Everyone loves a freebie and a free game, well, it’s like the warm touch of a hand on your back and a voice in your ear saying, ‘Keep going. You deserve it.”
But is that voice a devil or an angel? Are free games all they are? Why complain about something that costs you nothing?
However, sometimes “free” entices “thanks, but no thanks”, and here’s why.
Free, but bad
Scenario: You download and install a free game, only to find that it’s, well…awful. Well, at least it didn’t cost you any money. But it took you time, the time you spent installing and the time figuring that out.
But even if the game is of high quality, and many of the best free games are, they are often made less fun to get money from the player. The excessive grind that many free-to-play games have is an example of this.
Progressing in a game – unlocking this, which you can unlock that, and then the other – can be a great way to keep you engaged in a game. And it can be fun too, just ask any Monster Hunter player. But the intentionally annoying grinding in some free-to-play games (Lineage II, for example) hasn’t stopped there to help you have fun. Higher tier items are priced at many hours of in-game currency to entice you to spend real game-of-life money.
Simple pay-to-win games – games where you can buy power (in the form of weapons, for example) are quite rare these days; players don’t like obvious jokes and are capable of making a fuss, as in the case of Star Wars Battlefront II. But even allowing players to “skip the grind” gives that rich or reckless player an advantage, and it basically allows them to pay to win. This can create a haves-and-have-nots atmosphere in a PVE game, and it can make PVP games especially unpleasant to play, especially for new players who get shot with powerful weapons.
Then there is the pressure of endless free games. Epic, we love you, please let them come; we only try to stand up for the HDD and SSD challenges. What if you don’t have space to download them all? Do you delete one to play another? This is a minor issue, but worth mentioning. It’s great to get free games, but it’s not always necessary. Quality over quantity.
It might as well have cost money
But even if the game is great and the grind is good, what about your wallet? Of course, “free-to-play” does not mean “free”.
Take League of Legends, and take it from us, who spent so much money on the game that we won’t tell you how much we actually spent on it.
There is no pay-to-win in League. Everything sold through the game is cosmetic and you can even get skins without having to do more than grind, and get lucky with loot boxes.
Still, you won’t get the new skins in a loot box, and they will always tempt you. They always look cool, don’t they? AAA companies really put a lot of time, effort and talent into their products. League skins are always heralded by villainous marketing strategies—with K-pop-inspired music videos, short films, and fiction—that positively entice you to open your wallet to them.
And yet you end up owning none of it. If the servers are down, you can’t play it, everything you’ve spent money on is gone. pouf.
Still, many would argue that they’re happy to spend money on short-lived fun, paying for it one skin or a little DLC at a time. Yes, thinking about the total money spent gives them the shivers, but wouldn’t you if you add up the money you’ve given to McDonald’s?
Ultimately, it’s up to each person whether they choose to buy in-game items or currency, but some games make it nearly impossible not to and eventually cause players to leave the game altogether.
One strange feature of free-to-play games is that, even if the game is still there, you can never actually complete it. In regular games, you can complete the game in all modes and find all the Easter eggs and critters. However, you could never access every part of League of Legends, at least not without spending thousands.
It ultimately feels like the “free” part of “free-to-play” is a setup.
Shout out to free games that are actually free. Platforms like itch.io always have a wide variety of them, many of which are very strange.
There are also free open source games, for example 0 AD which is a great example of a truly free game that is just as good as a pay to play game. There aren’t many really great open source games out there. The development is usually slow compared to that of a commercial game. On the other hand, as long as a game’s source code is on the Internet, development doesn’t have to stop. The game isn’t going, poof, though the players might.
Some of the most addictive games in the world are free to play. The number of hours we’ve clocked in League of Legends, Warframe, and Starcraft II, for example, is, well, alarming, and probably way higher than what we’ve clocked in all our lonely-and-cry-for-money Steam games combined. .
This is because free-to-play games are constantly being updated. They constantly pull you back into orbit, with new seasons, skins, character updates and patches.
And it’s a bit sad because there are many, many other games available to play. Many of us will probably be familiar with this situation: a new game has been released and we’re excited, but then suddenly we’re playing MechWarrior Online again.
Because we want something new, yes, but new things in games that we know are also new. Anyway, we’ve got so many skins, and we’re about to move up the ranks… Our free play didn’t cost us a cent to begin with, but now we’ve spent a ton of money and time.