The Naked Gamer: What Does Free-To-Play Mean?

what does free-to-play mean

The Naked Gamer is a regular opinion column that strips back the superficialities and looks at the flesh underneath. If you’ve got a topic you’d like discussed, drop columnist Kristy Green a line!

It’s such a tiny term but seems to be so filled with meaning and causing so much confusion. Ask ten gamers what they think Free-to-Play (F2P) means and you will get ten very different definitions.

It feels like the term F2P is becoming nothing more than a buzz word used by people for their own personal agenda while ignoring everyone else. It has been very frustrating to watch people bring forth valid opinions of the changes to the subscription model made for Star Wars: The Old Republic but only to have them completely brushed over or ignored because people seem to be unable to get past their own preconceptions whenever they see the phrase F2P.

One common idea is that F2P means that you can create an account and play the game without paying anything. It doesn’t matter what you can or can’t do, just simply being able to login seems the biggest point in this description, oh and no time expiration. This means that games like World of Warcraft, Tera, SWTOR, Aion and Battle of the Immortals are all considered F2P.

Another common way of defining F2P is to say that you can play the whole game without any restriction to your gameplay. If the game has restrictions that are unlocked or accessed only by spending money then it’s no longer free. Instead it is some sort of unlimited time trial. So in this definition the only games that are F2P from the above examples are Aion and Battle of the Immortals.

So I thought about this and I wondered what harm is there if we see F2P differently? I would like to say none but all you have to do is read up on any of the feedback from SWTOR’s recent changes to see that this isn’t working. Those that consider the game as F2P see those that don’t as entitled and in return they get labelled as pretentious. It’s very hard to talk about the good and the bad when such loaded words are being thrown around. Also, many of us have predefined notion of what F2P means and so when we see the term, we are expecting to see one thing and may be seeing something else. None of this comes together to equal good communication.

Then I thought, ‘but isn’t it up to the developers and publishers to define what their game is or isn’t?’ That might seem like a perfect solution but not one that would be practical. WoW and Tera never once used the term F2P and yet the media and gamers constantly do. SWTOR says that it is but it doesn’t necessarily fit into all definitions of F2P. I’ve even heard of Guild Wars 2 being referred to as F2P simply because it doesn’t need a subscription to play. If we as gamers can’t even agree, then how are we expecting game developers, publishers, and media and of course marketing to?

The only way to see all the brilliant opinions on SWTOR is to stop focusing on what is F2P. Maybe we should instead just move past any buzz words and actually hear out what someone has to say. If we stop predefining people’s opinions then we will see that a lot of time, we are actually all in agreement.