In an attempt to sort out this issue for myself, I planned to take apart the methods big-gaming uses and the reasons free-to-play, in game monetization and games-as-a-service doesn't sit well with players and why most people tolerate it regardless. Frankly I'm annoyed by the insidious marketing spin that has entered the duder vernacular with words like "cosmetics", as if somehow burly heteros were buying lipstick*.
Anyway, the gist of my argument was a thing I heard a developer talk about, years ago. How a format (such as an arcade cabinet) basically can poison a game. Pondering this somewhat abstract idea. I came across a great analogy for something, that indeed most people simply aren't willing to admit or think about. This is but the briefest possible summary I could conjure up, and it may appear somewhat one sided.
Imagine a child with a soccer ball on a busy street. Should he or she play in traffic?
Their passion or interest isn't in question, nor is the quality of the ball, shoes or jersey. Sometimes risks and circumstances are enough, to reject, prohibit and condemn something categorically. Good free-to-play doesn't exist, because under no circumstance is it acceptable to play in traffic. Nobody and especially not children should play games which are free-to-play or include any kind of post release monetization, it is just to darn risky!
Right now we live in a culture where metaphorically not enough horses have spooked, not enough wagon-wheels have been broken, not enough Ford T-models have been dented in said traffic. It's particularly dangerous because of the delay, there is no bloody gore, no loud bang, no weeping mothers and there are no witnesses. How do you kill that, which has no life? (Reference) People simply don't know what they are risking.
- The obvious risk is fraud: From the simple "best value" pricing tricks and currency conversion antics, to any kind of virtual item. Virtual items are simply objectively worthless and the more reasons you try to find to the contrary, the more are you going to hurt your pretty little head. I can only describe it as a "pump and dump" scam, artificial scarcity creates a perception of demand, and although sometimes there is a real market, all these things eventually end up value-less and even non-accessible. Besides, the central essential component of any fraud is misdirection and distraction, which comes already built-in with games. Moreover and slightly more obvious: gambling is a kind of fraud, which is why it is and should be illegal. The technicality why gambling in games isn't regulated, is basically because the law assumes nobody would gamble, if they couldn't win money back...
- The biggest risk however is not monetary but personal, it's a mental disorder, a prioritization disorder. When games seize to be something to do in your free time, but ask the person to make and spend time, regularly, then games become more important than actually important stuff. Call it gaming disorder or addiction, it affects the behavior of all players, and free-to-play and games-as-a-service titles are deliberately designed to keep people hooked, prioritizing simple in game goals over hard challenges in their life. Prioritizing gaming and fake online acquaintances* over a social life, prioritizing game over sleep ... all of it is problematic. The genuinely felt love (attachment, appreciation) people start feeling for games is but a consequence of the time a game spends pushing our buttons. The potential of any addictive substance or activity, to dominate and steal a persons ambition is their biggest risk. Everybody is at risk. The higher budget the games become, the greater are these risks. And right now we see big-gaming rushing and tripping over themselves to announce the next big mobile spin off, and slipping multiplayer progression and monetization into critically acclaimed titles post release.
Something rarely discussed but extremely relevant is the surrender and submission that games require. When you watch a movie you surrender about two hours of your time, trusting that you will be entertained, informed or emotionally titillated. It would be stupid to simply stop the movie or walk out of the theater the moment it starts to drag. If you are watching with someone else, you simply have to see it through. Because of their interactive nature and multiplayer games are much more powerful and engaging than a two-hour movie and they are potentially endless. Free-to-play games are designed to abuse the trust that people put into game developers for maximal monetary gain. They are a promise that never quite comes true.
Games have enormous power over players. After all being able to control what somebody else is doing, is what "power" means in a socio-political sense. F2P Games can and do use anything from marketing trickery like incentives, false promises, peer pressure to hardcore brainwashing techniques like sleep deprivation, negative reinforcement and isolation in a group of like minded, to control player behavior with the EXPLICIT goal of making all of them stay and making some of them pay.
The prioritization disorder endless gaming creates is not a coincidence or a psychological weakness, players surrender control to the game voluntarily, to enjoy it, while the game prioritizes for them in their surrendered state. It's simple cause and effect. This should apply to a lot of long games. Which is why the clinical definition insists on a long time / habitual type of gaming over-prioritization, to actually make the diagnosis. See how games-as-a-service directly correlates to that, and how it suddenly becomes problematic, yet?
Regardless how much we love games or any game in particular, in game item monetization, free-to-play and games-as-a-service are simply unacceptable, because of their potential and explicit purpose to be abused, to ruin people's lives and to steal people's time/money.
Should someone decide that he's a big boy, who is old enough to know what he should and shouldn't do and play in traffic regardless. Sorry. Big boy is quite the modern excuse, to fleece and abuse someone with impunity, it is effectively synonymous with an easy target or a mark. The big boy attitude is quite commonplace in modern business, ever since companies figured out that people would rather be cheated again and again, than admit as much to themselves. In reality everybody, myself included, can be cheated, tricked and fooled. Only (untracked) real social networks of real people, preferably including individuals of all ages and walks of life, can protect us somewhat, but of course they too are vulnerable.
Like all terrible political ideologies before it, commercialism is hard at work to destroy the core family, to drive a wedge between generations and genders, to isolate people, or at least isolate them in a group of like minded and to promote the moronic belief of Individualism. #Fansites #Subreddits #Fake news #"Me, personally"
The wisdom that applied to MMOs twenty years ago still holds and is just as true for free-to-play: "The only winning move is not to play."
Apparently it's a quote from "Wargames"(1983) and refers to game theory of mutual nuclear annihilation, but it more aptly describes the self-destruction of personality, ambition and priority caused by free-to-play, ongoing games as-a-service, as well the lottery, gambling, online-poker, pyramid MLM, get rich quick schemes and every other scam in existence. The only winning move is not to play.
The simplest proof is this: Companies that have some degree of ethics, because they have to when marketing to children and parents, simply don't allow free-to-play, with the exception of demos (free-to-start). But even that is a concession.
*Cosmetics and fake social interaction is explained in a follow up post #53. Click here