Buy-to-Play or Free-to-Play: what’s the difference, really?

Pearl Abyss acquires CCP Games

“Please make it buy-to-play!”, someone, somewhere cries right now. Now hold on a minute, as we have something to say: you’re doing it wrong.

Bear with us for a while. Buy-to-play as it is nowadays isn’t going to get you a better game – you’re just being tricked into paying for a free-to-play game under disguise. It wouldn’t make Lost Ark a better game, or turn the currently missing in action Peria Chronicles into a safe, balanced anime delight. Let’s take Kakao Games’ flagship title Black Desert Online as an example, a game that is actually free in South Korea, Russia and Japan but that turned into buy-to-play for its westernization. This is still pretty much a F2P game with the cash shop, fickly balance, riddled with bots and mass pay-to-win protests. Did you feel better for having to fork out $29.99 or even more for a game that other players are enjoying for free, having the same annoying issues as them but for an initial purchase price?

Who benefits in this new day and age of buy-to-play with cash shops? The publisher, that’s who, especially when aware that it has an anticipated game in its hands, such as Black Desert, or maybe Revelation Online, this one with a business model yet to be revealed. The cash injection from the initial sales is welcomed and later on, when the sales and the player base declines, the mechanics that were in place from the start (read cash shop) will be pushed forward and the game will then switch to free-to-play – something that it should have launched as.

Guardians of Ember (Embergarde in Taiwan) is another F2P game that is launching in North America and Europe as a buy-to-play game. Apparently not upset by the dreadful experience with Trinium Wars (a game that launched in March 2016 as B2P, switched to F2P in May and shut down in August), the publisher is once again trying to lure players to buy into a game where a cash shop is prominent. Path of Exile this isn’t.

One more example just to get our message through: Trion World’s Atlas Reactor. A nice little tactical game announced as free-to-play, later in development it turned to buy-to-play for some obscure reason. Three months gone by and for a reason that this time seems pretty clear to us – not enough player interest/pre-orders -, Atlas Reactor reverts to free-to-play… Oh wait, it’s more like Atlas Reactor now includes a free mode, which is in fact free-to-play but with a few limitations, something that is the standard in most, if not all games using this business model.

All this controversy could easily be avoided if Black Desert and other games would just stick to the one variant of the free-to-play model which sounds pretty fair to us, while being fair to the developers – a free game with a cash shop, small free content updates and larger paid expansions. It’s something currently used by Guild Wars 2, Rift and Star Wars: The Old Republic, where you get the best of two worlds – you get to play the full core game for free and if you truly enjoy it, show your support by purchasing the expansions. If you didn’t enjoy it and watched it turn into a pay-to-win mess, well, at least you didn’t have to buy the game in the first place.

To players and developers: if you’re going to wave the buy-to-play flag for every game, make sure it’s properly done, not free-to-play in disguise.

What are your thoughts on this buy-to-play versus free-to-play dilemma?

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