Give Me Experiences, Not Obligations

by Kyle Hilliard on Nov 24, 2023 at 08:00 AM

It is admittedly unfair of me, but any time a video game reveals itself as free-to-play, my interest immediately dissipates. Free-to-play games are not universally bad; plenty of brilliant design ideas, engaging stories, and fun mechanics can be found in games with no upfront admission fee. But once a game’s goal shifts from singular experience to long-term engagement, any excitement I may have folds in on itself and disappears like Pac-Man.

It all stems from my desire for experiences, not obligations.

In free-to-play and comparable models, success is marked by player engagement. The more rounds a player queues into and the longer they play, the more likely they are to engage with the monetized elements. And the best way to encourage that engagement is to incentivize players to return. Daily check-in unlocks and numerical goals related to how often you use certain mechanics – those are obligations without a finish line. I’ve fallen into the trap a few times with mobile games and online shooters, but I no longer have the patience to engage.

Video games are a medium of artistic expression. My favorites have something insightful to say with their story, force you to reconsider basic mechanics in new ways, make me laugh, and have proper conclusions. I don’t want to be distracted with goals outside the canon of the world I’m trying to lose myself in.

The illusion is shattered when I'm presented with paid skins or will receive seven additional bloop coins for signing in 10 days in a row. I am no longer fooling my brain into thinking it exists in an alternate reality where throwing bipedal plants at a monster means I can get on my spaceship to go home. Now I’m engaging with a piece of commerce. Like using a touchscreen to order fast food items, but instead of pressing my finger against a pane of unsanitary glass to receive a milkshake, I’m controlling an avatar with a pink scarf shooting at other players to get a new colored smoke trail for my parachute.

I don’t fault developers for chasing this model; it can be extremely profitable when successful and ensure the long-term health of a business and its employees. I also understand the appeal of free-to-play games. It’s an avenue toward a social community, and nothing encourages friends to check out a multiplayer game more than the promise that you won’t have to pay a dime to at least try it out.

For me, however, I don’t want required reading. I don’t want to feel like I’m missing out on temporary events and licensed character skins just because I played a different video game. I don’t want to commit to anything that demands I set a calendar reminder to play. It’s the way television used to work, and there’s a reason it’s nearly extinct. In the time I have set aside for entertainment and video games, I want experiences from creators with specific ideas that conclude. I’m more than happy to pay for those – even at a high price point – exactly once. The only obligation I want is the recurring memory of how much I enjoyed that experience.

This article originally appeared in Issue 358 of Game Informer.

Products In This Article



PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, PC, Mac, iOS, Android
Release Date:
July 25, 2017 (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, Mac), 
April 2, 2018 (iOS), 
June 12, 2018 (Switch), 
August 9, 2018 (Android), 
November 10, 2020 (Xbox Series X/S), 
November 12, 2020 (PlayStation 5)