Tipping: how non spenders should pay for free to play

The free to play model has been slowly adopted as the path to develop a consistent player base. FTP games capitalize on their ease of access to make it so that their products get downloaded and played; and focus on recuperating costs and earning their revenue through in app purchases or IAPs. However since not all players must pay, not all players will, thus it is difficult to understand what would motivate a player to pay for something they receive for free.

Some FTP games include challenges or resources that are incredibly difficult to attain through natural means, or omit certain key mechanics, later selling you said mechanic, challenge pass, or resource through an IAP.  This model of payment is known as pay to win and has led to the appraisal of the FTP market as one which is one based on selling the player an incomplete game experience.  Or one within which a paying player will clearly have a better experience than a non spender because of the gameplay experience they gain access to.


(Candy Crush Soda Saga gold store and the price points for powerups)

Many FTP games focus on locking in a demographic of players known as whales, which will pay high amounts of money and compulsively, similar to the targeting of gamblers with casino games.  However this is unsustainable for the longevity of the genre since it is vampiric and does not view a games’ success via the hallmarks of traditional games; design, playability, fun, and the user experience.


(Pulsefire Ezreal, a “Legendary” class skin retails is priced at $25 in League of Legends)

League of Legends was one of the first titles to adopt the FTP game model and prove its viability within a large scale game.  It has helped to combat the stigma that free to play games are always pay to win since its performance modifiers can all be purchased through in game resource and its IAPs are primarily focused on vanity items. When a player purchases a skin for their favorite champion they are showing their love for a character.  This links their purchase to a sense of pride in their gameplay experience; it makes the payment feel like a tip the player gets to leave the developer for an experience they have already enjoyed.

When a player gets to invest in a game they are more likely to return and that can’t be said of a player who has stockpiles of powerups or gold.  Selling gameplay modifiers does little to make the player love the game; if anything it only compels them to beat the game out of frustration and eventually leave the experience entirely.  Thus the concept of paying as a tip is one that could help right the damage that has been done to the reputation of the FTP model. If players begin to pay into their favorite free to play games not when they need to, but as a courtesy to their favorite developers, then perhaps those companies will thrive and help to define FTP gameplay experience.


Andrew Mantilla is a ludologist and video game journalist for Play Professor.  You can check out more of his content on Facebook, and Instagram.



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