This post was originally published in Gamasutra
By now, mobile gaming has mostly transitioned to free-to-play. But while most games are free-to-play, it’s still the case that free-to-play games, and the free-to-play business model, are often misunderstood. In this blog post, we’ll examine some of the mythology around one of the most common complaints about free-to-play games: that they are "Pay to Win."
What is "Pay to Win"
One of the most common objections to the free-to-play business model centers around the idea of "Pay to Win" (hereafter pay-to-win). For example, a person making this objection might say
Free-to-play multiplayer games tend to favor wealthy players that will simply "pay to win", buying up all the power-ups or items they need to edge out the players who can’t afford to compete (or who don’t want spend). Ultimately, most of the players feel the game is unfair and get "crowded out," thus making it hard to build a long-lasting community for free-to-play games.
There’s a lot in there, and it can be hard to tease apart. But it boils down to the following 4 claims:
- Wealthy players will spend more in a game.
- Spending more gives people a significant advantage in multiplayer games.
- The most successful players are the players who have spent the most (which is unfair and it discourages new players from playing or participating).
- Therefore, when you avoid pay-to-win, you wind up making a game that either doesn’t monetize well, or isn’t very interesting.
If these were always true then, taken together, they would imply that multiplayer games which are strongly free-to-play don’t build long-lasting or large-scale communities. Since that’s not true (there are free-to-play games with very strong monetization which measure user lifetimes in years), it’s worth examining these claims a little more closely and talking about how to use the free-to-play model effectively without destroying the gameplay.