Free-to-Play games have a long, dark history with PC gamers. After the collapse of the subscription-based MMO genre, free-to-play games burst out of obscurity and into the spotlight. They had always existed, of course. We can go all the way back to MUDs and browser-based games to see that free-to-play has always been a thing. But when World of Warcraft brought millions of people into the “persistent online world” system, free-to-play quickly followed.
Would you like some Grind with that?
Ultima Online, Everquest, and World of Warcraft had grinding. But nothing compares to free-to-play grinding. And the formula hasn’t changed across the genre. Ever. League of Legends, often argued to be the least aggressive free-to-play model there is, allows players to unlock all new characters with points earned from playing the game. In fact, the only thing locked behind a paywall are special skins. Spending money gives you a faster path to the characters you want, but any player can unlock characters at a reasonable pace.
But most of them offer long, painful grinds for little reward. Take Crossout as an example. Now, if you use the search box up top and type in Crossout, you’ll see that I talk about it a lot. We are thoroughly enjoying the game in the PlayStation Compass home, but Crossout is super grindy. The game expects you to play 14 hours per week just to complete a weekly mission. You have caps on how many resources you can earn per week, but the cap is in the thousands and a single match might give you 10-15 if you win, and 5-7 if you lose. That’s a LOT of three-minute matches.
Some free-to-play games are less aggressive
In a lot of free-to-play games, the free players have no chance of competing against the paid players. But this is one area where Crossout does mostly well. Free players typically have less Power Score, and thus get matched with other free players. Paid and long-term free players have found a way to get powerful modules on a vehicle with low power score by foregoing armor and speed in exchange for a single powerful weapon. The problem with this is low level players usually have limited armor as well, and their 2-3 weak weapons are no match for a single powerful one. Crossout seems to split up these high-level-in-low-level-clothing players so at least matches include a fair number on both teams.
But if you want to compete in mid- or high-level matches, you’re going to be spending some cash. And with the exchange rate of dollars to credits to equipment, you could buy a full priced game that doesn’t offer a system like this.
Money spent in a free-to-play game is money usually better spent elsewhere
Here’s the takeaway from this. No matter if you spend $10 or $100, someone will always spend more than you. And once you’ve hit $100, you’re paying well over the price of a full-priced game, so why even play free-to-play games anymore? Crossout is a great game—because it’s free. As a $100 game it’s severely lacking content and has little to offer long-term players. Even low power score battles have started being dominated by equipment that new players have no opportunity to acquire.
Take that $100 and buy a new game, or three games on one of the weekly sales. Or save up for a second PS4. If you can enjoy free-to-play without paying, great. That’s how we’re doing it and Crossout is still fun for us. But if you’re tempted to buy a pack to get some sort of edge, stop. You’ll move up a tier with your fancy new cannon and get killed by people with two fancy new cannons.
Free-to-play has value, but many (if not most) developers offer shortcuts and “pay to win” mechanics rather than offering fair gameplay to all with money only offering optional content. The simple rule to follow is if a game offers advantages for money, you’ll always be disadvantaged no matter how much you spend. That doesn’t mean the game sucks. People spend thousands of dollars on Clash of Clans. Not all people, but individual people have spent thousands of dollars on Clash of Clans. So they can have a bigger fence than you.
These are the people you’re playing against in free-to-play games, and that’s why free-to-play games suck.