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Power Member - Level 10
The free to play business model is suddenly everywhere in
video game news from Valve's "Free To Play" documentary about the booming
success of DOTA 2 to the emergence of free to play games on the consoles to the
celebrated official release of Blizzard's free to play card game, Hearthstone.
I haven't watched the documentary yet but a trustworthy source assured me that the captions work well. Kudos to Valve for captioning a internet released documentary!
The free to play business model in gaming is often scorned
as "Pay to Win." Personally, my only forays into the genre were free game
downloads for my smartphone. After I tired of the constant "hints" that I could
speed up my progress or my progress all but utterly stopped unless I
participated in microtransactions I gravitated more towards the "free but with
ads" editions of the most popular smartphone titles.
However, a few games lately have made me reconsider the purpose
of microtranscations in video games, particularly in the more complex PC and
console titles. After all, I remember a time when we questioned the episodic
releases of Telltale Games' first season of The Walking Dead. Due to the constant and prolonged delays we
theorized that the episodic business model was doomed. Now, Telltale Games is releasing season two
of The Walking Dead along with simultaneous development and release of The Wolf
Among Us while two more episodic series are in development. The gaming industry is not standing still.
Flames always look ominous, especially green flames.
World of Tanks
World of Tanks by Wargaming recently hopped from the PC onto
the Xbox 360. The free to play game is
widely popular on the PC alongside its "World of" brethren, World of Warships
and World of Warplanes. With World of Tanks free and available on my Xbox 360 I
was ready to try the game. I struggled
with the concept that mid-century tanks could anchor a game but a friend of
mine gleefully talked about his time on the PC in World of Tanks.
With playable tanks, the matches are slower than the average
multiplayer brawl. In tank based multiplayer, the most important map
characteristic is the terrain. Passable routes, foliage for hiding, and holding
the high ground are only a few of the terrain based considerations that factor
into the game's strategizing. Holding a designated area that is at the bottom
of a valley against the enemy tanks camped along the rim is a different type of
difficulty than run and gun multiplayer.
The game is free to play with experience and Silver, the
in-game currency, earned in matches for leveling up as well as for purchasing additional
tanks and upgrades. Microtransactions don't buy experience or Silver but provides Gold which is the ultimate in-game
currency that is used mostly for timed access (from 1 to 360 days) to a Premium Account. A premium account includes exclusive
tanks and other goods but most importantly substantially increases the
experience and Silver gained in matches.
This screen shows a Premium account with the experience and Silver of a free to play account grayed out but still a visible reminder of the difference between a paid versus a free to play account.
After a few battles I appreciated a design strategy in the
User Interface. At the end of a
multiplayer match the familiar final screen is a statistics list that includes
the experience and Silver obtained.
Unobtrusively but clearly present is both the gained experience in a
free to play match versus the experience that would have been earned with a
Silver account. Staring at the "lost" experience match after match slowly sunk
the concept into my head of all that I could unlock with a day of Premium. Well
Additionally, Wargaming's marketing savvy is not a one hit
wonder. Regardless of our personal opinion about paying separately for
multiplayer gaming through Xbox Live access to World of Tanks, a multiplayer
only game, requires Xbox Live Gold. However, players with Xbox Live can download
World of Tanks receive a free 7 day trial. World of Tanks aims to be
competitive in the console market.
Soulcalibur: Lost Swords
I am not a Soulcalibur expert or even novice. I recognize
the franchise as a known fighting game and I owned the Wii single player game,
Soulcalibur Legends (an adventure game spin off of a fighting game genre with
only motion controls, judge me not about my Wii collection).
Soulcalibur: Lost Swords is a free to play, single player,
3D fighter that is releasing on the Playstation 3 in April 2014 in the Americas. The game released in Japan in February
2014. Many details confuse me such as
why a free to play franchise that is known as a fighter is a single player game
in a multiplayer gaming world.
The game touts its high level of character customization
with a new weapon system that binds elements to weapons for special attacks and
a wardrobe that contributes towards the fighters' statistics. As expected, the currency for purchasing new
clothes, weapons, and upgrades is earned in-game in well-fought matches or
purchased with real world currency.
