The evil of free-to-play: a look at how developers implement “fun pain” to get your cash
This is what happens when great power falls into the wrong hands. This piece from Gamasutra community blogger Ramin Shokrizade showcases many of the psychological tools that F2P gaming companies use in order to trick gamers into spending money on a title, and it's terrifying to read about the immense power that designers can wield over their players through psychology.
The article itself is written with a cold disinterest to the plight of those being manipulated into handing over cash, and it's shocking to eavesdrop on developers discussing how they implement "fun pain," a term Zynga used to describe the feeling players get when the developer has forced them into an uncomfortable gameplay position.
It's not just about the techniques, but it's also about why those techniques work. Shokrizade even cites research on the development of the prefrontal cortex to discuss why coercive microtransactions are so lucrative with people under 25.
This stuff is scary, and it shows just how far this industry has moved away from "buy a game, have some fun." In some cases it's now about luring someone in with a free video game and then psychologically torturing them as subtly as possible until they pay to make the pain go away.
I do think it's important to note however that this article does not speak for all F2P games. I personally have a blast with both League of Legends and Lord of the Rings Online and never feel like I'm being unjustly coerced into paying...unless that's just what they want me to think.