Welcome to our free-to-pay generation: How F2P mechanics are infiltrating for-pay Xbox One games
Staggered embargoes are weird, huh? We can talk about many of the digital releases that are coming to the Xbox One at launch today, but I can’t dip into much on the hardware side of things until tomorrow. We’ll be publishing thoughts on many games and how they work with the system and the UI in the coming days, but right now I wanted to talk about a clear trend that we’re seeing in the digital launch lineup.
These are games you pay for, and they all have at least a few free-to-play hooks in the gameplay.
In some cases those hooks are very simple. Anyone can download and try Killer Instinct with a single character without paying, and you can then later choose to purchase the rest of the characters starting at $20 for the bunch.
The more expensive options get you more stuff, but if you just want the base game to try and don’t mind only using one fighter, it’s free. If you want all the fighters, $20. If you want all the fighters and accessories and pins and stuff? It goes up from there you. You get the idea, this isn’t crazy.
Powerstar Golf is another game that sneaks in some interesting mechanics. You can earn boosts and slightly better clubs by playing the game and earning XP, and then you spend that XP on blind packs of equipment, clothing, or boosters. The more you spend in XP for each pack, the better the stuff is likely to be, so you have an incentive to save your virtual currency and go for the higher-priced packs. You can also, of course, spend real money to unlock a number of these packages early if you so choose.
This, once again, isn’t a big deal. I’ve been playing through a few courses and I’ve found that I gain XP at a good clip and it’s fun to splurge on a pack or two here and there and see what I get. The game itself doesn’t seem hurt by this addition, and I can see most people ignoring them, the same way we did with the optional microtransactions of games like Dead Space 3.
Crimson Dragon is going to be its own story, because my God… they’re trying to sell you a free-to-play game for $20, and it’s pretty despicable. I don’t often walk away from games because I find the monetization so galling, but this time I put the controller down in disgust after a few hours. That’s just not an experience I want to have, and we’ll talk more about that in another story.
I was able to play the Xbox One’s Forza game at a preview event a few weeks ago, and you’ll be able to buy Tokens with real-world money and use them to unlock cars or boosters that allow you to gain more XP to level up faster. Once more, it seemed that it would be easy to avoid, but I’m going to have to wait until I’ve been able to spend more time with the game.
You’ll notice many games that are shot through with microtransactions, or other mechanics that have been picked up from the world of free-to-play. Some of them, like the blind upgrade packs, are pretty innocuous. Others negatively impact the game.
This trend isn't limited to the Xbox One: The PlayStation 4 launched with a collection for free-to-play games. In Sony's case, they're just being more upfront about the strategy instead of sliding these paid upgrades into the back door.
These are tactics that we’ve grown comfortable with on our phones and tablets, and if the $60 price of games stays static but the cost of next-generation development goes up we’re going to see more games that try to squeeze a few more dollars out of your wallet. We should start to expect this sort of thing instead of being surprised by it in these games, and it’s going to be more important to pay attention to how these games are designed and whether we feel taken advantage of.
This isn’t the end of the world, it’s merely more evidence that the world of gaming has evolved. Still, keep your eyes open, think about what you’re buying, and why.