This week’s topic focuses around the perks and costs having your content made available for free online. I will be primarily using online gaming as an example by shedding light on the concept of Free-to-Play.

Free-to-Play (F2P) is a relatively new model adopted by the gaming industry where basically gamers are allowed to play the game without having to pay. How do the game creators make money? Through purchasable in-game perks. You may have seen this concept in Facebook games where you can buy in-game currencies such as coins. Traditionally games have been Pay-to-Play, which how most games are still nowadays such as console games XBOX, PS4 and Wii. However recently F2P games have dominated the gaming industry through games such as League of Legends and DOTA 2.

The Good:

High Exposure

The fact that you have nothing to lose but time spent by giving a free game a try gives F2P games the edge. The model creates an exponential chain of people giving the game a try which lets other people know about it. To put it simply:

People try the game -> they let other people know about it -> more people try the game -> even more people will know about it.

Higher Potential Revenue

This straw poll created by a curious League of Legends player asked other players how much they’ve spent on the game (RP is the in-game currency used in League of Legends).

How is this business model so successful? The video below gives some insight into this matter:

Less Likely To Be Pirated

Who would want to get a pirated version of a free game?

The Bad:

Pay To Win

F2P games that involve buyable in-game perks that give gamers significant advantages over other gamers can potentially ruin the experience. This issue is similar to a lot of major sports in the world today where the team that has the most money will eventually be more successful. However, gaming companies have recently recognised this issue and are beginning to rectify it.

Arguably Unethical

There will always be a small minority of people who would fall into the trap of not knowing when to stop spending money on anything period. Gamers are not an exception and as F2P allows gamers to ‘spend as much as they want’, it can easily turn out to be ‘spend as much as they have‘.


Straw Poll: How much League of Legends players spend on the game

Riot Games’ League of Legends Becomes Most Played PC Game In The World

Why Spend Money on a Free Game? – GameSpot

World Of Tanks Pay-to-Win


13 thoughts on “Free-To-Play-To-Win

  1. hey Din,

    with regards to f2p games, escpiacially given the Dota or LoL scene, do you not find the problem of ‘smurfing’ (paying people to get you to higher ranks) as well as general hacking a bigger threat to the competitive scene?!

    Pay to win also give’s people greater incentive to be better at the game thus giving them a sense of usefulness and achievement!

    Your thoughts?


    1. Hi Aumar, smurfing will always be a problem and it is not one limited to f2p games. I used to be confused playing MW2 seeing people at level 1 being so good at the game to the point where I was convinced they were hacking 😀

      Paying to win is not at all bad in my opinion. Back in my Ragnarok Online days, the extra bits you had to pay to have extra items weren’t that much of a trouble to get (a few dollars) and it definitely made the game much enjoyable. However for the casual gamers it definitely made starting a game a bit overwhelming. Tldr: good for dedicated players, bad for people just starting. I do think games are moving in a better direction now such as skins in CSGO and LoL where it is purely aesthetics.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Din,

    Fantastic article here. It’s interesting to see that a F2P model can work so effectively – it bears some resemblance to the “try before you buy” culture of websites like Bandcamp for music, and of course in the same vein, gives no overall pressure to buy if the consumer doesn’t want to. It seems very consumer- and developer-friendly (as long as it does not resort to Pay to Win), so my question is, why haven’t many more companies jumped on such a successful business model?

    Are there particular disadvantages to the game developers themselves? You’ve mentioned disadvantages to the consumer, but surely there are other problems with the model or else everyone would be releasing games as F2P. Is it that there are certain types of games that just don’t suit an F2P model – particularly single player games, or fairly niche games. Obviously, in some cases, studios need to fund themselves during development (hence we’re seeing kickstarters pop-up everywhere) but even when it comes to big, established companies, there are few examples of F2P models. One of few I can think of is Planetside 2, so perhaps other companies are watching that to see how viable it is?

    Would love to hear your thoughts on the matter,



    1. Hi Caum (Calum?),

      The F2P model does not at all over shadow the Pay-to-Play (P2P) model indefinitely. If anything I do believe games having P2P can potentially out-revenue F2P so as long as the gaming companies are well established enough. Games like FIFA and Call of Duty will almost always be successful just based on the fact that developers like EA, Infinity Ward and Treyarch have an established following among the gaming community and they simply have the money to market their products.

      I do believe any game can implement a F2P model. To argue that only competitive games can only implement it would be wrong (as I actually previously thought) because games like Angry Birds have done well. To get back to your question, some companies just don’t have enough incentive to implement F2P when already being successful as P2P – If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.


