The Free To Play Business Model

For some context, take a look at this video:

Basically, when OB51 arrived in Paladins, a lot of complains had rose from Reddit and YouTube about the painfully large amounts of grind that everyone faced, with the only way out being sinking money to buy Founder’s Packs and boosters. And when I said “grind”, I don’t mean grinding for cosmetics. The grind is for loadout cards which players need to play the game well. The customizable loadout card system is one of the unique selling points of Paladins. And this marks the second time Paladin’s business model’s under fire, with the first time this happened reported right here.

But what really irritates me is when people actually defend Hi-Rez for their business model. As one guy puts it:

“I know most kids these days want it easy, but you can’t expect to have everything unlocked at level 30. Have you ever looked at the rates in League of Legends? 15-20k for a rune set, 6.3k for a champion, 6.3k for a rune page slot, 70-90 per game with a 150 bonus once a day WITH a lot more content to unlock. Yeah, end of rant.”

First up, why in the world do you think that justifying a lousy business model with an even lousier one is a good idea? And when you are the one getting kicked into the dirt by said business model? Are you some kind of financial masochist that can only gain pleasure when your wallet is being chained up and whipped for being naughty? There are better business models out there! Dota 2 gives you every gameplay-relevant item for free with no grind at the start! TF2 gives you ample oppurtunity for obtaining unlockable weapons for free and we all get free Backpack Expanders and three drops for Christmas! And we can rent weapons for free to try out at the Mann Co. Store!

Mann Co. Store
PSA: You can rent weapons for free at the Mann Co. Store for a week. You can only rent one weapon at a time, and you can’t cancel out of it early though. But otherwise, no restrictions.

Secondly, WHY ARE YOU DEFENDING A BUSINESS?! They just want your money and couldn’t care less if the game is now ruined for everyone playing it! Everyone gave Valve grief with the TF2 cosmetic cases and contracts, but getting unlocks is never too much of a problem! There are so many ways to get unlocks in TF2! But in Paladins, with the rather alarmingly high rate at which champions are released, everyone is playing a permanent catch-up game that you can only catch a brief respite by sinking real-life dosh to buy crystals and booster packs! This model is outright insulting and whoever is whiteknighting for a company should be ashamed of themselves! It’s as if you are now being thrown into a concentration camp for no wrongdoing on your end, and instead of having a shred of justifiable negative emotion you are being grateful for not being sentenced to death! It is sickening and dehumanizing, and you are literally bringing this upon yourself by defending it.

And besides, why is it even necessary to force players to grind for essential gameplay elements? You can make players grind for skins. You can make them grind for voice packs or announcer packs. You can even make them grind for sprays, go nuts, it’s fine. But the moment you make players grind for gameplay-affecting items that can give players an edge over others, and leave an option for them to pay to get ahead, then that is fundamentally wrong. You know how to make good skins, Hi-Rez. You have the Stone Cut┬áskin for Barik. You have the Replicant skin for Ying. People will gladly pay for them with their own kidneys if they have to. Making us players grind like hell for the cards we need so that we can have a loadout we can use is just straight up bollocks. I know I said that while I play a lot of TF2, a game that also requires me to work for unlockable weapons, but I also want to point out that stock weapons are still the best weapons overall and I don’t need to unlock 5 cards and one legendary card through RNG and nothing else for every damn champion.

By the way Valve, one measly page of backpack space is too damn stingy no matter how you slice it. The guaranteed $20 per TF2 player era is gone when you made the game F2P, Valve, and you decided on that one yourself. Starting new F2P players of with at least two pages of backpack space will be more reasonable instead of constantly hampering them with only 50 item slots so that they’ll cough up for Premium to get six pages of backpack space. You currently have 129 weapons with unique stats*, be reasonable here. Give them more backpack spaces so they can actually enjoy the game without needing to wait for Christmas, you schmucks.

… Huh, didn’t expect to riff on Valve for TF2 in this article, as well-deserved as that was. My bad, let me get back on point.

