Over on GamesIndustry.biz, Rob Fahey talked today about free-to-play games shutting down and the kind of consumer backlash that might ensue when that happens due to players “losing” the virtual items they paid for. In other words, if I spend $100 to buy outfits, boosts, and the occasional loot box, should I be upset if that’s all rendered worthless when the game disappears. Or, more to Fahey’s point, should game developers and the industry as a whole be prepared for irate consumers to take to the various corners of the internet if that happens en masse in 2019, as he thinks might be the case?

Fahey’s article primarily focuses on mobile games, but his general point is still valid as it relates to free-to-play gaming as a whole. To some degree, we all expect the small, fly-by-night games that were developed in a weekend to be unstable and have short lifespans with the very occasional surprise hit (Flappy Bird comes to mind), but as the industry becomes more saturated, even the mid-sized games that had decent budgets and hype might also face the same fate. Some recent examples in the free-to-play PC gaming world would include titles like WildStar, Orcs Must Die! Unchained, Total War: Arena, and Gigantic.

While the article also tends to talk about microtransactions as items, like skins and consumables, less emphasis seems to be put on services, like subscriptions, which are more prevalent in PC games than mobile. If you spent $100 for a year’s subscription to a game and then that game shut down, would you feel as bad as if you spent $100 over the course of a year on cosmetic items prior to a shutdown? I’d wager most people would be reasonably OK with the first situation – I mean, apart from the game shutting down in the first place – and somewhat less so with the second.

Here’s one way to look at it though: Any money spent in a free-to-play game is spent with the intent of increasing the enjoyment you get out of it. A subscription accomplishes that through whatever various bonuses – extra XP, a title, regular currency points, etc. – you accrue. Purchases of individual items – hats, vehicles, dyes, etc. – accomplish the same thing. You spend money to make your experience better.

Whether those “permanent” items are seen as more tangible and “yours” as opposed to a subscription that’s gone after 30 days (or longer) is subjective, but I think they’re closer than they first appear. I can understand people being upset over “losing” their items if a game goes away, but even if they spent on an expired subscription – or never spent anything at all – they’d be “losing” quite a lot: their character(s), items earned through gameplay, the social aspects, and so on. Sure, there’s some outrage and sadness when that happens for a few beloved titles, but I don’t think we’re in danger of that becoming the norm.

Total War: Arena 5

Obviously, it’s a sucky situation all around for players when their game shuts down. However, I don’t think we’ll see too much of a “consumer backlash” in 2019 if a larger number of games do so, taking people’s microtransaction money with them. There might be some exceptions based on individual cases, of course, such as if a game has a big push to bring in money and then quickly shuts down. Those kind of situations should be rare, if they happen at all (though if they do, don’t say we didn’t warn you).

Have you ever regretted money you spent in a game that shut down, free-to-play or otherwise? If so, were the bulk of your purchases “temporary,” like subscriptions, or “permanent,” like items? Let us know in the comments below!

the author

Jason Winter is a veteran gaming journalist, he brings a wide range of experience to MMOBomb, including two years with Beckett Media where he served as the editor of the leading gaming magazine Massive Online Gamer. He has also written professionally for several gaming websites.

10 Readers Commented

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  1. Weilan on January 14, 2019

    Even when B2P and Subscription-based games shut down, it’s still a waste of money.

    Since everything is now considered as “games-as-a-service” they are renting games out to us and even if we pay full price, it’s still just paying to rent. I feel like unless people buy single player games, that can always work and they either have a physical copy or a DRM-free copy from GOG, they own nothing. As even Steam has it written in the EULA that they can revoke your games. So you can buy Witcher 3 on Steam and one day you will wake up and the game is missing from your library and your money – gone. So don’t buy games from Steam either.

    • Gofrea on January 14, 2019

      Steam don’t revoke games because it’s fun, and thats is a beyond rare stuff, they revoke games who normally are obtained from shady places, who probably just stole that key or have obtained by other illegal mean, i have steam since 2014 and i NEVER have had a revoked game, even Games like D.I.R.T 3 who have been pulled out of the service still available for those who have paid or win it, stop talking about stuffs who you clearly don’t understand.

  2. Rea on January 13, 2019

    I see MMOs as a service, if the game was good and i have enjoyed while playing it, then my money was well spend, if not then i regret, Guild Wars 2 is a game where i put some good money on, but even if the game shut down this year (not happening) i will never regret the money who i have spend on it.

  3. Rea on January 13, 2019

    I treat games online like services, if they stay up for a good amount of time and it was an enjoyable one for me then no, other way around it’s a yes. Right now i have put some good money in Guild Wars 2 and even if the game shut down this year (impossible shit) i will never regret putting money in that game.

  4. Tryluck on January 13, 2019

    No. If i pay for something it means i enjoy it. If i enjoy it then developers are worth that money.

  5. ethnrj on January 13, 2019

    yes good thing that the most i ever spent on microtransactions is like 20 , i can enjoy a game without pouring all my cash in it

  6. PuddingBear on January 12, 2019

    If I buy something, then shuts down a month later I want a refund. I will play at least 6 months. If not waste of money.

  7. AJ on January 11, 2019

    No, it’s entertainment and nothing else. I am purchasing a digital good. If I leave the game and stop playing I no longer have access to what I paid for. Now in a game like marvel heroes I just wish they took the time to make an offline mode. You wouldn’t be able to raid or have new events but could do story mode and some other areas of the game. In a game like bless online it’s a risk you take knowingly. In a game like WoW you lose years of social engagement and time which is far worse than money lost. My 2 cents worth

  8. Rundundukas on January 11, 2019

    Yes… it feels like wasted money, this is why i keep away from P2P online games and microtransaction. I might be old fashion ,but i feel like only “single player” with multiplayer option games worth money. Because even if multiplayer is dead you still have access to single player or story mode any time for ever.

  9. Curst on January 11, 2019

    The only “backlash” they could realistically face is gamers getting a lot more careful with their money. From what I’ve seen on gaming (PC) forums, for many of us there was at least one game in recent years that drastically changed the way we buy things.

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