Free to Pay

The vast majority of people out there are familiar with the concept of playing an MMO with a monthly fee. After all, even if you aren’t looking at the big granddaddy of them all, World of Warcraft, there have been plenty of online games that require a monthly fee. In some ways, this makes playing the game feel more like a job than it should, because, well, if you’re paying for it, you should be certain to get plenty of enjoyment out of it. It may not seem like a high cost, but, if you assume a monthly fee of $15, and a new game overall is about $60, then you’d better get 25% of the enjoyment as a full new game. And you’d better continue to get that monthly.

Well, over time, some gamers didn’t want to pay a monthly fee. Maybe they found themselves unemployed, and couldn’t afford the costs of keeping up. Conversely, maybe they found a decent job, but no longer have the time to spend in a video game world, at least not one where you need to get 25% enjoyment out of it. Or maybe they’ve got families that expect to see them once in awhile (clearly the trickiest hurdle to deal with). Either way, people didn’t want to pay monthly. So that led game developers to start coming up with new concepts in how to get their online games out to the masses.

Going down one path, and you see companies allowing people to purchase the game once, and then play it online for as long as they choose. For lack of a better term, let’s call this the Guild Wars strategy. Once you buy these games, you can definitely keep playing. Sure, they may roll out a big update every once in awhile that carries a fee, but, often, they know that they’ve got the initial investment, and they want to reward the customers for that.

The second path, naturally, is to ignore the outcries of those who don’t want to pay a monthly fee, and keep charging it anyway. But, well, the less said about that, the better.

Finally, the third path is the path of the “free to play”. Now, FtP is a bit deceptive of a term. Sure, you can technically play the game for free (so long as you didn’t have to upgrade your hardware beforehand), but, well, to really get access to the bulk of the content, you either need to play for approximately half of forever to “earn” the right to unlock it, or you can just go into a micro-transaction store and buy that unlock right away. Why slave away for hours to get access to that dungeon, when you can just activate it through a quick credit card transaction, allowing you all the fun of dying against overpowered enemies right away?

The ability to purchase things in FtP games is sometimes bad enough that there are people who refer to them as “pay to win” games. If you don’t use the store, you won’t have the best content. Which means you won’t have the best gear. Which, of course, means that you won’t find your ideal mate, to create perfect children with. And, yes, I am all talking within the game worlds, because, well, video game talent has not yet fully translated itself into an ability to provide for a family.

Of course, the game developers could go the route chosen by games like Path of Exile, where the game is free, there’s a microtransaction store, but nothing bought in the store does anything more than make cosmetic changes or give you the ability to stuff more loot away. Yes, the PoE store allows you to become a virtual hoarder, but, with the right store purchases, you can safely organize it all onto color-coded tabs. But, really, when games can give players the ability to buy what’s practically god mode, why just give them the opportunity to dye their clothes?

I mean, unless you’re playing in some high school world. In which case, the dyes might be the overpowered unlocks you’re looking for.

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