Yu-Gi-Oh Master Duel and the Limitations of Free-to-Play

A couple weeks ago, I went-off on free-to-play games, saying that I think that the model is irredeemable at this point. I even went so far as to say that there are no good free to play games. While I do stand by the first statement, I feel as though I need to take back the second. There are indeed good games out there that employ a free-to-play (f2p) model. Warframe is one, Fortnite (as much as I dislike it personally) is another. Both games have large followings for a reason, and that reason certainly isn’t the cosmetics. However, I do still think that they (and every other f2p game) would be a lot better if they weren’t tied to the f2p model. To explain what I mean, let’s take a look at a new and already very popular f2p game: Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel.

Originally, I wasn’t going to play Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel. I was (and still am) wary of the fact that it’s an f2p game, and I wasn’t going to support it. However, a buddy of mine talked me into trying it so that we could play Yu-Gi-Oh! online together. I eventually relented, downloaded the game and proceeded to very carefully build a deck. I was, and still am, determined not to spend a single cent on this title, so my approach has been cautious. In playing the game, I’ve seen suspicions both confirmed and surprisingly defied.

First the surprises. I was surprised to find that I was able to build two completely different decks without spending any money. I was even able to craft a variant of one those deck, again without spending money. It took a lot of grinding and careful planning, but it was doable. I even have enough currency leftover to maybe get a good start on a third deck if I really want to. Truly, this was indeed surprising. I was fully expecting to only make one deck, and from there start feeling the pressure to spend. This hasn’t happened yet, though I will say that the free currency supply has dwindled dramatically as I’ve played.

As for things that are as expected, well there’s a lot. Firstly, the only reason I’ve been able to make as many decks as I have is that I’m purposely not playing meta decks. I’m playing a strong archetype (earth machines), but not something capable of competing at the top level. So, many of my cards are relatively cheap within the Master Duel economy. For those who want to compete at the top, and continue to do so, it’s going to take more than what can be earned for free. This is to be expected of an f2p game, that is one has to pay if they want a real chance to win. This is my first problem with Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel and indeed many other f2p games.

Another wholly expected pitfall of this game is an overall lack of features. Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel essentially has only three modes: Solo Duel, Duel Room and Ranked Duel. Solo gives players little tastes of the background behind a few archetypes and serves mostly as a way to familiarize newcomers with different strategies that exist in the game. This isn’t a bad thing, but it’s just not interesting. It doesn’t offer anything all that different from normal dueling, so you wind up just wanting to play against another person like normal. It’d be different if there were actually some story to explore here, but there just isn’t. There’s only backdrop and that just plain doesn’t cut it.

Duel Room is functional as far as free dueling goes, but it lacks the features necessary to allow one to really enjoy it. Say you want to play a certain format, or using some unique rules/limitations; those options aren’t there. There’s also an overall lack of ability to communicate. Do you want to only play friendlies? Well, better hope the people that join your room want to too since you have no way to directly communicate with them. Want to test your deck? Same problem. Want to use only Xyz, Synchros, Fusions or Tributes, wanna play without hand-traps? Same problem. The lack of both communication and customization makes this mode an absolute crap-shoot no matter what, and that’s a problem.

As for ranked, it’s functional but again there’s issues. It’s the only mode that yields rewards, and it has only 5 tiers: Rookie, Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum. This means that unless one plays a strong archetype, they’re not going to be able to earn much in terms of cards and currency. It also means that a non-meta player can only advance through four tiers at most before hitting the meta wall. I’ve reached Gold 1 with my deck so far, and I’m dreading the day I make it to Platinum. There’s no fun to be had once that threshold is crossed, and that’s a problem! Most online card games have anywere from 7 to 10 tiers to help separate meta from non-meta, so why does Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel have so few?

Honestly, I think it comes back to what the real product is here. If the product was the game, then Konami would have had to solve most of these issues before launch, otherwise fans wouldn’t have bought it so readily. There’d also be more ability for everyone to play more of the cards they like since they’d be buying a game instead of the cards. This was the case with Yu-Gi-Oh!: Legacy of the Duelist, and it was fine. All that game lacked was some online features. However, the product this time around is in fact the cards, so Konami isn’t as worried about making a robust game.

Rather than building out their online experience, the company has already instead gone on and announced he game’s first event, a mode with extra decks limited to Xyz monsters. Players looking for something different to do in the game will of course flock to it, and all those playing non-Xyz decks will have to spend money to craft one that is. You see where the priority is here right? You see why Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel can’t live up to its potential, yes? Konami’s aim with this game is not to provide fans with a fun Yu-Gi-Oh! experience, but rather to sell digital card packs. That’s it. That’s what this game is for. It’s really too bad.

I remember saying in the last post that making the industry turn away from this model may mean skipping certain games even if they’re enjoyable. Well, here I am playing one of them, and perhaps I should follow through on that notion. I like being able to play online with my buddy, and I like being able to put my earth machines against other, non-meta archetypes. Indeed, this game is convenient if nothing else. Just playing it is enough to support it though, even without spending money. So, here’s to something that could’ve been good but must be left behind, I guess. Ah well, at least there’s plenty of other, better games to play out there.

Have you played this one at all? What’s your take on it?

Image from the Nintendo eShop page