Free to play games used to get a lot of stick in the olden days, companies would build their virtual empires on MMORPGs that had little story or little reason to go for it. One of the oldest I knew about was Runescape. A game that co-workers loved to scam people out of hard earned virtual items for more fun than turning a profit. Nowadays I always see my girlfriend clicking away at free to play games on Facebook and when co-workers ask me to play a game on there because they need more dudes in their virtual pyramid scheme. I go on about how the game offers no real risk reward as would a game like World of Tanks does (If you do well then you get better tanks faster. Do shit and you lose in game credits). Maybe I donít like the lab rat reward scheme that Facebook CSI offers.
But over the last few years we have had offerings like Quake Live, League of Legends and even Team Fortress 2 becoming free to play was a glorious surprise for those that havenít taken advantage of Steamís numerous sales of the game or just late to the PC party. It helped get a friend of mine back on TF2 after he couldnít log into his Steam account as it was untouched for roughly a year. So we are seeing the free to play market expand with a greater variety of titles. But are they always getting the right formula?
One game I can say is doing well but could do with a change or two is World of Tanks. I have made two accounts on this game and the first was from scratch and not paying a single pound sterling towards the in-game gold that would provide me with boosters and purchasing tanks, if better tanks are available to a fresh player. The problem is that when you are new you have tanks that look like tractors. These tractors with cannons are slow and weak. A well placed shot will destroy you in one go and even a glancing blow can cause enough damage that thereís little you can do before you are put down. This means you have such slow progress, you may just want to quit straight after your first bunch of losses. The second play-through from the start was with a free starting pack provided by a PC games magazine. This gave me a fast strong light tank along with gold and bonus time for double XP and credits. So I managed to get to the same point in the tech tree in about a nights worth of matches. Now I am not one to look a gift horse in the mouth. I know the starter tanks face other lower tier tanks but just having a tank that was a cut above the rest shows that having some perk at the start can take you a long way. Holding it back seems to be the wrong idea as a taste of nice things could help users want to try out using bonuses more often. Dragging you through the mud isnít what people would call fun.
My other gripe about this type of game is how if you get a friend to play. One of you will need to cough up some cash to play together. Itís like you can both go paintballing for free but your friend will be in another forest and there is a bridge to that other forest and it requires you to pay to allow you into that other forest.
World of Tanks isnít the only culprit in forcing you to pay to play with friends. Quake Live also treats you to the same problem. You are forced to Ďgo proí so you and some friends can have a game. I could also just install Quake 3 and find an active server. So you can see the problem that Quake Live faces as itís competitor is itís past that has not left yet.
Donít think Iím going to just shit all over free to play games. I really do enjoy playing World of Tanks to see if I can win a few rounds and ruin some tanks without getting myself killed. I also like Quake Live for itís play anywhere mentality as I managed to get running at my girlfriendís parentís PC without having to fiddle with graphics settings other to make it full screen. Just 5 minutes of downloading and away I go.
There are other games that have gone free to play for the better. Lord of the Rings Online has been made free and itís a boost as I can do the usual run around and grind for an hour whilst watching some TV. Itís fine and I donít have to spend money to do so. Itís like getting that grind fix I like in small doses in WoW but without a monthly cost.
This will lead me to my next gripe. The Ďshoving your wares as soon as possible policyí. The recent Age of Empires Online (AoE Online for short) is my target here. Mainly because as soon as I picked my civilisation I wanted to play as. It shows Ďbuy premiumí straight on the portait of the civ I just created. I kinda dislike being asked straight away in a free game to buy add-ons before I know what a game is like. It is a marketing thing but let me have my fun first. I donít even know what the game is like! Stop shoving that grinning old dude in my face (youíll know him when I see him)! Let me roll over some dudes base with catapults like I did in the times of old AoE. But even with itís slow learning curve. The game doesnít just shove you straight into a fight with other players as that would be a kick in the balls. PvP seems optional but I will need to put more time into the game. So hopefully Iíll be able to give it a full run down later.
So are free to play games going to replace you having to spend 30 - 40 quid to play a full game? Probably not, simply due to a free-to-play gameís pricing scheme. A section of game can cost from 5 to 10 pounds. A season pass of content for AoE Online can cost upward to 80 quid for what would be the usual 30 quid. This payment plan really doesnít seem ideal for the have your cake and eat it type, yíknow the sort that likes to get hold of every piece of content. Pro-tip - donít splash out all at once. Maybe one day a F2P game will get a total price down to something a bit more reasonable for a first release of content in a game. But it's definitely had some very nice tries so far.