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, “Go ahead.” You deserve it.”
But is this voice a demon or an angel? Are free games all they’re supposed to be? Why would you complain about something that costs you nothing?
Sometimes “free”, however, causes “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… terrible. Well, at least it didn’t cost you any money. But it cost you time, time to install it and time to find out.
But even if the game is high quality, and many of the best free games are, they are often made less fun in an effort to extract money from the player. The excessive grind of many free games is an example of this.
Progressing through a game – unlocking this, unlocking that, then unlocking the other – can be a great way to keep you engaged in a game. And it can be fun too, just ask anyone. which Monster Hunter player. But the deliberately annoying grinding in some free games (eg Lineage II) isn’t put there to help you have fun. Top tier items are priced at many hours of in-game currency to incentivize you to spend real money on the game of life.
Simple paid games – games in which you can buy energy (in the form of, for example, weapons) are quite rare these days; players dislike obvious funny business 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 wealthy or reckless player an advantage, and it allows them, in effect, to pay to win. This can create an atmosphere of helplessness in a PVE game, and it can make PVP games particularly unpleasant to play, especially for new players who get shot down with powerful weapons.
Then there is the pressure of endless free games. Epic, we love you, please keep coming; we are just trying to speak for disputed HDDs and SSDs. What if you don’t have space to download them all? Do you delete one to play another? It’s a small problem, but worth mentioning. It’s nice to have free games, but it’s not always necessary. Quality over quantity.
Might as well have cost money
But even if the game is great and the grind is good, what about your wallet? “Free-to-play”, of course, 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 in-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 from a loot box, and they’ll still tempt you. Well, they still look cool, don’t they? AAA companies really put a lot of time, effort and talent into their products. League skins are always advertised with nasty marketing strategies – featuring music videos, short films and K-pop inspired fiction – that positively entice you to open your wallet to them.
And yet, in the end, you own none of it. When the servers are down, you can’t play it, everything you spent money on is gone. Poof.
Still, many will say they’re happy to spend money on fleeting fun, paying for one skin or piece of DLC at a time. Yes, when they think about the total money spent, they get chills, but wouldn’t you if you totaled the money you gave to McDonald’s?
Ultimately, it is up to each person whether or not to purchase in-game items or currency, but some games make it nearly impossible not to and eventually cause players to quit the game altogether.
A strange property of free games is that even if the game is still there, you can never really finish it. In regular games, you can complete the game in all modes and find all Easter Eggs and Bugs. However, you will never be able to access all parts of League of Legends, not without spending thousands, anyway.
This ends up making the “free” part of “free-to-play” feel like a setup.
Shout out to the free games that are actually free though. 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, a great example of a truly free game that is as good as a paid game. There aren’t, in truth, many very good open source games. Development tends to be, compared to that of a commercial game, slow. On the other hand, as long as the source code of a game exists on the Internet, development should not stop. The game is wrong, poof, even if the players could.
Some of the most addictive games in the world are free. The number of hours we’ve racked up in League of Legends, Warframe, and Starcraft II, for example, is, well, alarming, and probably way more than we’ve racked up in all of our lonely, crying moments. – Steam gambling combined.
Indeed, free games are constantly updated. They constantly bring you back into orbit, with new seasons, skins, character updates, and fixes.
And that’s a bit sad because there are many, many other games available to play. Many of us are probably familiar with this situation: a new game has come out and we’re excited, but suddenly we’re playing MechWarrior Online again.
Because we want novelty, yes, but novelties in the games we know are also novelties. And anyway, we have so many skins, and we’re about to level up… Our free game didn’t cost us a penny – to start with – but now we’ve spent a lot of money and time.