Everyone loves a freebie, and a free game, well, it’s like the warm touch of a hand on your back and a voice in your ear saying, “Go ahead. You deserve it.”
But is that voice a devil or an angel? Are free games all they say? Why can you complain about something that costs you nothing?
Sometimes “free”, though, provokes “Thanks, but no thanks”, and here’s why.
free but bad
Scenario: You download and install a free game, only to find it’s, well… terrible. Well, at least it didn’t cost you money. But it cost him time, the time it took to install it, and the time to discover that fact.
But even though the game is high quality, and many of the best free games are, they are often less fun for the purpose of extracting money from the player. The excessive grind that many free-to-play games have is an example of this.
Progression in a game – unlocking this, which allows you to unlock that and then the other – can be a great way to keep you engaged in a game. And it can be fun too, just ask any Monster Hunter player. But the deliberately annoying grind in some free-to-play games (say Lineage II) isn’t put there to help you have fun. Higher tier items cost many hours of in-game money to entice you to spend real game-of-life money.
Simple pay-to-win games – games where you can buy power (in the form of, say, weapons) are very rare these days; players don’t like obvious pranks, and are capable of making noise, as in the case of Star Wars Battlefront II. But even allowing players to “skip the rut” gives that rich or reckless player an edge and, in fact, allows them to pay to win. This can create a have-and-have-not atmosphere in a PVE game, and can make PVP games particularly difficult to play, particularly for new players being gunned down with powerful weapons.
Then there’s the pressure of endless free games. Epic, we love you, please keep coming; we’re just trying to defend the HDD and SSD challenges. What if you don’t have the space to download them all? Do you delete one to play another? This is a small issue, but one worth mentioning. It’s great to get free games, but it’s not always necessary. Quality over quantity.
Might as well have cost money
But even if the game is great and the grind is good, what about your wallet? “Free-to-play”, of course, does not mean “free”.
Take League of Legends, and take it from us who spend so much money on the game that we won’t say how much we actually spent on it.
There is no pay-to-win in League. Everything sold in the game is cosmetic, and you can even get skins without having to do more than grind, and get lucky with loot boxes.
Still, you won’t get the new skins in a loot box, and they will always tempt you. Well, they always look nice, don’t they? AAA companies really put a lot of time, effort and talent into their products. League skins are always heralded by evil marketing strategies – featuring K-pop-inspired music videos, short films and fiction – that positively entice you to open your wallet to them.
And yet, in the end, you own none of that. When the servers are down you can’t play, everything you spent money on is gone. poof
Still, many would argue that they’re happy to spend money on ephemeral fun, paying for one skin or a little bit of DLC at a time. Yes, when they ponder the total money spent, they get goosebumps, but wouldn’t you if you added up the money you gave McDonald’s?
Ultimately, it’s up to each person to choose whether or not to buy any in-game item or currency, but some games make it nearly impossible not to, and eventually cause players to leave the game altogether.
A strange property of free-to-play games is that even while the game is still around, you can never actually complete it. In normal games you can finish the game in all modes and find all easter eggs and bugs. You could never, however, access every part of League of Legends, not without spending thousands, anyway.
It ends up looking like the “free” part of “free-to-play” is a setup.
Shout out to free games that are really free. Platforms like itch.io always have a wide variety of them, many of which are pretty weird.
There are also free open source games, for example 0 AD, a great example of a truly free game that is just as good as a paid game. There aren’t really many really good open source games. Development tends to be, compared to a commercial game, slow. On the other hand, as long as a game’s source code exists on the Internet, development doesn’t have to end. The game won’t, poof, although players can.
Some of the most addictive games in the world are free. The number of hours we’ve racked up in League of Legends, Warframe, and Starcraft II, for example, is, well, alarming, and probably far greater than what we’ve logged in all of our lonely, tearful moments. -money Steam games combined.
This is because free games are constantly updated. They constantly pull you back into orbit, with new seasons, skins, character updates, and patches.
And it’s a little sad because there are many, many other games available to play. Many of us will probably be familiar with this situation: a new game has been released and we are excited, but suddenly we are playing MechWarrior Online again.
Because we want new things, yes, but new things in games that we are familiar with are also new. And anyway, we have so many skins and we’re about to level up… Our free game didn’t cost us a penny – to begin with – but now we spend a lot of money and time.