I remember a time, when smartphones were new and novel, that I thought that the original Angry Birds, specifically the free version, was the absolute worst. It had the audacity to show ads between levels. And sometimes banners during the level. And it was a whole dollar to get rid of them. Ah, if only we knew then how bad things could become.
Fast forward to 2019, and I got eye strain from rolling my eyes at everyone being shocked and outraged that the Elder Scrolls mobile game was monetized like a mobile game, with increasingly long wait timers on chests, buildings, and crafting, and green pay-to-win gems offering to help you skip past it all. None of it surprises me, and none of it is half as bad as half of what’s on the Google Play/iOS App Store. What’s the big deal? This seems totally normal and reasonable for a high production value, free-to-play mobile game! I’m way more bothered by the unreasonably long loading screens than the business model.
I can’t decide if I’m bothered by this change of attitude. On the one hand, I feel like I should be up in arms about the trend of exploitative, bait-and-switch monetization that’s taking over games these days. I shouldn’t be playing these games, because, even if I’m not giving them money, I’m supporting them by spending time in their game.
But another part of me feels like this is just how it is now. Me refusing to download a game isn’t going to cause game companies to change their ways. What modern game can you go to these days that isn’t flirting with some kind of frustrating business practices? If the game is fun despite its monetization model, I’ll play it. Or, perhaps more accurately, if a game isn’t so obnoxious in its monetization that I can have fun and not give them money, I’ll play it.
There’s a certain meta-game to trying to get as much out of a free-to-play as you can for little to no money. I remember when LotRO went free-to-play, one of the first to do so, there were a bunch of players who prided themselves on scheming all kinds of ways to get things from the cash shop for free by creating a new character, doing some “easy” low level achievements for the small amount of cash shop currency they rewarded, then deleting that character and starting the whole process over. In Guild Wars 2, people have been similarly farming the free Black Lion chest keys given for completing certain story chapters for years, to the point that ArenaNet has had to come up with several different strategies to thwart key farmers. I’m sure there are tons of examples of this in a wide variety of MMOs, but you get the point.
But is this really fun? Isn’t this just making your MMO into another job? Many have pointed out that you could pick up a few hours at a minimum wage job and earn enough money to buy way more cash shop currency in a lot less time. But, for these people, it’s not about efficiency, it’s about feeling like they gamed the system. Plus, let’s be honest, even repetitive achievement farming is way more fun than flipping burgers.
While I’ve long since given up on this kind of thing in MMOs, this is kind of how I feel about mobile games like Fire Emblem Heroes or Dragalia Lost or Clash Royale. I’m a little embarrassed to even admit that I play gacha-heavy mobile games like that, but, in a way, trying to grind out enough currency to get the best characters for free is the thing that keeps me in the game. Shortcutting by buying currency would take the fun out of it. I feel a little better about Elder Scrolls Blades, because, while a lot of my best gear came from lootboxes, some of it was also crafted from materials I got from quests (and lootboxes), which feels like a decent compromise.
People get really upset over this topic, to the point that I’ve sat on this post for a while before working up the courage to post it. I’ve been told I’m an anti-mobile elitist PC gamer for claiming that competitive games like MOBAs and shooters don’t work on mobile and companies should stop trying to shoehorn them in, and I’ve been called things I don’t care to repeat for daring to suggest that the upcoming mobile Diablo might be a reasonably fun game. This reminds me of a post that Massively OP ran[LINK] recently wherein Tyler made the claim, which seemed pretty innocuous to me, that being an elitist is dumb, so stoppit. The comments immediately erupted with outcries along the lines of “How dare you tell me what to like!” He was not trying to tell us what to like and what not to like, he was pointing out that liking a thing and screaming at people who like that thing are not the only two options. I didn’t think that was an extreme viewpoint, but apparently some people did.
Anyways, enough rabbit trails. What do you think? Has The Industry just worn me down so much that I just don’t see how terrible the games I play are anymore? Or is acceptance of the way things are, and making my own fun regardless, the ideal here?