The Real Cost of Free-to-Play Games

Free-to-play games dominate the app marketplace.

free-to-play gameThe top 10 games in the ‘free’ section of Google Play store all have in-app purchase available. Many of these games state that purchases are optional and a way to keep up with your friends or get ahead faster than if you were to continue to play without paying. The further you typically get into a game the more difficult the challenge becomes, in some cases the challenge can be too difficult to overcome and leaving you with either the option to quite or for a small fee, say $4.99 in credits to purchase in game items in order to pass that seemingly impossible level.

Then, at a quicker pace than before, the same type of wall might present itself and the same solutions present themselves. Keep trying over and over or pay another $4.99 to get even further along. The cycle typically repeats itself and with many of these games in the multi-hundreds of levels you can see how it would be easy to charge several hundred dollars to a credit card just for the ability to press forward in a game.

There are also competitive free-to-play games that operate under a building and war type platform. You gain ownership over your little slice of the kingdom for example and are tasked with maintaining and growing it. It takes time to build your kingdom since this is a free game after all. The catch is other people can attack what you’ve built and ruin your chance to progress. You have a few choices here as well. You can continue to slowly build and not pay a dime. Your progress will be impeded and you will likely never be able to catch up with other players. You can also quit or for $4.99 you can get the items that will keep your stuff protected and speed your building up. Then, when you realize you need more assistance later on because you are at the exact same impasse you can buy another pack, but perhaps this time you have to pay $9.99 and so on until packs cost you $99.99 in order to continue to play unimpeded. Usually there is no reduction in the amount the packs cost.

The only objective, in my opinion, of free-to-play games is to generate as much revenue as possible. Game developers have figured how to tap into some of our worst spending behaviors. The need to press forward and win at all costs have created many stories of people spending $30,000 or more on their game of choice with many spending hundreds of not thousands.

I’m not here to criticize anyone but I do feel that it’s important that we consider what we ultimately gain from spending so much. Does the game provide stability, true happiness or motivation to do better? Does the game uplift us and help us provide for ourselves and our families? Could we do more with that money or find other forms of entertainment? Will we avoid going into debt that we’ll struggle to pay back? Would we be better off purchasing one game for say $59.99 and receive hours and hours of enjoyment for one price rather than be pushed into wanting to spend on a game that could truly be limitless in the amount we could spend?

When free-to-play game developers are being valued in the billions shortly after starting operations due to the dollars they are pulling in I believe it is a cause for concern. No one wants to see people already struggling financially end up digging themselves deeper into debt.

If I could recommend one thing to anyone considering paying to play for a free-to-play game; sleep on it. See how you feel about the purchase the next day and don’t let a game force you to pay just to move forward because from what I’ve seen that pattern will only continue as you keep tapping away.

Good luck and if you or someone you know has found themselves in debt due to the real cost of free-to-play games please give us a call. Our nonprofit Certified Credit Counselors will advise you on the solutions you have available to you to get back on track financially.


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