The Hidden Costs of Free-To-Play Games

Free-to-play games are becoming increasingly popular with developers for a number of reasons. When no payment required to download and play a game, impulse downloads are much more likely, and the problem of piracy is minimized.

Once people have begun to play the game, the developer then has various opportunities for revenue generation.

How Do these Games Make Money?

There are three main ways you give a game developer money when playing games designed on this model:
  • Advertisements are displayed when you start up the game or during gameplay, and the developer gets a payment from the advertising company.
  • You pay real-world money for in-game credits or items, such as fire-trucks or street sweepers in a demolition derby game.
  • You pay an additional fee to unlock extra content or new levels.
How the Costs Add Up

Free-to-play seems like a great deal for the consumer, and in many ways it is.
You can try a game out without the worry of quickly realizing you wasted your hard-earned money. Indeed, you can simply choose to play for free indefinitely! However, the costs of free-to-play games can soon add up.

Part of this cost comes from a basic psychological trick. If you saw that a game for your phone was going to cost $10, you might simply decide it wouldn’t be worth it and instead buy a $5 game or no game at all. However, parting with just $1 for an extra level or the ability to advance a character more quickly is much more palatable. If you do so twice a week over the course of a few months, you could end up paying twice as much overall and never even realize it!

Another problem is a direct result of innate human competitiveness and impatience. With games where you are playing with or competing against other players, you can often find yourself in need of some particular gear or extra abilities to remain competitive. While many games will let you earn those things in-game, if the option of paying to get ahead is there, many of us will take it, especially if we know others are doing so. This leads to a cycle of increased spending on the part of all players as they attempt to keep up with the Jones’.
That’s not to say free-to-play is an unethical or immoral business model. There is always the option of just enjoying the game that is accessible for free, and the developers surely should get some compensation for their work. However, when you are looking for a game, you should remind yourself that ‘free’-to-play games can end up costing you. Your best bet is to keep track of your spending and use that info to make the right buying decisions in the future.

This guest post contributed by Michelle, a technology enthusiast, with special interest in everything from social media to street sweepers.

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