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People’s general attitude towards the value of free-to-play titles seems hilariously skewed to me

I'm not going to argue about exploitative pricing or generally exploitative practices, I just want to look at the modern free-to-play system in general and compare it to what came before.

Let's pick Halo 3. You paid $60 dollars to get entry into multiplayer at all. All four of the game's map packs cost $10 each. In other words, Halo 3's multiplayer was a $100 buy-in for the full package. Vast swaths of the game's player base didn't bother purchasing those new maps, making them pretty damn rare plays for the people who did buy them.

Granted, all of those maps became free downloads later on, but plenty of games didn't work that way.

Halo: Reach's map packs never became free, and also essentially tallied up to an extra $40 on top of the $60 buy-in, if you weren't buying CE: Anniversary. Another $100 package.

Other franchises worked more or less the same way. Modern Warfare 2 was a $60 dollar game with $30 worth of extra maps for a $90 package.

Battlefield: Bad Company 2 had an interesting solution to the prevalence of used games, buying the game new gave you "VIP access", meaning all the game's post-launch maps other than the Vietnam expansion. I can't decide whether this was a generous move or a bit of a scummy jab at people who bought games used. The Vietnam expansion which included a whole new setting, vehicles, weapons, the works, cost $15. A $75 package overall which was actually pretty alright for the time.

Now let's shift to CoD: Warzone. It's hard to weigh the time and effort put into creating an absolutely massive map like Verdansk, sometimes updating it significantly, and eventually developing an entirely different absurdly massive map with a new theme to developing a bunch of small arenas. Easier in a lot of ways, tougher in others, I suppose. The game chucks in new weapons from each mainline CoD as they're released, every single one as far as I can tell(?) along with each of those weapons supporting CoD's attachment system on top of that which tends to turn weapons into weird mutant versions of themselves. There's over 100(!) weapons for you to screw around with and I don't doubt there will be more soon. Point is, there's an absurd amount of content, so much that it seems like people have struggled to document it all, and you can go and download it for the low, low price of zero dollars and have access to all of it.

And people are upset that Activision will add in some visual flair for your army toys if you throw them some cash, to support this thing you got for free.

Apex Legends is pretty much the same story.

Halo: Infinite is in the process of adapting this system to an arena shooter.

In fact most free shooters operate this way now, and I'd argue it has benefited players alongside the companies offering these games. $60 is a lot of money for some people and that's a disingenuous representation of how much these games used to cost. On top of that, publishers have recognized that they'll get way more money from people playing dress-up than they ever would have from locking things with actual gameplay significance behind a paywall, so even paid games are using systems like this (which I would argue is pretty shitty), and people complain when they let you in for free.

Remember the days when all your friends would buy some new game, and uh oh, you paid $60 for something else and now you can't play alongside them? Or someone doesn't want to drop money on new content, and the people who actually did are kind of screwed? I do. It sucked. Maybe you could easily pay for it now but would you drop another $60 for your kids? That's what our parents needed to ask, and the answer was obviously no.

Call me crazy, but we are so much better off than we used to be. We get a huge amount of choice in what we want to play without spending a dime. I'm not sure what it is psychologically that makes people look at this stuff and think "wow, this is a really bad value" but I'm not getting it. Saying you'd rather spend a whole $60 dollars plus more for the satisfaction of unlocking some digital models and textures rather than spend $0 dollars and potentially $10 for the satisfaction of unlocking some of those same digital models and textures just screams middle-class privilege to me.

There is another facet to this that I think is far more relevant, and that's systems specifically being designed to goad people with little impulse control into spending money they wouldn't have otherwise, not for the sake of supporting the game, but because they're sucked into a slot machine, or because they're intentionally "frustrated" into buying their way into getting their new digital drip more quickly. But is that really what most people are talking about? Because that side of the conversation seems to have dropped off of the map recently, and it seems to have been drowned out by the very sort of people who are immature enough to fall for these tactics and think in terms of "me want red color" rather than "hey, I've dumped 30 hours into this for free, these developers deserve some cash."


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