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LONG BLOG

"Free-to-play: Is a cancer on the industry and should be wiped out completely!"

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... is something I would probably never say.

 

'GACHA!'

To be fair, that sentiment has been echoed for the past few years so incessantly and in such a vociferous tone that anyone on the internet would readily believe it.

And in all fairness, there are some fairly dubious practices all around. But before I believe in it wholeheartedly, I'd have to think of three things first - my wife, my family, and where I'm from.

"Oh my god! Is Joel still alive? Is that him? Oh hey, it's Ellie!" my wife exclaimed when she watched the trailer for The Last of Us 2.

It's the only major AAA-title that had gotten her hooked. Even though I tried to get her to play other games:

  • Civilization ("This is so boring"; "one more turn, more like one more snooze"),
  • Destiny ("My head hurts"),
  • God of War or Devil May Cry ("Graaaahhh! I hate this! WTF is going on?"),
  • and of course, World of Warcraft...

  • "Babe, can you make a healer?"
  • "Nouuuuuuu! DEATH COIL!"

She played The Last of Us no less than five times, and a couple of completions with the DLC as well, so she's eagerly anticipating the sequel. One game out of the hundreds I had managed to grab her attention.

For the most part, she's content with her Candy Crush, Cooking Dash, Clash of Clans, a couple of jumbled-word games that let you buy hints and promote a lot of ads, and currently Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery.

Freemium games are her gateway to the convivial circle of gaming.

She doesn't spend a dime. I should know. She has my credit card info on her Apple ID.

Above: The secret to a happy marriage is trust. And trust means giving your spouse your credit card info in the hopes that he/she would use it responsibly.

In the same vein, my parents, both retired senior citizens, are hooked on freemium games such as those aforementioned above. My mom was under duress when her Candy Crush account got mixed up, and she went from Level 900, back to Level 1. I've never seen her that frustrated since Ninoy was assassinated in 1983!

My dad was an avid gamer in the early years of the industry - whether it was Pong, Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Excitebike or Game & Watch titles, he was the one who introduced me to this wonderful world of virtual entertainment. And as games went from conventional romps to perplexing and convoluted mechanics, and became more strenuous on the eyes - he stopped playing games completely.

Until I dropped by during one weekend, gave him a secondhand smart phone, and installed a couple of simple freemium games. Now he's back to gaming and could barely watch a TV show since his face was glued to the 5x3-inch screen. He's screaming expletives when an AI opponent beats him in a free-to-play title - just like any self-respecting gamer.

My sister's a workaholic. When we were younger - we used to battle for supremacy in Mario Kart, and she ended up running through Final Fantasy VII three times, hoping against hope to revive Aeris (remember the old rumors that you can revive her using White Materia - we totally fell for that).

Above: FAKE NEWS!

She does not have time for that now owing to her busy schedule. So her gaming time is allocated between Clash Royale, Clash of Clans, and a couple of Marvel Games (Strike Force and Contest of Champions).

Her fiancèe, a dudebro who doesn't have time to watch streamers, or to have 10-hour romps and pubstomps, also plays the same games for them to have a shared gaming hobby.

So when the internet says: "FREEMIUM GAMES ARE A CANCER, ARE EXPLOITATIVE AND HARMFUL, AND SHOULD BE REMOVED!" - I'd more or less think of the people close to me who don't really look or feel exploited and harmed.

It might also add context that I come from a poor country in another corner of the world.

This is far from the happy confines of the West - "The Promised Land/s" - as we would call them.

The average household income where I live is the equivalent of $5,300 for the entire family... for the entire year.

In the United Kingdom in 2017, the median value for income is £27,300 ($37,112) for households.

In the United States, it's $59,039.

'MURICA! FUCK YEAH! TAKE THAT REDCOAT SCUM AND PIERS MORGAN!'

What does this have to do with Freemium games?

You might also know that a lot of gamers like them because they don't really require any initial investment.

It's not just having easy and intuitive systems, or simple mechanics. It's not just being 'casual friendly'.

It's the fact that you don't actually have to pay first in order to try something out.

So if you come from humbler beginnings, your perspective changes - because you will essentially see poorer kids playing and enjoying video games that don't force them to make payments on the onset.

But what about microtransactions? Those kids will get exploited, coerced, and pressured to make payments!

That's where 'financial literacy' comes in.

'Okay this one's for that cool hat, this other one is for that cool armor; and the rest would be for my cool wife and my 10 kids. And new briefs. Cool briefs!'

When I was in my teens, I left home to see the world - and that world was mostly 1 1/2 hours away from my house since that's where my college was.

There was an area known as "The University Belt" where around five campuses named after saints and whatnot stood.

And in each and every street was a computer shop/LAN cafe where students opened boxes with "I WIN!" power-ups, or were furiously scratching out 'Top-Up' cards that allowed them to purchase new weapons, or buy cosmetics, or obtain gems and premium currency so they can join events.

The game mechanics most people are decrying in the last couple of years? Those have been present where I'm from since the early-2000's.

I never really saw the 'ruination and destruction' it caused for gamers - in fact we have a fairly vibrant gaming scene today.

I even ended up becoming a moderator/gamemaster for one such local MMO-game over a decade ago.

I wasn't really promoting people buying stuff. I was mostly answering their questions when the next event would be, or popping up as a gigantic monster mob - and when I was downed, players - cash-spenders and non-spenders - all rejoiced.

