In the days of old before MMORPGs became socially acceptable, just about anything worth playing charged a monthly subscription fee.
And we were okay with that.
While we didn't know the exact numbers, we knew that it couldn't be cheap to develop a game, keep it up to date, and host it on a server farm that we always envisioned to look like a less spidery version of the people pods from the Matrix. It was a monthly membership to an exclusive club, and paying your dues made you feel like you were actually contributing to the cause.
Besides, it’s not like new games were being released every month and you had a ton of options to choose from. There was no “velvet rope” or limited access options – if you wanted to play, you had to pay. They all charged around the same monthly fee, and you’d justify it to yourself because the fifteen dollars you just spent on your sole source of entertainment wouldn’t even buy you a medium soda at the movies.
Hell, you were probably saving money by playing video games.
Fast forward ten years, and the world of gaming has changed drastically. No longer taboo, or “just for geeks”, MMORPGs lost their negative stigma and geeky reputation. Everyone and their literal grandmother now calls themselves a “hardcore gamer” and because of this the market has become absolutely flooded with new games that try appeal to every player in every corner of the world.
Except Chad, because F**K YOU Chad.
The result is usually a visually stunning game with little to no substance or replay value stubbornly clinging onto the “MMORPG” title. It tries to appeal to the masses by having “something for everyone”, and in doing so, it appeals to none.
Games that could once count on loyal followers with subscriptions that lasted for years are now lucky to see three months worth of fees collected before the player gets bored and moves on to the next half-finished World of Warcraft clone.
So in order to make a profit and hold onto some of the money they’ve lost due to shorter subscription lengths, gaming companies are doing the sneakiest, most terrifyingly evil thing that you can imagine:
They’re giving you the game for free.
And I can’t f**king afford it anymore.
Now, I realize that this doesn’t seem to make much sense, so for the six of you who are actually reading this article and didn’t just skim the title so that you could post angry rebuttals in the comment section without actually knowing the content, I’ll explain:
Free-to-play first reels you in by giving you the false impression that the game really is free to play. What it should be called is: “Free to play with limited content and gear that will let you experience the game just enough to have fun, but not enough to actually start pwning faces”.
You see, most free-to-play games limit what you can do, see, or wear while playing the game. Sure, you can go to almost all of the zones and fight almost all of the monsters, but if you want to look cool while doing it, or get there without walking the equivalent of a thousand in games miles…
…they will happily help you out for a small, one-time only fee.
For that fee you’ll get a cool looking horse, or an awesome hat, or maybe access to a mystery box that could possibly contain a powerful item that will give you an advantage in combat while making you the envy of all your friends! It’s only a dollar or two, and you’ll never have to pay for it again.
And suddenly you’re hooked.
They gave you a small taste of the drug for free and now you’re itching the inside of your arm and offering to pay anything for another fix - without realizing how much cash you’re spending. The same cheap penny pincher who complains about spending $14.95 a month to play a fully developed game with no limited content will easily spend twice that to get “luxury items” in a free to play game. A luxury item, I might add, that you have access to at no additional charge if you pay the monthly subscription.
This form of paying piece by piece without realizing it is called a “micro transaction”, and it is the work of the devil.
"Yeah, well I got the game as a gift, only play the free to play portions and haven't spent a single cent in to play the game, so you're wrong. What do you think about that?"
What do I think about that, o' snarky and self righteous fictional question asker? I think that if you're really playing the game, and truly enjoying it, they'll simply wait you out. Time is on their side, and sooner or later you’re going to cave to the lure of getting something awesome for what seems to be “next to nothing”. You don’t want to be the only person on the team without a beanie hat do you?
And if you don’t give in? If you do manage to play for free, not pay a cent, but still enjoy the game and the content to the highest degree possible? Congratulations – you’re in the extreme minority.
Don’t believe me?
World of Warcraft came out with an Epic Mount. Some glittery half-visible horse/griffin/studebaker hybrid that offered like 10% more run speed than the normal 300%+ mounts that were in game. They put it on their website for twenty five bucks, and offered it as a micro transaction fluff piece.
Can you guess what happened?
If you guessed that people pissed themselves with laughter at the sheer gall of Blizzard putting a marginally better mount up on the website for twenty five dollars when there were literally dozens of other mounts that looked cooler already in game for FREE… you’d be wrong. If you guessed that Blizzard made a few MILLION dollars off of a piece of code that was already in game, but not available to everyone, congratulations; you are now aware of the evil contained in the Pandora’s box of micro transactions.
“That’s not fair. Everyone knows that World of Warcraft is pretty much the Special Olympics of gaming. And besides, at least they got a unique, faster mount out of it. It isn’t like they just blew all of their money on stupid hats.”
How right you are my imaginary Devil’s Advocate, they didn’t! Haha! It isn’t like other games have made a metric ass-ton of cash for something as stupid as a novelty hat!
It’s an old grifter rule: As long as you add the word “free” to something, people will literally pay anything to obtain it. Especially if they think they’re about to one-up another player. The micro transaction and free-to-play models are to be both respected and feared, lest they devour your soul.
And your wallet with it.
Luckily, subscription fees aren’t going to go away completely. Every free-to-play game has an all inclusive payment option for that Holy Grail subscription rate of fifteen dollars a month, and as insane as it is to say, it’s often a lot cheaper than playing for free.
Because after a while, all of those silly hats start to add up.