With the wild success the free-to-play business model has seen in theworld of MMOs, it’s not surprising to see it catch the attention of a less-than-stellar camp of developer. More and more, we’re seeing a new brand of ‘freemium’ MMO surface; one which is expressly designed to fleece its players. These games are fun to a point…but then they quickly descend into a chaotic mass of grinding, paywalls, and glitches.
When this happens to a game you just recently picked up, it’s not such a big deal. You can just shrug it off delete the game, then move on to play something else. Unfortunately, it’s often far too easy to get invested in titles like this – they are, after all, designed to pull you in. Thankfully, there are a few very obvious warnings signs which, if recognized soon enough, can save you a great deal of time (and probably money).
[heading]There Is An Overabundance of Bugs Or Poor Design[/heading]
Usually, the first warning sign for me that a game’s bad news is that the developers clearly haven’t put in the effort to make it market-ready before crapping it out. I’ll give you guys the benefit of the doubt and assume that you’re capable of recognizing that the game you’re playing basically never left Alpha: poor AI, terrible dungeon design, a host of game-breaking bugs or exploits and a distinct lack of content are just a few signs that the developers care more about their paycheck than their players.
Now, it’s worth noting that this could just as easily be a sign of inexperience (or a symptom of an early-access title), so you shouldn’t automatically assume a game’s going to fleece you if it’s not terribly well designed. That said, if you choose to proceed, do so with caution.
[heading]It Pesters You For Cash
Another sign that the developers are blinded by dollar signs is that they see nothing wrong with nagging their players to shell out. Instead of inconspicuously notifying you when you first log in, the game’s asking you at every turn to reach for your wallet and check out the shop. It asks you to pay when you die, it asks you to pay when you complete a quest; it even asks you to pay when you’re in the middle of combat. A well-designed free-to-play will encourage its players to put in some money without pressuring them to do so.
A poorly designed free to play won’t.
[heading]It Foists Social Integration On You[/heading]
I’ve said that social media has brought about some pretty huge changes in the world of MMORPGs, and I wasn’t lying. At the same time, a lot of developers have misunderstood just what these changes entail. Rather than a tool for bringing people together, they strictly see it in terms of how much money it can make them: to them; one of the best ways to get people invested (and therefore, paying) is to pester then to invite their friends in order to access in-game cash, bonuses, or abilities. Occasionally, they’ll even hit the player with obstacles impossible to surmount without the aid of friends (see below.)
I assume the theory to be that these players will get used to the bonuses, and when they run out of friends to invite, they’ll be so hopelessly addicted that they’ll willingly shell out their money. Thing is…it works.
[heading]You Hit A Brick Wall
I’m going to come right out and say it: I loathe Candy Crush Saga. Even though it’s not an MMO (and hence not really on topic), it represents everything that’s wrong with the freemium business model. It’s fun for the first little while – just enough that you really start getting invested in the game. Then, out of nowhere, what was originally a pleasant difficulty curve becomes an insurmountable difficulty cliff. Say what you will, but unless you’re the luckiest person in the world or an absolute champion at puzzle games, Candy Crush is nigh impossible to beat without either cheating or paying.
If you’re finding an MMORPG has without warning become downright impossible (and entirely un-enjoyable) without warning, you might just be dealing with a cash grab.
[heading]There’s A High Level of Risk (Which You Can Pay To Avoid)[/heading]
Let’s say you’re playing an MMORPG where your goal is to gather materials to create housing, armor, and weaponry. It’s a long and arduous process; one which often takes days to complete. Eventually, however, you manage to craft yourself an incredible-looking castle, complete with a fully-equipped force of bannermen and a sweet suit of enchanted armor for yourself. Now idle and taking a breather between grinding sessions, you pop into the cash shop to see what sort of loot you might buy.
While there, you notice a Protection Spell. For just $1.99, you can prevent other players from taking your hard-earned stuff. You shrug it off – you’re pretty isolated, and well-defended besides.
The next day, you log on to find that another player has come along with his army and taken everything from you, razing your castle to the ground and stealing what supplies they didn’t burn. Enraged, you gather a force of your friends and march to their own castle….but since they purchased the Protection Spell, you have no means of retaliation.
It’s a rather despicable practice, no? If an MMO allows you to pay to avoid experience loss, gear loss, money loss, or anything that would set you back and undermine the work you’ve put into it, I’d recommend you avoid it. It’s far too easy for the developer to use that as blackmail
[heading]Items In The In-Game Shop Are Grossly Overpriced[/heading]
Another early warning sign that you’re playing a pay-to-win is that the cash shop features a host of items that make you wince in pain for your wallet. A sword for $80.00? An exclusive mount for $60.00? Armor for $200.00? Either the developers have no idea how to price their stuff, or they’re seeing green.
[heading]You Can Buy Game-Changing Gear At A Premium[/heading]
Last, but certainly not least, before you start playing a game, check and see if it’s pay-to-win. Is there a significant gulf between paying players and non-paying players that no amount of play-time or skill will bridge? Do you see players decked out in the best gear the game has to offer, but who don’t even know how to play their toon?
I’ll give an example for the uninitiated:
Let’s say you spend months grinding for what you’ve heard is the best weapon in the game, the +5 Sword of Scrub-Slaying. Eventually, your hard work pays off: you’re holding the weapon in your hands, and you’re the envy of all your friends. You decide to take your weapon into PVP…where another player slays you effortlessly.
Turns out they bought the +10 Blade of Greed from the cash shop – the only place where it can be bought.