look beyond that mirage, you begin to see a much more deviant and psychological system at play.

Where did the free to play model begin?

Developers have spent years perfecting the free to play model in an attempt to find the best possible ways to make the most money from it. What started off as a business model for small, independent, online browser games to keep servers running has come to mainstream gaming.

What we have now is the perfect psychological weapon that takes advantage of vulnerable individuals. Despite being perfectly legal by law, the modern free to play model is unethical, deviant and wrong in every imaginable sense. Before we get into the meatiness of this, we first need to look at where it began.

It is practically impossible to determine what THE first free to play video game ever created was. Everyone has a different opinion on exactly what types of games are considered free to play. Some would argue it goes as far back as the early 90s with the likes of Wolfenstein 3D or  DOOM's shareware versions.

There is nothing to say that that these arguments are wrong, as technically it isn't far off from what we commonly know today as free to play titles. It allowed the player to play the first episode of the game while the others remained locked until the player purchased the game. 

The general free to play business model goes as far back as the likes of RuneScape and Adventure QuestAdventure Quest is a title I am more familiar with, and therefore, I will use this game to display what the free to play model once was.

Adventure Quest is a game that allows the player to play for free and gives them a generous amount of content. There is certain areas and content that are limited to those who pay, but more content is available for free than not.

It gives players more than enough time in the game to tell if they like it enough to pay for the rest of the content. It is a game that doesn't shovel special offers and purchasable products in your face every five minutes.

It is a fair system that requires a one-time payment to have full access. It does allow optional purchasing of cosmetic items using an in-game currency purchased with money. However, it doesn't overdo it and put you in a position of feeling like you have to purchase them.

The fair system like the one seen in Adventure Quest has become twisted over the years. The system has turned into nothing more than a terrorizing monstrosity that has ruined many people's lives. The system is no longer one of fairness but of greed.

A system that takes advantage of the vulnerable

Video games, like many other things in life, can go from being a luxury to a serious obsession. There are many people in the world who have to combat their addictive personalities every day. It is easy for them to become addicted and even obsessed with certain things.

The problem is, greedy businesses also know this and use it to their advantage. As someone who is a bit of a completionist when it comes to video games, I can't say I haven't fallen into these traps throughout my life. I've always needed to get everything within a game to not feel beaten.

I, however, am lucky that I managed to overcome this obsession before the system became the mainstream tyrant it is now. The most I got caught with was purchasing a small amount of completely pointless DLC before kicking the habit.

There are many out there who are not as lucky as I. I have to admit the modern free to play system is clever, but that doesn't make it right to any degree. What it does is create an experience that is genuinely addictive. I have no doubt they test it on individuals of all age groups, time, and time again until they reach that perfect balance they know is going to work.

The developer then builds the game in such a way that it gives you a big enough taste to get you hooked on it. Only then does the game close its doors and leaves you with two choices: pay to continue playing or wait for a certain amount of time for the next level to unlock.

For some people, by this stage, it is already too late. They are already addicted and need more--no matter the cost. The player then starts emptying their wallets into these games. It isn't their fault; some people just have obsessive disorders that they cannot control.

The infamous Candy Crush Saga is probably the most renown example of a "free to play" video game. Its level of addiction is simply astounding. An article written by Jill Foster of The Daily Mail showed that at one point women were spending over £400,000 on Candy Crush a day.

That is how addictive the game is. It isn't just Candy Crush Saga that uses this model, but there are plenty of others that use the same model. Not even the flash game websites such as Newgrounds or Armor Games have escaped this system.

Those websites have games using this particular system such as Swords & Potions, Evony and much more. We haven't even included the many games on social sites such as FarmVille. These so-called "free to play" games are everywhere and are hard to avoid.

It is a system that has ruined people's relationships, marriages, and lives. It separates individuals from the real world, takes their money and puts them into serious financial distress. An example of the game being the destruction of marriage can be found here. It is a system that needs to stop.

Something needs to be done, but it nothing will happen

Indeed, the Candy Crush phenomenon is pretty much over now, particularly after King, the developers of the game made absolute asses of themselves a few years back. Their stupidity was their attempt to copyright the word "Saga" and to sue any video game developer who had Saga in the name of their game. They even attempted to sue Stoic, developers of The Banner Saga.

Yes, Candy Crush has indeed come and gone. Just because it is gone does not mean that this is the end of the system. There will, without a doubt, be another to take its place. If it can happen once, it can happen again.

There is no denying that there needs to be some form of law put in place to protect against these systems. It is something that is purposely used to take advantage of people who are vulnerable by deliberately creating something that is incredibly addictive.

Sadly, the chances of this happening are next to none. Technically, it is not illegal. It fits under the fair trade act. They are not technically forcing anyone to make purchases. Therefore not a lot can be done about it.

The most that one can do is create awareness of these systems. Just because one is practically gone now does not mean another won't take its place. There will be another game like Candy Crush, make no mistake. Indeed, it is something that is hard to avoid, but there is always something to remember.

These games are designed to hook you; they are like a drug. They are designed to take advantage of you and literally take your money. They are unethical, and they are nothing more than a psychologically deviant system that wants to control you and take your money from you.

Not all free to play games take the system to those levels. There are still games out there which offer free to play fairly, just like Adventure Quest and The Last Stand: Dead Zone. Nevertheless, you must be careful and ensure that you don't fall into the trap that many put in place.

What are your thoughts on the free to play model? Do you think the law requires changing for such titles? Let me know in the comments below.


Playing video games for over 23 years, love to write and love everything video game related.

Published Apr. 12th 2016

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