I see what you’re doing, Hi-Rez. You want to try to get as many people to pay as much as possible by making it harder for people to actually play properly for free. Making a good amount of money just isn’t as attractive to you when you can squeeze everyone that ever downloaded your game as much as possible. But here’s the thing. When you try to do that, a large chunk of players won’t even stay long enough to get to the point where they start spending money in the game. And there will be very bitter ex-players who’ll start sending bile your way. And out of those players, some of them might actually write about your greedy, exploitative methods on the Internet. And you’ll get even less downloads because someone decided to Google about Paladins and saw some reviews about the grind and thus decided to go off and play something else.

Let me make it clear for you. Your playerbase peaked at November 2016. As of now, it’s hovering around 25 thousand on average. If you’re that eager for Paladins to go the same way as Tribes: Ascend, that has an average of about 40 players every month on Steam at the point of writing, you are currently heading there on your merry way. If you want to be known as the developer who haven’t had a hit game that lasts for a long time aside for SMITE because of their own lousy business practice, go ahead. You can say that the business model is to fund development and that allows you to release new content at the rate you did, and to be fair we will concede that you’re releasing new champions at an astounding rate. But we will also take note that it makes grinding for loadout cards an even bigger challenge. And that wouldn’t even be so bad if you know how to balance the game. Or fix bugs before adding new ones.

I liked Paladins. I enjoyed the mechanics, I especially liked the loadout card system and burn cards and I still do, and the new champions look better and better. But Hi-Rez, right now all I like to do is to grind your company name into the dirt instead of grinding for skins and cards, but it seems like you’re way ahead of me on that one.

Yes, I am playing this game for free, so I am not entitled to amything. But when a game is released and marketted as a free to play title, the studio is not really entitled to payment either. I’m not saying that we should expect studios to give us games for free. I am more than happy to pay for what I want in a game, but not for what I need. Locking away necessary gameplay content in a PvP game until after either a painfully long and tedious grind or a cash payment is just putting short-term profit above long-term profit and consumer loyalty.

I do not see the reason to continue support a developer who thinks trying to hamper their players’ gameplay is a good idea. The old 1200 gold per card system worked well. There wasn’t much sensation of a grind since we can get the gold we need quite easily. The Legendary Card system was (and still is) a great idea and a perfect extension to the card system then. Then the Essence system came along and messed everything up. The rather ugly thought of Hi-Rez milking the playerbase for sweet sweet moolah by making us grind our hands to dust until we paid up first rose within the general Paladins playerbase at around that time. That spectre has never left since, just slowly bidding its time at the back of our minds.

Hence why I wrote this, not to just rip Hi-Rez a new one, but because I really do not want to end up with a Paladins with Hearthstone’s or LoL’s business model. It’s a model that preys on consumers base desire to just want to play the game unhampered, and it’s not a model I like. In the end, while there is no sure metric on how much grind is too much, increasing grind is just never a good idea. And considering the posts that emerged where players said they can’t get what they need with regular play, maybe the grind is too much this time.

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Still, I’ll be even more outraged if Paladins emerged out of beta as a $40 game and still keeps the microtransaction system, even if said system is strictly only for getting cosmetic skins and other non-gameplay-affecting items. Because any game publisher that tries to sell a game for more than $10 and still try to charge microtransaction money for skins must really have some nerve to employ such a blatant cash-grab maneuver. They must think that their customers are complete chumps that’ll just gut their wallets open for skins after paying a few meals’ worth of cash for the game in the first place. And any company that does that and claims that the microtransaction money is to support future updates obviously do not expect their game to have enough appeal to draw in new players consistently at a sustainable rate for more than two years.

 

 


*Not counting the Original and Holy Mackerel/ Unarmed Combat. Also my counting might be slightly off.

One thought on “The Free To Play Business Model

  • June 23, 2017 at 12:41 pm
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    Well said. To quote myself from the comments section of the very video you linked:

    “I’m glad you take the time to point out stuff like this. It should be addressed. Every time I get someone new to try Paladins, it gets harder and harder to convince them there IS a GREAT game under the pile of grinding and RNG. I shouldn’t have to perform a song and dance to get people to give it a chance, that’s YOUR job, Hi-Rez.´╗┐”

    All it’s doing is hurting Paladin’s image for both older players but especially new ones. Hi-Rez seems to have forgotten the long-term success of a F2P game comes down to constant new blood.

    Reply

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