The industry has been looking for new ways to capitalize on the free-to-play craze. In spite of its name, free-to-play games make a lot of money. But not everyone is happy with the way F2P games are being monetized. Bennett Foddy, creator of games like QWOP and GIRP, gave five reasons for why free-to-play games "usually suck," and offered his own suggestions on possibly making them suck less.
Perhaps the biggest crime of free-to-play games are the ones where you must pay to avoid grinding. Because you are paying to "reduce the amount of time you spend playing the game," it actually becomes a pay-not-to-play game, which diminishes the "perceived value of the game."
They "violate player dignity and integrity," because purchasing power-ups is the equivalent of cheating to win. They "make the player aware of your creepy sales pitch," and turns game designers into "drug dealers." And current free-to-play models "prevent you from designing the best game," because the development priorities are inherently incompatible. Not only must you give reason to give money, but you need to make the game fun and complete for non-payers--but how?
"If you're selling hats," Foddy said, referencing Team Fortress 2's transition to F2P, "you're still missing the opportunity to invent a way of charging people money... in a way that increases value and meaning in the game for everyone."
So, what are some ways to better charge in free-to-play games? Foddy offers five suggestions. Perhaps the simplest one to understand is the transition to an arcade model, where you pay to play every time you play. It's the exact opposite of making players pay to not play the game.
Another option is to enact a tournament model. A game can be entirely free-to-play, but there will be a fee to submit a score to a leaderboard. For highly-competitive arcade games, this can be an incredibly lucrative option.
Foddy also suggests a "reward model," where one never pays if one plays well. A "penalty model" could force payment only if the player sucks. (Imagine how much more tense Dark Souls would be, for example, if you lost real-world money every time you died.)
However, perhaps the most interesting option that Foddy suggested was the "builder model," where payments "change the game for everyone." Perhaps the best example of this idea in action is Skullgirls: through crowdfunding, new content will be added for all players of the game--not just those that paid.
With most large publishers focusing on free-to-play content, it seems as though F2P won't be just a trend, but a regular business model for the future. Undoubtedly, we'll see many of these ideas come to fruition as developers continue to explore new ways of monetizing their free games.