free-to-play video games
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There’s a certain video game that has footballers flossing, celebrities Twitch streaming, and children as young as nine ending up in rehab (seriously, this actually happened). Yes, Lawbreakers Fortnite has captured the hearts and minds of the gaming world, devouring players’ time like an insatiable, ravenous beast that breaks into a really annoying dance for no logical reason at all when it’s full.

But why has Fortnite been so successful? And when will the madness end? Well, according to Bluehole, publisher of the once formidable PUBG, it’s because Fortnite shamelessly copied their battle royale formula. However, if we ignore what is possibly just another frivolous lawsuit that only serves to tarnish PUBG’s waning popularity, it’s actually a bit simpler than that. Kind of…

Fortnite is one of the many titles to adopt a free-to-play model with tremendous success. There’s nothing stopping you or a friend from picking up a controller or smartphone, downloading the game, and trying it out for yourself.

free-to-play video games
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And that’s what makes the free-to-play model so ridiculously appealing – there’s no risk or commitment to you, the consumer (unless you play Fortnite on PlayStation 4 and want to play it anywhere else), so it almost makes you feel compelled to at least give it a go. I mean, what’s the worst that can happen, right? (Oh… rehab…)

So why aren’t there more free-to-play video games with a crazy, Fortnite-like following? Well, actually, there are. Paladins: Champions of the Realm and its upcoming Realm Royale spin-off are a constant draw on Twitch, topping viewer counts and pulling in players on a regular basis. Warframe has continued to expand its universe and appeal with enticing gameplay and sumptuous visuals.

Even Nintendo, often the most tentative of the big three gaming companies when it comes to implementing new business practices, has jumped on the free-to-play bandwagon (though they prefer to call it free-to-start, I’ll have you know) with the recently released Pokémon Quest.

free-to-play video games
Lenscap Photography / Shutterstock.com

But not everyone gets it right, and therein lies the crux of the problem. Until only recently, free-to-play was arguably a divisive term in the industry – and for good reason. A slew of bad practices and money-grabbing mobile games left the F2P model with an unsavoury reputation.

The games were generally shallow and mind-numbingly repetitive, designed to trigger feel-good endorphins in a bid to get you hooked, and subsequently part with some cash. They just plain sucked. And then there was the pay-to-win fiascos.

Paid add-ons or items could instantly turn a previously competitive game into a sad contest of “whoever has the biggest wallet wins”, sucking all the fun out of your favourite online shooter quicker than Noo Noo hoovers up leftover Tubby custard. Trust me, that’s pretty damn quick.

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Nowadays, these issues are thankfully becoming less and less prevalent. Gamers are ready to pounce on any foul play like a swift kitten of justice, rightfully holding developers to account when needed. The games themselves are no longer the watered down experiences we’d come to expect, blurring the lines between a traditional paid title and a free-to-play one.

Gameplay-affecting micro transactions are also almost a thing of the past, too, replaced with often thoughtfully done cosmetic items that let you customise your experience as little or as much as you’d like. The free-to-play model suddenly seems like the most consumer-friendly option around.

So are free-to-play video games the future, then? Admittedly, it’s hard to argue that if you want to reach the biggest audience possible, making a game free-to-play is now a viable and seriously attractive option. Whether or not a developer will get the balance right, however, is another question entirely.

Adam Vjestica

* Prices correct at time of posting.

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