      1. Hi Din,

        Yes, apologies that was a typo! Anyway, I find it interesting that you’re of that opinion – whilst League of Legends has been very successful, it is definitely true that many of the big players in the video game industry are still thriving on the P2P model, though with occasional stutters. I wonder whether digital distribution services like Steam on computers, as well as the nature of exclusivity on consoles, have prolonged the life of the P2P model than it might otherwise succeed for.

        Is it not, in fact, these kinds of innovations which have made the video games industry one of very few to not have to resort to free or subscription based services to maintain its standing (ignoring Xbox Live and Playstation Plus, which are mostly used to cover server costs)? I would say that the industry has actually “fixed” a lot of things with the P2P model which others failed to address, enabling them to still use it to great effect. The difference to me is that, with the introduction of platforms like Steam so early into the digital age, the industry acted early enough to not have to throw the baby out with the bathwater.


        Liked by 1 person

      2. Hi Calum,

        I agree with you completely. In a way the exclusivity of some games on each platforms have worked for the benefit of both parties (the platform and the individual games). The games that are exclusive to one platform have given that platform a distinct identity and vice versa. PC has LoL and CSGO and consoles have FIFA and Call of Duty. And I do believe the distinction (and sometimes tension) between gamers from different platforms/games creates longevity within each side of the gaming industry – the elitist mindset that the distinction gives will fuel more reasons for a person within a platform to invest more within the platform. Sorry if i’m getting a bit carried away. It’s quite beautiful to think about how the complexity within the industry fits so well given how it has continued to be successful for many years.

        And as much as I agree with you, I don’t want to give gaming industries too much credit. As smart as they were in how they have approached their business, half the reason why their so successful is just from the fact that some people just really really love gaming.

        Thanks for the follow up discussion Calum, I honestly enjoy having the opportunity to share the passion I have about gaming.


  3. Hi!
    I found this post really interesting and can appreciate it from both a consumerist and psychological point of view. As I have never really been involved in online games, it initially found it hard for me to understand the appeal of spending money on something which takes place within a game. However, the video was especially useful in linking it to the ideas of conspicuous consumption to purchasing in-game perks.
    Do you think that this could be especially relevant to gaming in particular, where the nature of the gamer might already tend to be very competitive?
    The ethics was also interesting, as I believe many young people are interested in these games. Do you know if there enough restrictive measures which would provide both the security of the child (thinking back to our online footprint!) and parental control in order to prevent unwanted spending on F2P games?


    1. Hi Jess,

      I tried my best to make the post non-gamer friendly whilst being under the word limit, I truly apologise.

      I don’t think it is limited to gaming but I do believe the competitive nature of gaming is a big factor. A lot of others products do exploit our competitive nature as much as gaming companies do as well. One example I could think of would be big football brands such as Nike constantly pumping out new “innovative” football boots almost every month or so. I could definitely play as well with a pair of £20 boots I bought 5 years ago but I can imagine having all sorts of reasons of wanting to buy a pair of the latest £200 Nikes. And I could be competitive for all sorts of reasons such as wanting to fit in, need to belong, self esteem needs and so on (You and I both being Psychology students, we know these reasons almost inside out).

      To answer your second question simply, yes just enough and no, definitely not. Gaming companies definitely want to have payment security at high standards to keep their company from having a bad name. At the same time, to the companies, gaming is just a business, and at the end of the day it is all just about making as much money as they can. Small features like refunds do help, but in my experience in LoL, the refunds are limited to about three times – ever.


  4. hi Din,

    I like how you often manage to link back your posts to something you’re interested in, it makes the post a lot more enjoyable to read as it is in a context that you’re obviously very knowledgeable about!

    My question for you as someone who doesn’t know much about the gaming world, is could a game ever be completely free? As in you don’t pay anything to download it and there are no in-app purchases? This would put everyone on an equal level as they wouldn’t have advantage over other users, but it would be interesting to know what you think the future of free gaming is?



    1. Hi Sophie,

      Thank you for the compliment and at the same time I hope the gaming related posts have been easily understandable as they are enjoyable to you! 😀

      Games like League of Legends (LoL) are technically completely free. Some pro-players in LoL (gaming “athletes” who play the game for money through tournaments) have said they have never spent a single dime on the game. And the in-app purchases that are available in the game are no more than for aesthetics reason (zero advantage whatsoever). I think free-to-play gaming is the future of gaming as a whole but big name gaming companies that have already established themselves will still do well regardless if they made their games free or not. I can talk about branding on a whole separate post but I hope this answers your question 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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