The video game market is at its most valuable ever—over $91 billion according to research firm SuperData. A large portion of this is attributed to the runaway success of Pokemon GO, Clash Royale and mobile gaming in general, but #PC gaming was no slouch either, chocking up $34 billion.
It's not hard to believe since #LeagueOfLegends boasts over 67 million monthly players and with #Overwatch bursting onto the scene earlier this year, two of the most played games in the world boast #FreeToPlay game mechanics—it's not hard to see why it's become an industry staple.
What Free To Play Gets Right And Wrong
Though how these games go about it is completely different: League of Legends relies almost entirely on cosmetics and Overwatch uses Loot Boxes to reward active players or hefty spenders. Whilst these are examples of differing monetization strategies, the free to play model has become rather divisive. So here's what I want to see more—and less of—from free to play.
When Free To Play Does It Right
Regardless of how you feel about League of Legends, it has possibly the most accessible monetization plan on the market. Most things you can buy are cosmetic—skins or icons—or reductions to the more grind-heavy experiences. Which has no impact on the competitive gameplay experience upon which it thrives.
Despite the praise I lather them with, not everyone feels the same; Teut Weidemann from Ubisoft has noted, "[It] only works because of the large user base, and if you don't have that user base or don't expect to... It should not be a role model for your monetization system."
He might not be a fan, though I'm a fan of accessibility in free to play games, and that's one of the most important things to understand.
I'm not a fan of the random loot in Overwatch's boxes, though I'll address that separately. What I do appreciate though is the separate currency I can use to purchase items I'm after, earning coins from loot boxes and when unlocking duplicates.
The boxes aren't hard to get either, they're given away when you level up which means you can tot up some serious coinage to snag the things the boxes aren't giving—though eventually I did get that 'Happy Elf Tracer' which I craved, 56 boxes of eventually.
I won't debate whether the addition of microtransactions to RuneScape has ruined the experience, though I think 'Treasure Hunter' is amongst the fairest in this area.
How it works is that players are given a number of rewards each day, often bonus experience, or if you're incredibly lucky, some rare items—which are untradeable, preventing abuse from lucky players or high spenders.
Keys are given out as rewards for certain actions: completing daily challenges, finishing quests or randomly when playing. It's a system that rewards both players and spenders, without giving any preferential treatment to either.
When Free To Play Gets It Wrong
For everything that free to play gets right, numerous other games get something wrong.
Smite's cosmetic skins have no impact on gameplay, but even though some can be purchased at will, others are hidden behind loot box RNG (random number generators), meaning by purchasing the box you have a chance at getting what you want.
Odds of one in six may not seem too bad, but some boxes can contain upwards of 40 to 50 items, meaning if you're unlucky you can spend a lot of money and end up with quite a few things you didn't want to begin with.
Others rely on a whale culture, cultivating a small number of heavy spenders. Whilst I understand the need to find balance between profit and accessibility, depending on whales results in numerous issues.
It raises prices, since selling one item for $2,000 is easier than selling 200 for $10, but it alienates a large percentage of your users. This results in a culture that relies on maintaining the whales, who may receive prioritized service or an entitled status. Whales also tend to benefit from my biggest pet peeve in free to play gaming: Paid players having an insurmountable edge over free users.
However when paid users have stat boosts or access to weapons that free players cannot acquire I draw the line.
It's a lot nicer when paid users are given shortcuts, since these can be overcome by investing time in the game. However items that offer bonus stats can be the deciding factor between two equally skilled players and that kills competition.
Whether you love it or hate it, free to play has cemented itself as one of the key monetization models in the industry. Some games have proved the model a rousing success, others faltered and highlighted what can be a flawed system.
Which side do you stand on, are you a fan of the free to play genre? What are the best and worst F2P games?
They might not be free to play, but these are some of the biggest games of 2016.