Yep, that is a fighter wearing only undergarments for protection against a sword.
The unique use of the free to play model is that each
character begins in undergarments. The initial fight is a
fighter naked except for the bare (pun!) essentials. As an unreleased game here in the Americas I
am unsure if this model provides quick and easy access to in-game currency in
the initial levels to facilitate players' use of the customization options
rather than relying on default character builds. Or if cash purchases are
all but required in order to obtain the bare (pun!) minimum in clothing. We
will know soon but for now I know of and remember a game that's an exclusive on
a last generation console.
Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Phantom (formerly known as Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Online)
Ubisoft's free to play Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Phantom strives to combine deep
tactical strategy with the action of third person gunplay. The game is
undergoing a rebranding for its upcoming April 2014 release out of beta into
its final iteration.
Again earned in-game or bought with actual money is gold
that is spent on new weapons, armor, and upgrades. In an example of a constructive dialogue
amongst the players and developers, based on feedback in the beta the game
altered its matchmaking criteria.
Matchmaking now weighs both player skill and gear. This consideration in matchmaking ensures
that regardless of how players achieved character unlocks multiplayer matches
don't devolve into a "Pay To Win" because both character levels and gear are roughly
I am unsure how common multiplayer matchmaking factoring in
gear along with character level is but the detail seems especially important for
free to play games in order to facilitate fair matches.
I have to point out that I am a big fan of Hearthstone's multiplayer communication consisting of preset text messages.
Hearthstone is a digital card game by Blizzard based on the
lore of Warcraft available on PC with ports for iOS and Android in development. Recently the official game released out of
its beta. Players don't need
expertise in card gaming or Warcraft in order to enjoy the game.
With a card count of about 382 cards players collect cards
by obtaining card packs with random cards and by a crafting system that
requires destroying excess cards. Players build custom decks for each of the 9 Heroes
for competing in casual, ranked, and arena matches. Gold, the in-game currency is required for buying card packs
and for the entry fee into the arena which is a series of matches that
ultimately rewards the player based on the number of won matches. Gold drops in-game primarily by completing "quests"
such as "Win 2 games as Hunter or Mage." While real world cash buys card packs
However, buying card packs out of pocket doesn't guarantee unlocking
the desired card. Sure additional card packs
results in more cards and more options for destroying cards into dust for
crafting the preferred cards. But matches
require a surprisingly deep strategy.
While the cards in deck contribute to victory each player needs a variety
of cards to address a range of situations.
Winning depends heavily on a diverse deck (and each Hero's default cards are gained by leveling up to level 15) and on using the cards
correctly. Players can obtain more
options but ultimately winning is up to the player's skill (and some luck of the
Hearthstone's microtransactions feel ideal. Minimal money ($1.50 for a pack) for a permanent gain aka keeping the card rather than money spent for a temporary power boost.
Thus I don't feel pressured to buy card packs. I can earn
gold simply by winning games and no amount of real world purchases will win a
game for me. In fact, in my time enjoying Hearthstone the biggest reason why I
consider buying a card pack at $1.50 is not for my gameplay experience but in
order to support Blizzards' efforts. The
game actually feels "Free To Play" and has no constant reminders about the
option to buy card packs, the store is simply available if desired.
Gaming is changing. Not
even discussed here are the free to play titles available on the Playstation 4 -
Warframe, Blacklight: Retribution, and DC Universe Online. The standalone, onetime $60 purchase is now one
of many options available when buying a game. I don't pretend to fully understand a business model that is based on the overwhelming majority of players not spending a penny. But the latest in the free to play market shows
that the business model isn't inherently evil with game breaking rewards for paying gamers. Deep gaming experiences are
available with free to play games. The game defining design is how the developer implements microtransactions.
Thank you all again for reading! Lately, I haven't had as much time for gaming as I would like but the 15 minute increments that I can devote to Hearthstone have resulted in a pretty wicked Mage deck that can take down those overly confident Hunters.
Are you playing any free to play games currently?
What is your favorite and/or least favorite free to play game?
Do you think that free to play games are here to stay on the consoles?