I try not to have biases when picking games to play. Sure, I tend to avoid stealth games because I've never understood how avoiding things in a game was "interactive" entertainment, and that's one bias that will likely always stick with me. I had none going into the idea of these "free to play" games however. They come in all shapes and sizes, all types and genres, and all manner of quality and quantity. But they all have something in common, something that just bugs the crap out of me and immediately turns me off. It's not the micro-transactions either. I know full well developers need to eat too, so I don't begrudge this practice. Though, some handle it better than others to be sure. My issue is simply, what am I supposed to be doing here?
This isn't a question of how to play a game either. This is a question of, what did the designers intend for me to do, or rather what am I supposed to have to beat this game? In game development, designers give you things to beat the game. In Mario you are given Mushrooms at specific points in the game to make you bigger, and give you a chance to overcome harder challenges to come. The Mushroom is there for a VERY specific reason and was tested and intended to be there for you.
Imagine though if you will, a Mario game with no Mushroom. That you are handed the game where you must play through it with no Mushroom, no Fire Flower, no Starman. It would still be do-able to be sure, but it would surely be much harder, and definitely not as fun. Frustration would overcome the enjoyment of the game. Now imagine the game where you had to buy the Mushroom, or buy a Fire Flower or Starman. Imagine 100 other items on top of that, which are meant to assist in some way. Having never played it before, would you know whether you needed a Mushroom to complete the game, or would you think you needed something else? How would you know for sure? Are you willing to pay for something you're not sure was intended by the designers to advance in the game?
This is my dilemma with the Free to Play model. You're thrown in with rags and a pea shooter in most and the pause menu is littered with items for you to buy. What do they do? Am I overbuying, or underbuying? Did I just waste my money? What are other people buying to win? It's these questions and complications that pulls me away from these games. I couldn't care less if a game was "pay to win" that's how gaming has been forever. I paid $60 for Bayonetta 2, it came with ALL the items the developer intended to include, the good ones and the crappy ones. It was up to me to mess around with them all to figure out best practices and best combinations to win, and I eventually did and really that's part of the fun. It was $60 though, did I pay to win? I guess so, but so what? The developers weren't trying to trick me with this transaction. They gave me what was intended, a completed product built with purpose which Free to Play never is. They constantly evolve, update with new items and classes, and patches can even come around nerfing something you were winning with before.
On top of that, you have the issue of pacing. A lot of free to play games with a "pay to win" structure are dismissed by me on the notion of pacing more often than not. X person who paid $200 will get to the endgame and best gear faster than you will who paid nothing. Again, I don't care about this. As a gamer I just want to beat the game, see those lovely end credits so I really don't care if I'm the tortes or the hare. But many free to play games have a pacing issue so ridiculous that even playing 300 hours won't get you to the end, or to a point of some satisfactory completion because of hefty limitations imposed on the player because they didn't buy stuff. Once again, I don't mind that the developers need the money, but what am I supposed to get? Do I get the $30 plan, the $60 one, or is the $200 plan the "intended" or ideal increment to enjoy the game properly. Usually I have no way of knowing this, and if I'm expected to pay upwards of $100 for a single game then I will say no thank you. Would a game release at $100 and justify the kind of content free to play delivers? I highly doubt it. Many of these lack what $30 games can offer, or even $15 indie games like Binding of Isaac which has over 400 items in it (just think of the pay to win structure that game could have had).
The way free to play is structured makes it hard for me to understand the developer's intentions, and hard for me to understand what the ideal experience is. More often than not, that "ideal" experience is met with more than I'd like to afford in their game and often feels like a bait and switch. I don't think these developers understand that gamers don't mind buying your game if it's good, they just want to know what they should buy and don't want to feel cheated. It's a hard balancing act to be sure, and maybe it will never be a model that I can ever understand being such an old school gamer going back to the age of Atari.
So, I guess I have a bias against Free to Play games and it's not that I'm against paying for good content, I'm just not understanding what the "good" content is supposed to be.
*"You've reached the allotted number of quests for the day. Pay $10 for more quests or screw off"*