What Are Free To Play Games?

Angry Birds Go!Angry Birds developer Rovio recently announced that all their future software titles would be Free To Play Games. This is a major trend in computer games outside of the video game consoles. Whether it is on your PC, tablet or mobile phone, many games now are being released under this business model. Of course if you log into the the various app stores, you will find a large number of games that are listed as being free. Just because the game is listed as being free to download does not make that game Free To Play. Today, I’m going to take a closer look at what exactly makes a game be Free To Play…

What It Means to Be Free To Play

Zen Pinball is free but you must pay to unlock tablesThere are plenty of games that you can download for free but they aren’t necessarily Free to Play. Games that do things like give you a limited amount of play time or only a small aspect of the game with the requirement that you pay to unlock the remainder are not Free to Play but really just a demo of the game. An example of this might be something like on iOS. You can get the application for free but it only comes with a single playable pinball table. If you want any additional tables, you much pay to unlock them. This means you can’t play the rest of the content in the game without having to spend more. Other examples of this may be games that have a fix amount of time that you can play the game before you are force to start over or pay to unlock the rest of the content.

A Free To Play game in contrast should allow the player to have the ability to experience the full content of the game without having to spend any money to unlock it. The definition of full content can be a bit tricky here though. For instance, in Angry Birds Go! you can play all of the tracks and unlock the birds but some of the carts themselves can only be achieved through purchasing them. This is still considered free to play though as the carts only have a small impact on the experience as a whole.

The Grind and Finding a Balance

While a Free To Play game may be completely accessible by the player, it is designed to require progress before that content is unlock. Many players may have heard of the term grinding. It is generally used to refer to massively multiplayer online role playing games (MMORPGs) and how players will reach a point where they have to continually run a quest or task over and over again to achieve some item or level. Free To Play games generally involve some similar level of grinding but in different ways.

One way that a player might experience grinding is through having to earn enough to unlock some aspect of the game. can be an excellent example of this. In order to get to the next course, or sometimes even the next race or opponent, you must have a cart that has a certain power or cc level. If you do not meet that requirement, you have to upgrade your cart. Now this can be done by redoing previous races to earn more coins to them purchase the upgrades and thus meet the requirements.

Candy Crush Saga

Candy Crush Saga

Another sort of grind comes in the form of a limited amount of play. Angry Birds Go! features this sort of mechanic but is probably the best known example of this game play. In it, players are given five lives. They will loose a life each time that they fail to complete a level. Once they have run out of lives, they have to wait for their lives to regenerate in order to continue playing the game. Each live takes thirty minutes to regenerate and there is only a maximum of five lives allowed. It is conceivably possible for someone to play indefinitely on a single life but more likely players will run out of lives and thus forced to wait for them to regenerate.

The problem that developers face with this grind and players is getting the right balance of game play that will keep people playing it without them feeling that they have to pay money. Make the game too easy and the developer will probably not earn any money at all. Make the game to hard and people will probably not be willing to spend any money because the game ends up not being fun.

In my next article, I will take a look at how developers make their money on Free To Play games and how it can impact the players of those games.