Why Free to Play Is Bad Design

I’ve had some conversations with Charles Randall in the past regarding the free-to-play mechanic (which is largely a mobile-focused idea, at least for now), and tonight I was happy to read that he took the time to write out his reasoning on it.

It’s a great bit of thought on why you should be wary of anything that’s free-to-play. A key bit:

If you can pay money in order to win at a Free To Play game, either as points in leaderboards, or in direct victory over an opponent, then the game design has implicitly been corrupted, and we need not visit it further. After all, you have enabled a system where a player who pays money will easily triumph over a player who does not. At the very least, this kind of action requires an unbalanced time investment from the non-paying player, which is not honest game design.

I’d love it if he would do a follow-up at some point and provide some specific games that do this and how the F2P mechanic has fundamentally altered the state of play in the game.

One thing that I thought when reading this is that a lot of games that do this intentionally don’t really have an “end,” at least in the traditional sense, or that they have game progression that is so drawn out as to become enslaving. It’s like doing an MMO, but “hiding” the monthly fee, or better yet, finding a way to scale it so that the people who play the game more and want to achieve faster will spend more money to do just that. You’re building a treadmill, not a game.