The Evolution of Free-to-Play

How did free-to-play get to where it is now?

Free-to-play games are getting more and more common, to the point that they are easier to find than normal games. At this point, these free-to-play games are a major part of gaming and almost every gamer has played one at some point. For the people who want to know how it started or are wondering what free-to-play even is, this article is for you.What free-to-play doesn’t mean the game is “free”. It’s free to download or play, hence free-to-play, but it has certain parts of the game or certain items locked behind real-money purchases. This is just a brief definition as the stuff the game sells could be extra content, currency, or just skins.

Back then during the NES through N64 days, this was not a thing. You bought the game and you own the full game. No downloadable content or microtransactions, you owned the game and the developers didn’t make random changes and updates. Updates now are normal things and can be good, such as what happened with No Man’s Sky, where the game gradually became what it promised through updates.

Free to play originated in the 1990s and 2000s with certain mobile and PC games being sold for the price of free (with an asterisk) but have microtransactions or DLC in them. During this phase, you could play the game just fine without even knowing the game had this stuff, besides the free price or the asterisk next to “Free” for Windows users.

Back when free-to-play was new, you could get past this stuff. Nowadays, when you download a free-to-play (or Free* on Windows) game, it has all kinds of purchases that the game is constantly pushing in your face. They have “day one only” offers, time limits, which of course, you can speed up with microtransactions, and a bunch of other stuff that practically locks the game behind a bunch of paywalls.

Many online free to play games only sell “skins” or different looks for your player character, or different weapon appearances. Fortnite has outfits, melee weapons, gliders, and a bunch of other stuff, but that doesn’t affect gameplay and only changes the way your character and their weapons look. Other multiplayer games give certain players an advantage from buying stuff, but skins seem to sell more and are fairer to the players.

Paid games with microtransactions are a thing. EA released the controversial game Star Wars Battlefront II that cost sixty dollars and contained paid loot-boxes, which also affected gameplay and gave you an upper hand, and other paid games had this. Some player’s think this has no place in games, but the truth is games cost more to make now. The developers need the extra money. I personally think it would be better to just buy the game at 80$ and not have microtransactions flying in my face while playing.

The final verdict is that free-to-play can be used for casual games or for when the stuff you buy doesn’t give you an advantage over other players, but shouldn’t be overdone for paid games unless it’s for one or two downloadable contents.