Today, we turn into some sort of Buzz Feed thingy and talk about a bunch of things that people rally shouldn’t put in their Free to Play games. Yes, I know you make these games to make money, but there’s plenty of ways you can do it without pissing off players. Non-pissed off players are more likely to tell other people about your game and spend money on it than pissed off players will. So let’s begin.
Number 1 – Pay To Win
This is always number one on any sort of Free To Play checklist. Is there anything in your game that excludes non-paying players from doing as well as paying ones? If the answer to that is yes, then congratulations, the average Joe is going to hate you and you can look forward to negative reviews on your Steam page, if you have one. Making people pay for better armour or weapons or items or anything that can’t be gained from playing the game alone is flat out bad and reminds us too much of real life, where only the rich people can win.
Number 2 – Grinding Forever
So your game is free to play, and you’ve got some game-affecting stuff that’s available to everyone who plays, not just those whales willing to spend huge amounts on pretty much anything. Small problem, if the average player wishes to get one of these game-affecting items, they have to work for a really, really long time. Like, ages.
Number 3 – Cosmetic items that do actually affect gameplay
Alright, your in-game store only sells cosmetic items. But if you wear a whole set, you get an extra little boost. It’s subtle but it’s there. And it’s the one trap that Team Fortress 2 fell into, with its Item Sets – wearing two to three weapons and a hat depending on class gave you some unusual benefits. Scouts gained +25 health from the Milkman set, Pyros got extra momement speed with the Gas Jockey set and for some reason Snipers were immune to headshots with the Croc-o-style set. Valve did actually remove these sets (although not always in a good way *cough*Darwin’s Danger Shield*cough* but still, combining weapons and cosmetics into sets that grant gameplay-changing boosts is not good.
Number 4 – Cosmetic items that do actually affect gameplay in a different way
Now you’re selling cosmetics. Plain old cosmetics. Some of these change things like colours and particles. But some of these items have subtle benefits, perhaps when paired with other items, or maybe the particle effects look way better and are easier to see. Maybe an affect that indicates that you can use X ability is better hidden on a cosmetic item than on a default item. An example I like is that of various skins for the champion Lux in League of Legends. Her ultimate ability is a giant laser that needs charging up. But two of her skins change the appearance of this laser, the latest being Star Guardian Lux, which makes the laser look like this:
Then there’s Steel Legion Lux, a second skin that changes the colour of the laser from red for enemies and green for allies into a single blue laser that’s much thinner.
It gets worse too. A new character could have much smaller hitboxes if they equip a new skin. Or in the case of TF2, people can change the shape of their head using cosmetics. The Area 51 for Pyro comes to mind.
Number 5 – Don’t put it all into DLCs
I’m looking at you, Payday 2. It’s fine to have a bit of extra downloadable content that needs to be bought, but do us all a favor and don’t put important, gameplay-required features behind a pay wall. Or put vastly superior parts behind a pay wall. Payday 2 gets let off because it has a friendly community and developers that listen, as well as being mostly Coop VS AI, but still. I’d complain about Skyrim with Dragonborn, but dragon riding turned out to be absolute bollocks, then someone made a DLC-not-required version that worked better.
Doing a free to play game and making money from it is hard. It’s a really fine balance. But it’s so easy to go wrong.