The second caveat is that this is the proper name for a commonly mislabeled group of games, often you’ll see the words “F2P” or Free to Play when discussing these games but this is inherently untrue. I wouldn’t categorize Pay or Play as just a rewording of “P2W” or Pay to Win either. Pay or Play is a design mechanic that you decide upon before you even begin coding and it is manifest in the entire game itself.
A Free to Play game is a game like League of Legends, a title where you are given full range and control with the ability to support the title through non-mechanism based purchases. These models create an environment where the developer is incentivized to continue generating content and they generally have the most positive consumer base. I’m speaking anecdotally, as will be the case through most of this post so take everything with a grain of salt.
While I’ll admit the LoL fanbase are caustic in terms of competition you will find that many of them are fairly passionate about defending their game. It’s a game and a mode I can respect and one I’d like to see expand. Unfortunately the name, much like Organic in the food world, has been taken and mutated by larger businesses and no longer holds true to its name.
The first step to locating a “Pay or Play” game, does this game have an energy system? If you load up a game and notice an energy system you are in a Pay or Play game. The underlying truth of this genre is that they are giving you a Hobson’s Choice. It starts out slow to get you comfortable with the idea (this is a very simple psychological trick and the concept behind door busters during black Friday). But soon they give you the options of either paying them an arbitrarily large amount of cash or an arbitrarily large amount of time to finish a project in game.
These games are also special in that they are not built first and monetized second, they are built from the first step with monetization in mind. The combat, the item collection, leveling schemes, all of it are designed to extract cash from the player.
These are not so much games as they are very thinly veiled ATM withdrawal machines. The real game going on is between the developer and the user. I think most people playing iPhone Apps or Facebook games don’t realize that they are the game. Developers are trying to beat them and walk away with their money.
This model is carrying over into the regular gaming world and I find it a bit disheartening. Concepts like DLC and Expansion packs have actually been around for a while but now their design and planning is coming during the core discussion of development and production. These are not additions to a title but instead fundamental parts of the plan. When you decide you’ll be adding more things later you procrastinate, this is true in personal as well as professional life. What remains is a game that would have been much larger a decade ago than it is today.
Microtransactions, Online Passes, and other tools are all symptoms of Pay or Play. They’ve been slightly modified to fit better with the consumer market but the essence underlying them exists, the user is the game and their income is the prize.
This is inherently different from the video game model of my teens or pre-teens. I would buy a game and it would be a complete experience, occasionally you’d hit a snag but usually the titles you picked up were really fun and well made. I couldn’t think of a single gaming company I dealt with as a kid that I didn’t like.
There was a two decade period of really great game development and design, I believe hiding underneath this rolling rock was a dirty little secret that I want to cover sometime. Namely that users were getting forbidden fruit far too soon. I believe graphics outran actual technology, we are likely a few generations ahead graphically where we actually should be (hence development costs). But that’s for another day.
These days a lot of companies have taken this new model where the user is the obstacle and I find that highly unfortunate. Modern DRM schemes, FBI warnings, and other insulting messages given to the customer reminds them that they are a chore. They are a hurdle on the race to profits.
Pay or Play is the most obvious example of this in video games, it is the essence of the worst business practices that exist. If you are ever looking at a game that tells you “pay now or get it later” for any of the content within, you are playing a pay or play game. It has given you, a mortal, the Hobson’s Choice of either wasting more of your life than necessary to experience the end or to pay more money to experience that end now. This isn’t even more money because they put in more effort either, you are merely paying to remove an arbitrarily added wall.
There was no extra effort put in by the developers or publishers, they merely demanded you pay them more. I’ve mentioned it before but there is a dirty little secret behind this gaming model, especially in the mobile world.
There is nothing on the other side of that pay wall. But you find out conveniently after it becomes nearly impossible to get a refund. Once you pay, the game is over.
If the choice is between your time or your money, the thing offering the choice is worth neither.