Many experts in the game design industry predict that the rising trend in free-to-play games will continue during 2014 and the foreseeable future. Insiders and outsiders alike are of the opinion that free-to-play was just for mobile and browser titles, but that’s not the case.
Some high quality offerings have become available over the last couple of years and with the success they’ve experienced, more are planned. Full games such as Team Fortress 2, League of Legends, PlanetSide 2, and Star Wars: The Old Republic have all launched on the free-to-play platform.
There are definitely pros and cons to free-to-play. On the positive side, people can try the game and play for extended periods of time before spending money. Casual gamers can enjoy playing without paying monthly fees. It offers a cheap entertainment alternative.
The flip side is that free isn’t free in a lot of cases, and it’s difficult to tell when you first start playing how much it will cost to maintain interest or stay competitive because many players will choose to add options. Some options give players a competitive advantage, hence the allegations of “pay to win,” and many players are willing to buy anything and pay any price to win.
How game designers make money with free-to-play games
It seems counter-intuitive that a game designer would make money for a free game, but they can actually make more money if done correctly by offering it for free rather than a pay-to-play model.
Through micro-transactions, (generally $1-$5) game designers make options available to enhance the player’s experience. Some purists decry this as “pay to win,” but many of the things you can buy in the cash shop are cosmetic options to differentiate players from each other.
Free-to-play games also monetize through advertising. Many have ads that pop up during breaks; in-game advertising banners placed throughout the game simulate advertising at sporting events. In-game adverting affects the game as little as possible.
It’s estimated that the free-to-play version of Team Fortress 2 generated 12 times the revenue of its subscription counterpart. So if it’s done well, game designers will find the free-to-play platform very lucrative.
As a consumer, do you use free-to-play games, or spend a little extra to enjoy an ad free gaming experience?