Are free-to-play games going to survive?

If there’s one question on every game developer’s lips, it’s “what’s going to happen with the free-to-play movement?” Free-to-play games are rapidly becoming one of the most popular ways to monetise game content, but it’s definitely not an approach to being able to pay for and enjoy a game that everyone in enjoys. If the free-to-play market is going to survive, however, it needs to do the following:

1) Stop punishing players for not paying.

If your game is free-to-play, then it should be free-to-enjoy and free-to-win. If they can’t finish the game, can’t progress any further in their exploration, or are forced to pay to keep up with others, then it’s no longer an enjoyable experience. Too frequently, free-to-play is a moniker used for games that aren’t free to play – somewhat odd given that games that are, such as many of the apps you’ll find on your o2 phone, are not labelled as such.

2) Encourage them to purchase items for fun, not necessity.

Free-to-pay microtransactions can be for things that people simply enjoy, like the hats in Team Fortress 2, rather than items they actually need, like almost every item in Battlefield Heroes (in the early days at least). People enjoy cosmetic items, and it enables them to invest in their game in a way that doesn’t unbalance it for others, and in a way that means those who don’t want to pay can still enjoy the game.

3) Episodic games are an oddity.

Some games tend to have a format in which the first episode of the story is free, but further episodes are going to cost the player. This is frustrating, and a very poor move by the developer, but some people tend to enjoy the other type of episodic – cheap games that release frequently, almost like buying episodes of a TV series.

Free-to-play is something to watch over the next ten years, and with the rise in popularity of apps and free games, it’s not surprising that monetising a market like Android, or iOS, is going to have developers looking towards this business model. How well it turns out for the consumer is another matter entirely, but time will tell.

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