Abuse of Free-to-Play is Destroying Video Gaming

If you've been lucky enough to avoid all the cruddy city-building Farmville clones on various mobile platforms (notably the modern license-squandering equivalent of LJN Toys, Gameloft) and Facebook, as well as all the garbage like King's Candy Crush that you hopefully have been lucky to avoid seeing on a neighbor's mobile phone or even in commercials on television (for goodness' sake), then allow me to explain free-to-play (or more accurately, pay-to-win) gaming.

Microtransactions are the latest craze in gaming for devices that can have a linked credit card number. The general idea is that you can pay an insignificant amount of money to coerce a significant in-game change. More specifically, four notable forms of abusive microtransaction have come to light:

If you can't see where this is going, that insignificant amount of money adds up substantially as you purchase doohickey after whatchamacallit after tchotchke for your character or land. After a while (or perhaps after viewing your account statement), your brain acknowledges that you have dropped a small fortune—the cost of a AAA video game or two, or even an entire game console—on a silly mobile game, all because of loss aversion from sunk costs. In short, you've already made a small investment, so quitting makes that investment for naught.

Gameloft, in particular, seems to be wasting popular licenses left and right on this junk. The first major My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic game? Farmville clone. The advertisement on a scrap of paper included with a DVD of Men in Black 3? Farmville clone. ...And with the Blu-ray of Ice Age: Continental Drift? Yep, a Farmville clone. A good amount of the licensed stuff on the mobile stores? You guessed it: Farmville clones.

You often can see articles about microtransactions ruining many good franchises. Overall, I think all this disservice by the likes of these greedy mobile developers--both to fans and the original franchise creators--is just ruining classic video games and may likely send the entire art form into the ground again à la the Crash of 1983, where nobody trusts buying games any more due to too many mediocre experiences.

To sum it all up, I'm going to quote that last review:

David Jenkins:
Just play a video game, a real video game, and help stop these hateful anti-games from spreading their poison any further.


I have to say that one of the best ways that I've seen folks make a game free is by simply releasing a demo, which contains the first few levels of the game, then at the end of the demo showing off some of the levels that can be found in the full version. Often, they get you because you'll play the demo a couple times, think it's fun, and want to try out new parts of the game. It also lowers the odds of you from buying a game you'll resent having bought because you can sample it first (and resented sales almost certainly skew sales figures, especially lately with many games focusing heavily on pre-order bonuses, which you have to invest in before the reviews are published).

Now, I don't mean time-limited trials. Those are no fun because they're too arbitrary and you can't feel like you've completed all there is to do in the demo.