'I usually targeted the people wearing shiny/premium items first. I'm a good guy!'

Teens and young adults were deactivating their Myspace and Friendster accounts, all because Facebook had so many awesome 'energy/timer-based' games.

Most of these kids were from low-to-lower-middle income families.

Why do you think LAN cafes became popular? Because not everyone could afford a brand new PC, or a Nintendo 64, or an XBOX, or a Playstation, or even the space for it in their homes.

And because they played freemium games, where there was no barrier-to-entry, no initial purchase, no convoluted mechanics - they were introduced to the wonderful world of gaming. The only expenses they had was paying 50 cents per hour to play in those shops.

They were enjoying the games that I was privileged enough to enjoy.

Above: First image result for 'Privilege'. I'm sorry, I needed a paragraph break for each section of the article. /high-five

And if there were pay models that gated their progress, or promoted a means to skip-the-line, or to be stronger - they decided on their own if they wanted to avail of these.

It's learning to 'Vote With Your Wallet' in a practical application.

  • There are kids I know who spent their lunch money, and I'd end up sharing my food with them as we discussed the games we liked.
  • There are kids who exhausted all their allowance on more costumes, and a group of my fellow 'LAN-ners' would pitch in for someone's fare.

But all of us learned the value of our money - because we had less to spend, and we ended up knowing, sooner or later, how to best spend on something.

"Damn! I spent all my allowance on a game! That's bad! I should definitely never do it again! Or I might... muahahaha!"

And maybe there are those who spend millions due to these addictive mechanics - but they probably don't need me handing them my condolences since they have more money than I do.

And there are those who don't regret spending any of it.

Who am I to judge how another person parts with his/her hard-earned money? As long as they aren't using it to fund terrorism or child porn, they're just regular people with their own spending habits.


Above: Healthy and hopefully controlled spending

Below: Please don't.

So it is not that easy for me to castigate and villify a system that's earned profit from gamers.

It's because as someone who frequented those shops ages ago, I also knew that so many of us 'profited' from our entertainment and enjoyment - and the escapism that games provided away from life's harsh and boring realities.

You could go now to any poor country in the world, find a child, show him your phone that's running a freemium game, and ask him to play it. The last thing on his mind would be 'Oh no - what about the predatory mechanics? What about possible gatekeeping methods and gacha systems?'

No. That child's eyes will be filled with wonder... because that's what games have provided for us since time immemorial - ever since the first freemium systems cropped up in arcade machines eating up your quarters so you could 'CONTINUE'.

And if kids get addicted to it, or people spend too much money on it - that's the responsibility of the individual or his parents/guardians. And I learned that from a young age with a ton of games that surrounded me.

  • 'Dad, can you teach me about the importance of managing my finances and how not to quickly ask for purchases of the things I want, assigning proper valuation for each and every item first?'
  • 'No son! I'm too busy arguing on the internet! I'm doing this FOR YOU!'

For the most part, I'd prefer a balanced approach - one that allows for a harmonious relationship between those providing free games, and those who prefer them for various reasons.

It means naturally pointing out the flaw of a certain game - such as Final Fantasy: All The Bravest being criticized for barebones mechanics, and RNG microtransactions. Naturally, in the interest of fairness, cite how a good freemium business model would be ideal for multiplayer games, and praise games that do deliver that.

  • If you feel a game is something you dislike and you don't like monetization scheme it has - simple - don't download it.
  • If a freemium game seems decent and you'd like to introduce your kid to it? Cool - do so.
  • Want to make an extra purchase? Totally up to you.

But a blanket rule that says "Freemium Games are BAD" (cough, just go through the comments section of any topic on the internet) is probably not a good way of going about things.

Above: First image search result for "Freemium Games as defined by the Internet"

And finally, it is also worth noting how far gaming has come - and the perception of gaming today as a socially-acceptable and awesome hobby.

This is due, in no small part, to freemium games.

How so?

Remember the 80's to early-2000's when the videogamer was typecasted as an unemployed, nerdy, bearded man who lived in his parents' basement?

Above: Hey guys, that's us! Or... uhhh... wait, you mean we're not 'that guy' anymore?

All that changed - and Freemium games helped make gaming more socially-acceptable.

Since free-to-play games were a dime-a-dozen, and you could find them on PC shops, social media, and mobile offerings - it gave everyone who does not even play videogames the means to try them out.

The ease-of-access and zero-investment, zero-initial-purchase meant that anyone and everyone can be a gamer.

It made gaming a 'norm' - because it was everywhere - no longer confined to $250 consoles, or $60 titles, $40 expansions, or number-crunching for the best way to increase your DPS, or living in a basement.

And interconnectivity and the growth of the industry moves from there.

So it would be a misnomer (and somewhat hypocritical) to say that F2P games are a cancer on the industry, when they practically allowed the industry (and all of us gamers) to be acceptable to a wider audience.

Food for thought~

 

Image Sources: Secondlife, Youtube, Womansday, Deviantart, Marketing-Interactive, Nerdophiles, Shutterstock, Venturebeat, The Independent, Psu.edu, Parenting.com, Historyonthenet, South Park (via Studybreaks)

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About J Jason Rodriguezone of us since 7:31 AM on 04.21.2018