Giving Thanks To The People Who Make Free-To-Play Possible
I'm in an oddly forgiving mood right now, which I could chalk up to the holiday season, but really, this is something I've been tossing around in my head for the past few months. It's the result of my mulling a weird jumble of video games, fantasy sports, and website revenue models, and how we perceive all of these, making judgments about one without realizing how similar the others are – and that we often take a very different view, depending on what we're looking at.
There are two major complaints about free-to-play games I see in the comments here at MMOBomb, as well as on other sites: players complaining about microtransactions, and paid players complaining about “freeloaders” or “moochers” who don't contribute anything financial to a game. I've certainly done my share of the first and, as someone who doesn't shell out real money very often, been stung by the accusations of the second. But everyone on the Internet does both, to some degree.
Microtransactions can be bad – no dispute there. Even when they're “good,” limited strictly to things like cosmetics and XP boosts, I still feel a little “left out” when I see someone advancing faster than me or with a shinier sword that they probably got with real money instead of by advancing in the game. It might not impact my game experience, but it's still mildly annoying.
At this point, some people might say, “Tough, if you want the really cool stuff, you'll have to pay for it. If you don't want to do that, deal with the annoyance.” That's a valid point, and one I would have been more combative about before a few months ago. That shift in my mentality came to me from, of all things, examination of the recent daily fantasy sports scandal.
In a nutshell, daily fantasy is a “free” way to play and earn real money with fantasy football. Like many F2P games, it doesn't stay free for long, and any serious player will spend lots and lots of cash in the hopes of a big payout. It's essentially unregulated gambling, and that's generated a lot of negative buzz the past few months.
I've seen a lot of folks express glee at daily fantasy's troubles, largely because of the copious amount of ads the two major players in the field, FanDuel and DraftKings, run during football games and on the Internet. They're repetitive, annoying, and borderline dishonest, and most people would love to see them go away entirely, in the same way that F2P gamers grouse about lockboxes and other “scammy” aspects of F2P.
I felt the same way until I was browsing one of my most-visited sites, Pro-Football-Reference. I, and many other sports enthusiasts, visit the Sports Reference family of sites several times a day, and appreciate the easy and free access to voluminous and highly detailed immediate information that's always at our fingertips. It's not easy to manage, though. A few months ago, PFR founder Sean Forman had an afternoon Twitter rant where he admitted the ad model for the site was a poor revenue-generator, but it was the best he could manage for a free site.
As I look at PFR now, I notice that every single active player (here's one) has a DraftKings ticker and ad link on his page. This clearly generates revenue for PFR, meager though it may be. If it went away in a puff of smoke because DraftKings was regulated into unprofitability, what would that mean for a site that I, and thousands of other people, use on a daily basis? Not to mention all the other sites I likely visit that take advantage of DraftKings and FanDuel's advertising budget, which is tens of millions of dollar per week during the football season.
I'll certainly do what I can to avoid the most annoying of ads – the “mute tab” Chrome feature is a life-saver, and it doesn't stop video ads from running and generating revenue – and I do have my limits. But I'll let stuff go 99% of the time. I know my ad view only offers a fraction of a cent of revenue, but for all the free content sites provide, I figure it's the least I can do.
Which brings us to my other point: People who use ad blockers are essentially “mooching” off web sites in the same way that F2P gamers who play for free “mooch” off a game. I'll certainly agree that some ads are very “bad” – autoplay video ads, pop-ups, interspatials – but most are simple banners on the side of the page that don't meaningfully disrupt viewing. They are, at most, mild annoyances on par with someone having a shinier sword than you, but it's something you have to live with to keep free services running and available for everyone to use. If you want to get rid of them, you cut off the means for that product to continue.
If it helps keep some of my favorite free sites running, I'll deal with the annoying video ads. And if someone is buying tons of keys to open his lockboxes in an MMO and get shiny (though not pay-to-win) loot, I'll deal with it if it keeps the game running and try to complain just a little less. Understand that this doesn't mean I accept every real-money transaction a game has to offer, but I'll stay tolerant of most of them. Thank you, DraftKings and FanDuel, and thank you, lockbox-key and shiny-sword-buyers. Have an extra leg of turkey this Thursday... you can certainly afford it.
About 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.
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