zombie's Anti-Perspective: Free-to-Play - ZombieReconnaissance Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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zombie's Anti-Perspective: Free-to-Play

Disclaimer - The following is a statement of opinion, my opinion of course. My opinion is not your opinion and vice-versa. Though at times they may resemble, do not confuse them for one another. If you plan on commenting all that I ask is to be sure to read my blog in it's entirety to avoid potential misunderstandings. Thank you and please enjoy!

Preamble – Anti-Perspectives are best read in conjunction with the blog posts that inspired them (zombie's Argument Against Microtransactions).

 

zombie's Anti-Perspective: Free-to-Play

Last month, I wrote an argument against the usage of microtransactions, highlighting aspects that completely ruin the model. This month I plan on providing reasons as to why microtransactions may prove beneficial, an anti-perspective. There is however one condition, I am going to do so within the context of Free-to-Play games. It is my honest belief that microtransactions only truly serve their function inside of an environment built with them in mind. What is their function you might ask? Some might argue that they were created in a hostile attempt to drain more money from your wallets. Perhaps, in some instances, that is the clear-cut result, however what's intended is really quite simple: accommodation. "Want more than what is already provided? Buy a microtransaction! Don't have enough time on your hands? Buy a microtransaction! Unable to complete a certain section? Get better!" Thought I was gonna suggest that you "buy a microtransaction", didn't you?

Jokes aside, Free-to-Play games are said environment because they also seek to accommodate the consumer, most obviously by not pigeon-holing them to a set price point. "Pay as much as you desire though it is not required. Need some assistance? Buy a microtransaction! Even if you pay $13 in microtransactions, you are receiving AAA quality for 1/4th of the price." As I have already stated this is merely what is intended, the manifest function if you will. However based on our experiences with Free-to-Play games, we've formed an understanding that most are either poor in quality or massive cash sinks. This doesn't mean that the formula is flawed, not by a long shot. It just needs time to mature, much like the Indie scene that came before it. There are already signs supporting positive change and the proof is in the pudding.

 

Team Fortress 2

Team Fortress 2 was one of the earliest games to adopt the Free-to-Play formula and to this day is perhaps one of the finest. The greatness of this game lies in the fact that it was, at one point, a "AAA" game. When developer Valve made the transition, all the mechanics that made it enjoyable stayed intact. At first many ridiculed the sudden change of pace and plethora of cosmetic microtransactions (you can never have enough hats) but only in hindsight do we really recognize the stroke of genius. By focusing primarily on what made your character unique and not what you could use to improve its performance, the amount of possible backlash was reduced considerably. There were (and still are) purchasable weapons however because TF2 is a very balanced experience, it didn't really tip the scales and instead allowed people to build loadouts around their play styles. As a result, shown here by http://steamcharts.com/app/440, the community is as bustling now than it ever was and it makes you wonder... if not for the change, would it still be as widely received? One thing is for certain, Team Fortress 2 helped light the fire for the Free-to-Play movement by showcasing its success.

 

Hearthstone

When discussing functional and fair Free-to-Play games, there is no better subject recently than Hearthstone. Much like Team Fortress 2 it was met with its fair share of cynicism however as soon as access to the game was granted, many found themselves eating their words. At first glance it appears to be your standard-fare card game however the more you play against others, the more flagrant the complexities become. Hearthstone requires three things: skill, strategy, and luck but the latter only takes up about 15% of the experience just as long as you possess the other two traits. The randomization of which cards you receive puts every one on the same playing field, even those who elect to pay actual money, it also forces players to think deeply about how to use their collection optimally while they wait for better armaments. Hearthstone caters to both the Casual and Hearthcore (get it?) audiences through the inclusion of various game types such as Play, Practice, Ranked, and Arena modes, it also encourages casuals to join in the hardcore mix. It is a game that is both aesthetically and mechanically pleasing that has me coming back every few days for more, something not many Free-to-Play games have been capable of as of late.

 

Nosgoth

Last month I was fortunate enough to get into the Nosgoth Beta. For those who are unaware, Nosgoth is a multiplayer Free-to-Play game published by Square-Enix and set in the Legacy of Kain universe. Given the company's recent endeavors regarding microtransactions, I found myself questioning the quality of the game. After putting in 5 hours of time, I can safely say that my expectations, albeit very low, were blown straight out of the water. Nosgoth wears its influences on its sleeves taking cue from games such as Left 4 Dead, Team Fortress 2, and APB Reloaded, however does a fine job of mixing them together to create something unique and engaging. It pits four Humans versus four Vampires against each other, both sides have unique classes with individual strengths and weaknesses. In many regards it feels as though it could have just as easily been sold on the storefront as a multiplayer-only game much like Titanfall but fortunately for everyone it doesn't suffer for being Free-to-Play. The progression system is fair, giving players the option to buy an item with in-game currency for a limited time or flat-out for roughly triple the price. For those without patience, they can pay for a majority of that which is eventually provided for 20 bucks or buy experience/gold boosts or skins for their character. Just as long as Nosgoth doesn't make any drastic uphauls to the formula, I foresee it being well-received by players.

 

Conclusion

Not all Free-to-Play games are malicious, shanty experiences and we must stop convincing ourselves otherwise. There are exemplary games such as Team Fortress 2, Hearthstone, and Nosgoth which showcase the formula's strengths. Just as long as we the consumer continue to support titles like these, our expectations will be broadcasted and developers will catch on, releasing more quality products. With that said, there is a blaring issue with Free-to-Play and it is associated with what I was discussing last month. In the wrong hands there is more than enough room for abuse (pay-to-win, exaggerated costs, a bias towards those who pay, etc.). So what should we do? Do we continue to allow Free-to-Play and (by association) microtransactions to progress, allowing that which plagues them to grow worse or do we nip this in the bud, closing our minds to flexible pricing and new practices? The answer is neither.

The idea for this blog (and future blogs like it) stems from from my current philosophy – "the truth often lies in-between two extremes" which in turn was inspired by Aristotle's Golden Mean and Confucius' Doctrine of the Mean. The two extremes in this instance are "abolishment" and "unmonitered progression". So what is truth you might ask? I won't pretend as though I know for certain, however I do believe I have come up with a method to satisfy the more vocal extremists. For now, let us restrain the use of microtransactions solely to Free-to-Play games. The two need each other like the sun needs the moon, the earth needs water, and chocolate needs peanut butter, this much is true. Microtransactions are more readily abused in environments that aren't Free-to-Play and Free-to-Play require microtransactions to continue its services. Together they can serve their most basic function (accommodation) and flourish. This, however, isn't meant to be a permanent change because I believe there will come a day when microtransactions can be included in things other than Free-to-Play games. However it's obvious that we, as a community (developer and consumer), are not prepared for that. So until the time arrives, we ought to limit them to an environment where they can evolve but also where we can monitor their progress to prevent misuse a.k.a. "the middle ground".

 


 

Afterword – So what do you guys think of my first anti-perspective? I plan on doing more from here on out, so hopefully you found it to be interesting. I would write a bit more in this section however I have a beta I must attend to, so until next time~

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