Saturday, March 29, 2014

It'sa Free!!

It's been about a month or two since I last updated, things got pretty hectic, and now I've had a work related accident and so I feel that I have some extra time to write one of these. In this blog I'm going to talk about a few services that are handing out free games to people, and the free game market has exponentially grown in recent years. I'm sure that most of you have heard the words "Free-to-Play", or maybe you have seen the occasional game go free for a couple days. But, in this day and age the word free is really taking on new meaning. There are 3 different services offering Free games on a timed basis, and more and more games are going Free-to-Play.

The first service is the one that pretty well kicked off "here's some free games that don't completely suck" trend, PS+. PlayStation Plus arrived on the scene on June 29th of 2010, and by the end of next month the service will have handed out 264 games in North America and 251 games in Europe, across their PS3, PSP, PS Vita, and most recently PS4 Systems. That's not just Indie games, or PSN games, most are Triple A blockbuster titles, April's Game of the Month in North America is going to be Batman: Arkham City. But, there is a catch, you have to have pay for PS+ to get the games, and in order to continue playing them you also need to keep it active, the moment it lapses you lose access to the games.  But that PS+ membership also gets you exclusive deeper discounts when sales are going on, other random freebies like avatars, backgrounds, cloud storage, and Timed Trials which allow you to play the first 60 minutes of a game unrestricted, and if you purchase the full game after you play the trial you will pick up where you left off and unlock any trophies you would have unlocked. PS4 now requires PS+ to play online, while on PS3 it is optional. Since buying a PS3 on July 31st of last year I have saved over $500 on games which has more than paid for my purchase, not to mention picking up several games with all their DLC for less than $10 with my PS+ exclusive price. By far it is really the most superior of these services and if you have a Vita or a PS3 and you don't have this service you really aren't experiencing everything the PlayStation has to offer.

Next up is a new service Xbox Live rolled out last year to compete with PS+ (although they claimed it wasn't). Xbox dubbed their service Games With Gold and rolled it out on July 1st with the game's Defense Grid and Assassin's Creed II. Games With Gold works similarly to PS+ in terms of you need an Xbox Live Gold account to get the games, but you don't need to keep it active to continue playing the game, so you can let your Gold Subscription lapse and you will still be able to play. The Service will have given away 22 games by the end of next month worldwide (if you include Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts which was the alternative game to Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Vegas for South Africa, and Dead Rising 2: Case Zero which was given away next to Dead Rising 2.) Where PS+ usually gives away 1 PS4 game, 3 PS3 games, and 2 PS Vita games a month, Games With Gold gives you 2, one game from the 1st-15th and one game from the 15th till the end of that month. They tend to be 1 Triple A game and 1 Arcade game, but it's not necessarily like that, sometimes it's 2 Arcade games, sometimes it's games no one has ever heard of. Hopefully they will start giving away some hotter titles but it is still in it's infacy, so not too much can be expected just yet. You get nothing else with it, due to the fact that Gold is required for Online play, and Microsoft offers cloud storage anyways. But, I have noticed an influx of Gold exclusive discounts recently that suggest they are moving in the PS+ direction.

The newest contender to the free content crown is surprisingly Origin. Origin is EA's exclusive online service, it features a Steam-like client that you can download and launch your games through. The Deals on Origin are nowhere near as good as they are on Steam (who is currently selling Tomb Raider's Definitive Edition that came out at the end of January for $11 and Batman: Arkham Origins for $10) But, EA is trying to sweeten the pot, more than likely in hopes that giving away a game for free will result in players paying for the extra content available for the game. But their new service has rolled out this week and it's called "On the House". "On the House" gives away one free (what I imagine will be EA branded) game for an undetermined period of time, currently they are handing out Dead Space for PC until May 8th, so it will be interesting to see what they have up next. The only requirement is that you have an Origin account (which is totally free) and that you have the Origin client downloaded on your PC, but otherwise there are apparently no strings attached to the free games, just log in click on it, download it, and it's yours forever. I hope they really stick to giving away quality games like Dead Space, and not just lure you in with an awesome game and then start throwing stuff from back in the early 2000's, which really wouldn't surprise me. But, it does go a long way to helping out EA's relationship with gamers.

Now I'd like to talk about the ever expanding Free-to-Play market. Free-to-Play has been around for quite awhile Runescape probably being amongst the most well known from the early days of Free-to-Play. But, it has really exploded recently, with most MMO's adopting at the very least some form of Free-to-Play, some companies did it as a way to save their games from a lack of subscriptions after a certain period of time. DC Universe Online, Star Wars: The Old Republic, and even to a certain extent World of Warcraft all have a Free-to-Play option. World of Warcraft whom has always required you to purchase the game, or expansion, and then pay a $15 a month fee to be able to play rolled out a way to attract more customers by allowing players to download the game for free and play unrestricted until they hit level 20, at that point all experience would stop and could choose to purchase a key for the full price of the game and start paying the $15 a month fee. While DC Universe Online allows players to download the game for free and play completely unrestricted. One would have to wonder how do they make any money when you don't even have to pay for the base game? Well they have adopted the ever popular Micro-Transaction scheme. You can play all you want, level, play with friends, and pretty much do whatever you want, but you still have to pay for expansions, and more-so if you want the cooler items from costumes, to stuff for your lair, or even more powerful super powers or weapons you need to pay for them. Counting on players to pay the small fee for the extra content. While PC gaming and Mobile gaming have truly master the art of Micro-Transactions, Consoles are now embracing the same scheme. Playstation and Xbox both have a section full of Free-to-Play games, with one of the most notorious being the PlayStation exclusive Eve Online: Dust 514 (which actually alters the base game Eve Online on PC, showing the effects of the skirmishes in Dust 514), why is Dust 514 so notorious you may ask? Well essentially while being a Free-to-Play shooter they locked out all the best gear and weapons, forcing players to pay for them if they wish to stand a chance against players who have been around for longer and have put in the money. Most recently Ubisoft announced it's new Free-to-Play Ghost Recon Online, which already has promotional codes for $15 worth of upgrades for your character, which means that much like Eve Online: Dust 514 the players who are willing to spend the money will have much better weapons and abilities than those who choose to just play the base free game. This system really bothers me it makes playing these games unbearable without spending a decent amount of real world money to even be able to compete. Diablo III's Marketplace went from spending in-game found gold, to using real world money. How far this will truly go is anyone's guess, but currently it really does drastically leave players with little to no option than to fork over a lot more of their hard earned cash than if you were just playing a game where you had to earn your upgrades and weapons. If you had to pay for every top tier gun, or class mod you found in Borderlands you would probably be pretty well broke, or have a pretty horrible time trying to defeat some of the Legendary bosses with your crappy green weapons. Hopefully this dies out soon, but with how lucrative this model has become I don't see it leaving anytime soon.