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Free-to-Start & Pay-to-Play Games: Are they Unethical?

If one thing has been constant in the gaming industry, it is has been money. How much should be put into a game's development, how much should it cost at launch, will there be a special collector's edition, should there be advertisements in the game to reduce the cost of development, the list goes on. However, this money issue has given a lot of developers some unorthodox ideas in how they can profit from their products. I'm of course talking about Free-to-Start, Freemium, and Pay-to-Play games. From what I've seen, some gamers don't have a problem with it, but many others have said this particular gaming practice has left a sour taste in their mouth. Is the hate justified though? Well I'm going to examine each of these and see if they're as "evil" as many have claimed.

Free-to-Start (Examples: Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water, Killer Instinct, Zen Pinball 2)

A Free-to-Start game (Also known as Free-to-Play) is any game that offers a small snippet of the game for free, but after that snippet is finished you would then need to pay real world currency to permanently (or even temporarily) unlock a portion (or the rest) of the game in order to play new content. Now, I can understand why people wouldn't like this. Much of the game would be locked behind one or more pay-walls that you cannot pass unless you fork over some of your hard earned cash. Sometimes (and often without paying attention) you would dump more money into the game than it would theoretically be worth. You would just keep feeding money into the game just so you could keep playing for a chance at new content. I'm guilty of this when I play Nintendo Badge Arcade. The thing is, many mobile games are literally Free-to-Play and the only things that are priced are power-ups that can help you get past an area where you might be stuck. Exactly where does the hate come from then? My theory is because the game might be fair most of the time, but it may spike in difficulty and you would have to pay to gain an additional boost. This might be the case, but who knows for sure...

Freemium (Examples: Team Fortress 2, Star Wars: The Old Republic, League of Legends)

A Freemium game is any game that otherwise offers you the full single-player and/or multi-player campaigns (if not most of them) completely for free, but with a catch. This catch is while a lot of the game is free, much of the game's content can unlocked through normal (but extended) play, but with the ability to bypass this through paid transactions. This includes, but is not limited to: additional cosmetic options to your character, more powerful bonus weapons or characters unavailable in the main game, additional areas or game modes, extra in-game currency, or even items and equipment in the game that you can unlock from normal play. I could see why this would be a hot button issue with many gamers, but I can also understand why this would be a viable alternative. If you are a player that has little time for games and/or are impatient, you can pay a little cash for specific features to help you quickly get the items or goods that you like the most. Although I can also see why many don't like this either. While I occasionally play Team Fortress 2, I don't play it often enough to win any random drops that get me what I want, but I don't want to shell out any of my cash for anything on the Steam Workshop either. It's why the phrase "Pay-to-Win" exists after all...

Pay-to-Play (Examples: Skylanders, World of Warcraft, amiibo)

Similar to Free-to-Start games, a Pay-to-Play game only lets you continue playing as long as you keep feeding money into the beast. But unlike Free-to-Start games, these are almost all subscription or physical media based and more often than not, there might not be a free portion of the game to try. Depending on the game, if you want to continue playing so you can see new content, you will need to subscribe to an online service with regular monthly payments, or buy more physical objects that are compatible with the game in question. These subscriptions and add-ons can drain your bank account faster than anything I've seen, and I should know as I regularly buy amiibo whenever they become available. Games like this are notorious for not only for charging you the subcription/media fees but also charging EXTRA for the main game and any major expansions that become available for it later. These types of games are also the major cause for "subscription fatigue" which is usually why most gamers only have one game of this type (assuming they have one at all). I theorize as time goes on and as inflation gets out of hand, people just start to see the futility of spending money on frivolous things and start to become bitter when they are being charged for every little thing, even if the cost overall is negligible. But I digress...

So with my analysis on these three game formats, only one question remains: Are these types of business practices unethical, or just a necessary evil? Well... Money is inherently evil to start with and it makes them look greedy when they abuse paid transactions to no end, but unfortunately it is a necessary evil whether we want to admit it or not. It drives the economy forward and it makes sure the people that worked on the game still get a paycheck. So if you happen to play games like these (I do all the time), just remember that the money spent on it is more than likely being used to make sure that company that made it stays in business. But until next time, I'll be seeing you.


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