The Fall of the Arcade, F2P Games, and Why Microsoft missed its mark with the Xbox One
A while back I realized that I loathe free to play games. I’ve given them new names, avoided them, gotten nauseous at news of games I like turning into them. There is something about them that disgusts me like year old moldy cheese.
I couldn’t put my finger on it at first, and I can’t even recall if I mentioned this once I did discover what was up. I talk about so many things on this website that I’m sure I’ll be a broken record soon. Regardless I finally found what I loathe about them and why they are so terrible (to me).
Lets go back first to the Arcade, this is where my conflict first grew. I love and loved arcades. They were loud, gorgeous, and incredibly engrossing. You could experience games like you’ve never known with other people. The screens were huge, the graphics were always cutting edge, and the audio would blow your ass right off your body. It was incredible, something that we are still trying to emulate today in the home.
For this luxury I was willing to throw quarters down for lives, to endure games that were designed to milk me of money, and I did so happily. Playing DDR (for instance) on those metal dance pads with the speakers as big as my head? Oh wow… So incredible.
Over time televisions have become more advanced, sound systems have become more powerful, and you can even buy those metal Dance Pads for your own home. Sure the social experience is missing but with online capacities growing this is becoming less and less of an issue. I personally don’t lament interacting with people on a less physical level, if we are willing to accept automobiles I am willing to accept online social lives.
All the things that made the arcade so cutting edge have turned to dust. With each year it became more apparent and with each year their profits started to drop. I watched, as many did, as arcades began to close all over. Stores that had been running since I was barely old enough to remember anything, stores I had tried (fruitlessly) to get employed at, stores that I had a legitimate fondness for.
They just couldn’t do it. They couldn’t justify charging for an experience that was no longer better than the one you got at home. This same thing happens across all markets, old things die and new things conquer. The old usually fighting tooth and nail against progress but the death is inevitable.
Then came Free 2 Play games, they provided me a game that had less features than a “Pay 2 Play” game but I could give them some money to “unlock” these features. Except that’s not really how it tends to work either, most of the games are instead giving you a stripped down experience and allowing you to pay to speed up the arbitrary slowness.
The reason I hate, passionately, free to play games, is because the vast majority of them provide you nothing better than their alternatives. The graphics are lazy (not charming or engaging), the gameplay is gimped (not revolutionary or interesting), and the entire package is merely a thinly veiled ATM machine.
The arcade provided me high fidelity, great sound, and incredibly intense experiences for a small fee. Free to Play games provide me with incredibly high costs (always outstretching a pay to play game) with no sort of progression. My account rarely accrues value, the experience rarely leaves me enriched, and in the end I’m left with nothing but buyer’s remorse.
“If I could just get all of your money, that would be great.”
All a game needs to do to justify that arcade charge style is to provide that experience. To take what is known and give something new and better. But they don’t, most companies just rehash the same skinner box and manipulate the same consumer base. It’s boring, bland, and it saddens me.
So in comes the Xbox One. A console with some good ideas but a list of unnecessary restrictions (normally called DRM but I feel like Digital Rights Management is too flowery, they are just restrictions). The goal, supposedly, was to create a steam experience in the console world.
But here is the problem. Much like the F2P world, Microsoft provided something that does nothing better than Steam. They have all the restrictions of steam, all the high costs of PC Gaming, none of the savings, and even privacy intrusions to boot.
Repeatedly they’ve said they are like steam. Which is fine, but what improvements did they have over steam? What did they have that was of equal or greater value than the negative restrictions they (originally, they’ve done a 180 after backlash) added.
Much like F2P games that treat you like an annoyance between them and your wallet, the Xbox One was treating you as the problem. It wanted all the perks of being a quality entertainment experience without any of the effort.
It was, and likely still is, doubling down on a business model that cannot and historically has not survived. Just like Arcades were biding their time as the exponential growth of alternatives began to outshine them. I respect how long they held on but their death was inevitable.
As is, I hope, the F2P and AAA markets as they currently stand. These beasts that want all the positives without remembering the context of those positives and without accepting the burden of the challenges one is supposed to overcome to enjoy them.
“So for us, we have been able to step back and say that we are not taking any technological means to impact trade-in and we are confident that if we build great content, then the consumer will not want to trade in our games.” – Reggie Fils-Aime
PS. In related news Cliffy B is a narrow sighted jackass. At least for now, people change.