The Free-to-Play Tide is Turning

The Free-to-Play Tide is Turning

After widespread negative feedback, both Forza 5 and Disney's Where's My Water 2 have toned down their uses of microtransactions.

Yesterday, we discussed the divisive issues of free-to-play games and microtransactions.

The conclusions we came to were that there are very good and very bad examples of both being used in the industry at present, with Microsoft's Forza 5 being a particularly high-profile example of a bad microtransactional business model creeping into a full-price retail game.

For the last couple of years, game developers and publishers have been stubbornly digging their heels in and continuing to make use of some of the more unpleasant -- but often more profitable -- tactics: things like wait timers that you can bypass by paying money; energy bars that prevent you from playing for several hours unless you pay; artificial difficulty spikes that you can only reasonably get past by purchasing premium items.

This isn't to say that players have been keeping quiet, however. While there are plenty of people out there who seemingly have no qualms about plowing money into microtransaction-heavy games -- at least if the App Store's Top Grossing chart is to be believed -- there has also been widespread outcry at a number of titles that pushed things just that little bit too far.

Most recently, the aforementioned Forza 5 was received extremely negatively by press and public alike for its heavy focus on microtransactions, including its rebalanced economy that subtly nudged players in the direction of the "token" purchase options. Completely separately, Disney's sequel to its popular mobile puzzle game Where's My Water? drew widespread ire for its implementation of an "energy" system, preventing players from enjoying the game as much as they wanted in a single session.

Blergh.

In a positive move for the use of free-to-play and microtransactions in the industry as a whole, both games have taken on board the negative feedback and changed their user experiences accordingly.

Forza 5, firstly, has received its first update to rebalance the economy in the game and hopefully make it a little more friendly to players. The cumulative cost of cars within the game has been reduced by an impressive 45 per cent, while the rate at which you earn cash through playing the game has been increased by 60 per cent. The microtransaction options are still there, but hopefully with these changes it should feel less like they're necessary to see all of the game's content -- in other words, it should be more in line with how Gran Turismo 6 implements microtransactions.

Where's My Water? 2, meanwhile, has also updated following player feedback -- in this case removing its controversial energy mechanic entirely. Judging by App Store reviews, fans are pleased with this development, but disappointed that the game is still reliant on Facebook connectivity to continue progression beyond a certain point. You can't win 'em all, apparently.

Free-to-play and microtransaction-based business models are still relatively young in the grand scheme of the whole industry, so naturally it's going to take time for them to be refined into a state where as many people as possible are happy with them. The changes made to these two games highlight the importance of giving honest, respectful and constructive feedback to developers making games who make use of these business models; without a certain degree of pushback when it looks like players are being treated unfairly, developers and publishers will continue to push the boundaries of what they can get away with.

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