Why I Rarely Play Free-to-Play Games
I do not dislike all games of any genre, especially of Free-To-Play MMOs. I’ve enjoyed games such as Runescape, Dungeons & Dragons Online, Planetside 2, Elder Scrolls Online, and Star Wars: The Old Republic. There is simply a common trend in these games that do not appeal to me.
That said, I would never write an article with complaints if I didn't think it could prove to be helpful to game creators as constructive criticism. So let’s get into it.
Most of these are MMORPG’s that take the same ideas as every other MMO ever, and only run with them. Health bars, mana bars, cool down bars, and little icons you click on to do stuff. Got it. But being free-to-play, which often times have a tighter budget, means they often aren’t allowed to try something new.
I’m glad they’re free so people can easily get their hands on them, but as such, they become obligated to go the safe route, which all too often means unremarkable in virtually every way.
Don't be afraid to charge for your game.
The MMO market is flooded with free-to-play titles. Over-saturation has led to stagnation in the field, with games like Wildstar and Elder Scrolls Online switching between the two.
World of Warcraft is still the biggest MMO in the world, with an estimated 4-6 million active players. And how do they keep players entertained after 12 years? Dropping enormous updates and expansions that rejuvenate the game across the board.
How do they do this? By charging a monthly subscription and putting a price on their expansions.
This not only gives them a bigger budget, which is absolutely critical for any business, but also expresses to the audience that they stand behind this product and believe it is worth your money. Free-to-play games are on the rise, but much like mobile gaming apps, majority of the money is made by a very small minority due to the lack of quality pervading the genre.
By no means should everyone abandon the model for a subscription service, but any developer who believes their game is worthy playing, should also believe their game is worth paying.
I get it, it’s a product they spent a lot of money and time on and here I am playing it for free. As suggested above, they should at least heavily consider charging for it.
But do they really have to put an ad to sign up and become a member into every little menu? Go to a shop to buy something and boom, sign up now and immediately x amount of in-game money. Go to my character menu to see what my new armor looks like, bam, sign up for monthly drawings to win free gear.
It just gets a little tedious to look after a while of the guilt racking up, sort of like being asked to donate money during your checkout when oftentimes you can’t afford to pay, hence the reason you were playing a free game.
Less intrusive advertising.
Keep the main menu and character menu ads, but remove them from in-game menus. Show them during loading screens and the launcher, but not right below my equipment. Have a dedicated screen for it in the options so players can go sign up at any time, but don't show it and that really-cool-weapon-I-wish-I-had right above my claimable rewards.
Let us know we can sign up without shoving it down our throats or rubbing the things we're missing out on in our faces.
The biggest and by far worst aspect of free-to-play games is directly related to the Marketing point above.
The fact that members who pay a monthly fee get benefits is only reasonable, of course they should. They work for their money and should be rewarded for supporting the game.
But to constantly show this to every non-member is a bit ham-fisted. Sprint ability is a low-level ability for members but you have to wait till you’re 15 so why not sign up? Can’t customize your ally’s appearance unless you sign up. Picking out your end-of-quest reward? Can’t get these two, but members do.
By showing players what they can gain, they are also showing them what they lack. And by slapping that all over inventory menus and quest reward menus, it only succeeds in belittling everything you've done.
How do you feel accomplished after completing a punishingly difficult mission when the game immediately shows you the bonuses you're not going to get. You did the same amount of work and put in just as much effort, but because you haven't signed up (which you genuinely may not be able to afford as kid or student) you're excluded from getting the full package.
It just seems to me that selling convenience to members means creating inconvenience for non-members.
Have perks be non-critical items and abilities.
Rather than withhold a low-level ability from non-subs, give those who do pay a sub-only cape, dance animation, or armor piece. Reward your subs not with abilities and items that everyone will get eventually-albeit much slower-but with clothing and color palettes exclusive to those who support the game.
Items like these are visible, so everyone can see who is a subscriber, while also being cosmetic items that don't allow them innate advantages. Overwatch's Loot Boxes are often looked at more favorably that Supply Drops for Call of Duty specifically because they are cosmetic items only.
Reward your subscribers without punishing everyone else.
Now, these are all relatively small matters so by no means am I trying to say free-to-play games are bad, some are quite good.
Play them all, try them out and see which ones really fit your tastes and play style. It’s all a matter of opinion and to be taken with a grain of salt. Hopefully with enough input from us players the companies will listen and make their great games even better.