Free to Play? Not Really

Nowadays, we can see a new kind of video games in the video games market: free-to-play video games. Maybe some people may wonder where they are if they usually play games on their consoles such as Xbox One or PS4. Others may come up with some examples like Hearthstone or “free” games on smartphones (e.g. Clash of Clans). Indeed, people in the U.S. get used to “pay-to-play” games. But companies in China and South Korea have designed a lot of games with “free to play” tag, and this mode is now more widely accepted in the U.S. than it was in the past. People don’t pay for the game itself. They pay for some items in these games. And it’s not fair for players who won’t pay or pay less. So some players argued that “free to play” is actually “pay to win”.

Let’s see whether these games are “pay to win” or not. One example is Hearthstone, a collectible card game made by Blizzard Entertainment. Recently I spent much time on it. As a collectable card game, there are various card sets. And better card sets may make advantages in the game, undoubtedly. I’m an amateur in this game and at this first day when I logged in, I found that some players had purchased some excellent “expert cards” and could beat me easily. On that day, I told myself: “it’s pretty common for an amateur so just calm down and get familiar with this game.” But in the next few days, although I had few expert cards by accomplishing some tasks (very hard to do that), it seemed that many players who seemed to pay for these great card sets can still easily beat me. I should acknowledge that I don’t think there’s no opportunity for me when I meet these players, but the difficulty for me to win is greater comparing with them. Sometimes some orange expert cards (the ultimate level card) can just beat me with one or two hits. However, I don’t want to give up because just as what I said, I still have a chance, although I have to design a card sets without orange cards and spend more time to accomplish some tasks in this game to get some expert cards. That’s a challenge for me and I think it will be fun (please don’t laugh at me…).

From my own experience and some comments from others, Hearthstone is not completely a “pay to win” game. People still have a chance to win without paying much for card sets. However, that’s another kind of “pay”—time. If a player don’t pay for good cards, they need to spend much more time in the game. They will not pay by money, and they will pay by their time instead. So in fact, Hearthstone is a “pay to win” game if we just account time as some kind of payment.

Now I want to make a summary here. Players who will be better in Hearthstone is who paid much for the game and who spend much time (they may also pay but not much). This situation is just like the society. Who will get more resources? The rich. And comparing with the people without a college degree, well-educated people have better life quality. Others will earn less than the other two groups. It’s just like what I saw in the game. Players who paid more will have more expert cards and it will be easier for them to win; players who pay a small amount or don’t pay may be better by spend more time in thinking and tasks; players without spending more time and money will be easily beaten. “Pay to win” design makes wider gaps between players.

Just as what I discussed above, “free to play” means paying by money or much more time, in other word, truly “pay to win”. It seems that this kind of game is not worth playing at all. Games on Xbox One or PS4 are better. Just pay once and then enjoy them. However, the reality is opposite: many people are still willing to pay for “free to play” games. If google how much money generated from Clash of Clans, I think some people may be surprised about that large amount. Why do these player want to pay for “pay to win” games? I think that will be interesting if make analysis about similarities and differences between these virtual world and the real world. For many people, it may be easier to win in the game if they spend some money on these games. They may get some satisfaction in this kind of game. This is more obvious in China: many people just want to pay a lot and have the advantage in some games where items paid will be better than others. In a word, who pay in the “free to play” games may feel better at least in games with a powerful “digital-self” by paying for something.


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