Monday, 21 April 2014

The Free-To-Play Revoloution

Free to play
Free-to-play, a business model that is taking the games industry by storm, it’s been around for years but why only now has it become so popular? And why is it so successful?

The free to play model has become vastly popular in recent years, however it has been around for a lot longer than one may think. The earliest type of free to play games were mainly aimed at younger and more casual audiences, titles like Runescape and Neopets were around in the late 90s and offered most of the game for free but offered a premium subscription service unlocking extra content and game play elements.  For example in Runescape there are various areas that can only be explored if you are a premium subscription owner.

A major factor in the advancement of free to play games is the advent of mobile phone gaming, portable gaming used to just be on devices produced along side home consoles; they were clumsy, large and you could only really play games on them.  Now you can play them on your mobile phone which you carry around anyway, making it much more convenient. In the early days of mobile gaming, games were often sold as free but after a couple levels you would hit a wall where you cannot continue without “buying a new game”. Nowadays you are faced with in game transaction allowing you to buy extra content get past levels you are stuck on or speeding up certain aspects of the game to continue playing rather than wait a few more hours; this is usually done with in-game currency which can be purchased. This is now the standard model for free to play, depending on how the developers implement it, some are a little more subtle while others are accused of being a pay-to-win game.
An example of the sort of items you can buy in the game DOTA 2
One of the more unique free to play games on the market at the moment is DOTA 2, a free MOBA game made by valve; recently featured in a documentary by valve. This game is more or less completely free, all items you can purchase are simply for aesthetic purposes and the XP boosters don’t add much unless you are good at the game. However steam will put popular player made items on sale through the steam workshop. One of the major pluses for valve is that to play the game you will need to install their online digital distribution software Steam, increasing the chances of sales on other games that are often on offer.

The free to play model on one hand is really good for the consumer as well as the developer, the consumer gets the game for free and the developer gets the game in front of lots of people. Sounds good right? On the other hand, it can be a bit of a pain for the gamer. Whilst you do get to play a game for free, there are a number of problems you can encounter with F2P games such as in game adverts or you might not get the whole game unless if you pay up. That said, many gamers have become used to owning physical copies games and having everything there instead of having to pay to unlock everything.  Therefore, some consumers may get angry. I feel that free to play games are definitely here to stay but I consider them to be a bit of a temporary fix for the economical issues the games industry is struggling through, unless game developers innovate the business model it will fade away and become something we just see in mobile games.


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