When we all started throwing around the term ‘free-to-play’ it was probably some marketing twazzock’s absolute dream. It’s a collection of words which have no bearing on the truth; no inherent meaning anymore, and that’s exactly how the publishers of these games want us to think. Clash of Clans? Free-to-play. Candy Crush Saga? Free-to-play. App Store? It’s full of free-to-play games.
As if it needed saying, but none of these things are fucking free-to-play. They’re free to install. They’re free to start playing. But they’re not fucking free. Oxygen is free. My sodding pack of Candy Coins isn’t free. They’re products designed to extract as much money from their user base, as quickly and efficiently as possible, so how on Earth have we all been duped into calling these predatory products ‘free’?
Nintendo, for all its ass-backward ways, is somehow slightly ahead of the curve with this one. These so-called Freemium (*shudder*) games from Nintendo are classified as ‘free-to-start’, a far more agreeable term that at least makes it clear you’ll be expected to pay eventually.
Nintendo even goes one step further with this feature as well, at least in its own eShop storefronts, setting a cap on the amount that can be spent on a game before its owned outright. Pokemon Picross is a free-to-start game that also includes microtransaction packs. However, spend $30 on microtransactions and all areas, game modes and elements are unlocked, while the recharge times on skills are removed. I’m in danger of moving a long way away from what this topic is even about, but this cap on spending is absolutely the right way to go for these types of games.
Head to the Wild West that is the Google Play Store though, and Nintendo’s usual inhibitions fall off a silk gown. Away from their family-friendly safe haven, they’re happy to gouge the ever-loving life out of Fire Emblem Heroes fans with packs of coins and a predatory gatcha system. You don’t have to look far to find people who’ve spent hundreds of dollars. This game, needless to say, is ‘free-to-play’.
Of course, such a term as free-to-play isn’t totally off the table. I would certainly class the likes of Fortnite, and DOTA 2 as genuine free-to-play titles. Apex Legends is a tricky one to categorise, locking characters behind grind or paywalls as it does. Despite that, there is literally nothing stopping you from being competitive in Apex Legends even if you don’t spend a penny. Warframe, well, I've never played enough Warframe to know if money ever becomes an issue.
F2P is a term that has its uses then, but its tendrils have spread out far and wide from what the term should actually mean. I think it’s about time we put to death the idea of free-to-play as a label for freemium games and call them what they really are - free-to-start predatory cash grabs. Writing that down, I really it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, so perhaps someone wiser on GD can dream up a stronger term for these money-draining titles.