Free-to-play games have certain features that can affect your sense of progression through a video game. Common practices, like battle passes, utilize certain tactics that prioritize profits over progression, leaving you unsatisfied the longer you play.
But what do free-to-play games have that negatively affect your sense of progression? Let’s take a look.
Free-to-Play Games Often Have Predatory Monetization Practices
One of the main reasons you may feel your sense of progression stifled in free-to-play titles is because of the implementation of predatory microtransaction practices.
Whether this is purchasing a set of Apex Packs in Apex Legends to roll your dice and hopefully unlock a cool cosmetic, or purchasing level skips in Smite to skip through tiers of the battle pass, your progression is greatly affected.
Skipping playing through a free-to-play game’s content to unlock your rewards, essentially removes the requirement to progress towards anything within a free-to-play game.
In these cases, purchasable cosmetics merely highlight players who have spent money on digital content as opposed to having progressed in the game or being highly skilled.
Of course, these practices are completely optional, but they can potentially alter your sense of progression by taking away your desire to work towards a cosmetic or battle pass item you can otherwise purchase outright.
Free-to-Play Games Can Be Very Unbalanced
In the vein of some of the issues with monetization, some free-to-play titles allow players to outright purchase content that gives them a distinct advantage against other players, leaving the overall gameplay experience very unbalanced.
In Fallout 76, players can purchase a resource called Scrap that allows them to craft and upgrade better weapons. If you choose not to purchase this resource, you will be at a disadvantage to any players you come across who may have access to extra Scrap and, therefore, have better-upgraded weapons than you.
This may even completely halt your progression for the simple fact that you could be unable to beat most other players.
When a free-to-play title’s gameplay has the potential to be unbalanced, whether it’s due to pay-to-win monetization or simply bad game design, your desire to progress is purposefully aggravated by unbalanced gameplay environments.
This may potentially alter your sense of progression to encourage the purchasing of gameplay benefiting microtransactions to level the playing field.
Leveling in Free-to-Play Games Gets Progressively Harder
Aside from monetization and pay-to-win practices, the leveling system in free-to-play games could also detrimentally alter your sense of progression.
As mentioned prior, the battle pass system of earning XP to progress through tiers of unlocks is the most common form of free-to-play progression.
Most importantly, as you progress through each battle pass tier, more XP is required at each tier level. This means that progression through a tier system takes more and more time the further through the battle pass you are.
This could cause you to ultimately lose interest in progressing in a free-to-play game or even cause you to become burnt out and uninterested in grinding the game to reach the next tier.
Free-to-Play Battle Pass Rewards Are Often Unrewarding
Because free-to-play battle passes function with both a free and a premium pass, having content locked behind the premium pass and uninteresting free rewards may also influence your sense of progression.
If you want to experience your free-to-play game entirely for free and progress through a free battle pass, the rewards you are given will most likely be sub-par when compared to the premium alternatives.
With the aforementioned increasing XP for each tier, locking away worthwhile rewards within the premium pass could make you less likely to want to progress through the game further.
When compared to other forms of progression in video games that offer multitudes of rewards, this issue is exaggerated. Much like microtransactions in pay-to-win models, this could also encourage you to purchase the premium pass to feel rewarded for your game time.
Be Careful When Progressing in Free-to-Play Games
Overall, free-to-play games alter your sense of progression by influencing the amount of time you spend playing, what rewards are offered to you, and by encouraging potentially gameplay-affecting microtransactions.
If you truly enjoy the gameplay loop and are willing to put in the time to hit each XP barrier without spending money, it is unlikely that the above factors will sway you.
However, if you find free-to-play gaming demotivating, you may find it useful to learn the difference between free-to-play gaming and free games and see what services like Xbox Live and PlayStation Plus offer instead.