I’m Now Absolutely Convinced That ‘Free To Play’ Will Always Be Awful!

There was a time when I thought that free to play could be okay. I mean, I thought that it would exist mostly as another option alongside traditional paid games. I also thought that free to play games would also still be designed to be games first. Well, we’ve been dealing with this model in the mainstream for at least seven years now, and I find my outlook on them becoming increasingly dismal. Not only are these games NOT made to be good games that happen to have the store, but they are in fact the opposite. Even worse, they’re so profitable that the model is now being incorporated into everything. The result, utter disappointment each and every time a game is made to be “free to play”.

Feb 7, 22 – I need to correct my statement regarding Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel. I said only low utility cards can be crafted. Upon further research, I’ve learned that this is not true. Any and all cards can be crafted, it’s just that it takes a lot of resources to do so.

Elsewhere on the Internet, I’ve often wound up talking about how loot boxes compromise game design for the sake of getting players to buy them. I’ve also expressed concerns about just how much emphasis is now placed on cosmetics and the ability to earn them. I’ve even gotten sidetracked into complaining about not being able to earn skins and such. That’s a problem to be sure, but it’s merely a symptom of the real problem that we should be discussing.

That is: free to play games are typically not made to be fun games, rather they’re made to be platforms for digital purchases. The entire point of the game is to get players to feel like they’re missing out and thus pressure them into spending money. The makers want us to feel annoyed or agitated, because that means their “game” is doing its job: it’s making us think about the product (cosmetics, currency, loot boxes, etc.), and the more we think about it, the more likely we are to give in and buy more of it.

Whether you’re complaining about it or singing its praises, you are thinking about it, and you’re getting other people to think about it too. That’s how insidious this is. If you engage with such systems at all, then you’re most likely going to either buy or inspire someone else to buy, and getting people to spend money is the entire point of these games. Fortnite, Apex Legends, Halo: Infinite, Yu-Gi-Oh Master Duel, Raid: Shadow Legends, the list goes on and on and now spans across every divide: genre, platform, scale and production value. It’s all the same kind of game too: the kind that pressures you to buy.

I’ve been stewing on this for awhile now, but the release of Yu-Gi-Oh Master Duel really brought it to a head in my mind. Gameplay and presentation-wise, the game looks fantastic. Truly, Yu-Gi-Oh has never looked more exciting! Here’s the catch though: it’s free to play, and it has all the free to play hallmarks. There are multiple currencies, with the main one being “gems.” Gems are used to buy random card packs, while the rest are used to “craft” specific cards (but mainly only low-utility cards used to round out decks). The game even gives you the “drug dealer taste:” a very large amount of gems for free when you first start, enough to make two, maybe three decks. After that though, you’re going to have to buy if you want to keep playing and be competitive. It’s that same insidious system seen in the likes of Raid: Shadow Legends implemented in a way meant to more easily hook players and keep them hooked through FOMO and sunk-cost fallacy.

“You don’t want to miss out on the best cards and fall behind, right?” “You don’t want what you’ve already spent to go to waste, right?” These are the questions that these systems are built to pose to their players, and you can see it in every single “Free to play” game out there. This system is absolutely not made for the benefit of the players. Rather it’s made to bring about as much loss as possible. These sorts of games are a scourge on the industry, and we must not engage with them if we want any hope of keeping them at bay. Maybe it’ll mean missing out on a hot game or two, but that’s a small price to pay to avoid being psychologically assaulted by your chosen hobby on a regular basis. Free to play games are manipulative trash, and any developer who engages in them is absolutely not your friend.

How do you feel about free-to-play games? Is it possible that they could be fixed? Do you see everything going free to play eventually?

Image © Electronic Arts, Inc., Respawn Entertainment (2018)


  1. Zanfers says:

    I think there are good and bad examples of free to play games. Also it depends on your circumstances.

    Obviously as a kid, relying on parent’s money, or allowance, it is a dangerous thing. As an adult with a salary, I sometimes allow myself a microtransaction or two, especially if it is cosmetic. It is to customise my character and to support the devs.

    But as I said, there are in my opinion good and bad f2p models.

    Good example is LoL, where it is really mainly cosmetic. My fiancee never spent a dime on LoL, but she grinded a ton of characters and she is amazing in the game.

    The bad examples from the games I played are probably Genshin Impact, as it is not simply gems, you basically buy the CHANCE of unlocking stronger characters.

    But the f2p game I hate the most is Hearthstone. When it came out, it was fun. But then they release new and new paid card packs, or you can buy random packs where you might or might not get cards you need.

    I paid for it in the past and I regret all of it. If I’d start to play again, since the meta keeps changing, my “paid” deck would be worthless now. It is the worst type of paid game, where you have to keep spending to keep up.

    So compared to that, a skin or two is an okay thing to sell imo.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hatm0nster says:

      That’s a fair opinion. Thanks for sharing! Indeed, the model has the potential to offer something good, but it tends to be abused in the hopes of hooking people in, you know?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Absolutely. I think the main difference is who the companies are targeting.

        They often have predatory practices against kids, which is not okay.

        As an adult, I guess you have to be responsible, like with any other things. Drinking, gambling, even buying games. They have to be done in moderation and respecting your budget.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. MMO wise, I’ve only played two free to play games and those are Star Trek Online and Star Wars: The Old Republic. The former is fun but I don’t know if you can call the latter free-to-play because you get more benefits if you subscribe. The worst is interactive story games on your iPhone because, if you want to get the truly good options in a story, you have to pay for diamonds, gems, etc. the only example I know of games that are truly free to play were the first two visual novels from Unbroken Hours, Frozen Essence and Heartstring Bugs. There were no inner purchases in either game whatsoever. I actually reviewed both games on my blog, if you’re interested.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hatm0nster says:

      Hmm…I don’t know either of those, so I might just have to check that out some time. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. DDOCentral says:

    Reblogged this on DDOCentral.


  4. BJWyler says:

    I always get a kick out of the F2P discussions, as many gamers prove their ignorance in understanding that the model has been around just as long, if not longer than the sub based model.

    Regardless of the model, MMOs have always been designed to part you from your money. Sub based games tend to be treadmill grind fests. They also do not guarantee quality, nor an upstanding community free from trolls or RMTs.

    It’s not the business model, but how the company implements it that makes it bad. Truth of the matter is that without F2P, there wouldn’t be much of a genre at this point. It allows people to play on their own time, and play more than one or two games at a time as they see fit. Without F2P you would have most non-First World Countries out of the equation. It’s not cheap to be a gamer in countries that aren’t the US or UK.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hatm0nster says:

      Except one model is trying to sell you an interesting game, while the other is trying to use the game to sell you stuff. It’s a difference of motivation on the part of the maker which translates into the quality of the product.

      Also, it’s not cheap to be a gamer period, which is why everything being designed to nickel and dime is a problem.


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