Who Doesn’t Love A Free Game?

There’s a growing fear in the video game community that Apple’s (and to a lesser extent Android’s and Windows’) App Stores will be the doom to the core gamers. And there are some good reasons to fear: while the App Store has been a cash cow for developers, gaming sales have declined year over year.

As a core gamer, is it time to panic yet? No. It’s not like Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo are the movie industry, which is about as thriving as a septic tank. But in a down global economy, it’s much easier to justify a $1 to $2 app purchase than it is to buy a $60 retail game.

Fortunately, there has been a new trend in the core gaming scene that has been developing for quite some time: free to play gaming. Once relegated to failed MMOs and browser games (okay, maybe a bit harsh, but that was my general perception), F2P games have grown into robust experiences that are both light on the wallet and surprisingly entertaining. Hell, even the popular first person shooter Team Fortress 2 went free to play last year.

Take, for instance, the recently released Tribes Ascend. I’m sure many fans were groaning when they heard the beloved franchise would be revived into a F2P experience. After all, these games are still somewhat hit or miss in their quality. However, the final product feels like Tribes, doesn’t hamper those who would prefer to play completely free, while creating a well-polished experience that could’ve easily sold for $15-$30 on Steam.

Have I bought stuff in Tribes Ascend? Absolutely! At first I was hesitant. Paying for a free to play game felt weird to me, counter-intuitive to the giant FREE plastered on the Hi-Rez Studio website. But then I thought about it: I’ve bought so many throw-away, garbage products on the App Store that paying $5 for some extra add-ons seemed completely reasonable. If I would pay a buck for another Doodle Jump clone, why wouldn’t I pay to unlock a new class in Tribes?

And even if I didn’t want to pay, I could still unlock all the game’s content over time. Every game earns you experience points, which can be used to purchase new classes, weapons, upgrades and perks. You can also purchase “gold” to unlock the goods. While a new gun might cost 100,000 XP, it might cost 700 gold. And after your first purchase, you permanently earn double the experience. Not a bad deal, right?

I spent $5 on Tribes Ascend, and now I’m already up to 30,000 XP, after spending quite a bit of it unlocking all the classes and improvements to my favorite characters. Some people might bemoan that I shouldn’t have even needed to pay the $5, that I’m “paying to win,” but considering that I paid nothing to download the game, spending a few bucks to increase my entertainment feels completely reasonable. And besides, spend a few minutes with Tribes and you’ll realize it truly feels like a fully fleshed out retail experience. There’s already a movement to turn it into a legitimately competitive eSport, much like another wildly popular F2P game, League of Legends, and the quick matchmaking system indicates a robust community.

Does this system work for every game? Definitely not. Do I want to see a future where I pay for each chapter of a single player game, for instance? Aw hell nah. For example, if games take the Crimson Alliance route, I’d be mad.

Crimson Alliance was a game that was “free” in the worst sense of the word—you could download the game, but then were forced to pay $10 for a single class or $15 for the character pack, which included all the game’s classes. Otherwise, you were stuck with essentially a worthless “free” game. (Yes, I’m tired of the sarcastic quotes as well, as well as talking about how not to do a freemium gaming experience. Let’s move on!)

Free to play games have proven to be profitable for companies, entertaining for the gamers, and easy on the wallet. To celebrate the rise of great F2P games, look forward to a review of the newly released Super Monday Night Combat (for the PC) later this week, as well as a Tribes Ascend review! We’ll let you know some of the best in-game buys for each game, so you can be a gaming bad ass for a few bucks.

What’s your favorite free 2 play game? Sound off in the comments below!

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4 Responses

  1. Tribes Ascend is my first free2play game and i must admit, I love it. I was weary at first, mostly for the quality of the product, but I was pleasantly surprised!

  2. Be sure to check out Super Monday Night Combat as well! We just wrote a review and it’s a very excellent experience, although very different than Tribes.

  3. I’ll give it a glance, thank you!

  4. One of my favorites is Ace of Spades, a free online (and LAN if you can get it working) game that mixes a little minecraft and a standard FPS shooter.

    http://www.ace-spades.com

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