How F2P games exploit your brain

Not all free-to-play games are trojan horses, expertly fashioned to work their way into your habits and drain your bank account. But many are, and virtual economist Ramin Shokrizade has detailed their mechanics in a GamaSutra blog post that is as fascinating as it is stomach turning.

Shokrizade argues there are two different kinds of free-to-play games: skill games and money games. In the former, your ability to advance is mostly dependent on making good decisions. In the latter, your ability to advance is mostly dependent on how much money you spend.

How do they convince you to spend money? One of Shokrizade's favorite examples is "fun pain:" putting your players in an uncomfortable situation, and offering them a way out via cash--like when Puzzle & Dragons lets you avoid losing all the treasure you earned by spending $1 worth of "gems" to get back up.

"If the shift from skill game to money game is done in a subtle enough manner, the brain of the consumer has a hard time realizing that the rules of the game have changed," Shokrizade writes. "If done artfully, the consumer will increasingly spend under the assumption that they are still playing a skill game and 'just need a bit of help.'"

It's a booming market, but there's still money to be made from more savvy consumers. As awareness spreads, hopefully more F2P games will appeal to the latter.

"In the current market, especially with most adults and children not familiar with the nature of these products, the environment is still ripe for fast profits, and likely will continue to be so for a few more years. Note that while these methods can be very successful with young and inexperienced gamers, they find less success with older and more experienced gamers, and this population represents a group with potentially very large gaming budgets."


  • schtotelheim-reinbach - July 6, 2013 6:05 a.m.

    I used to be obsessed with facebook games in high school. I buy stupid stuff and after I get bored, they will have no more use for me. All those that I have spent were all a waste of money.
  • Rub3z - June 30, 2013 midnight

    I feel ashamed every time I buy a key for a crate in TF2. I rarely ever do it, but sometimes I jump back into to TF2, browse my inventory and see a crate full of potentially cool gear that I want, and... I just... maybe this one time... this will be a good one. Just one. Look at the possibilities, man. You could have any one of those badass items in that crate. Or that one. Just do it, man. Just five bucks... two crates with goodies in them... it can't hurt... Two. Strange Razorbacks. Ugh. Fortunately, it isn't a total loss if you open up a crate of something you don't like. I just took those worthless items and smelted them into scrap metal, and then used that to craft an item I wanted. So in all, it's not as if you're straight up getting ripped off, because even if you'll never equip that particular item, it can still find a use, and ultimately lead to you getting an item you wanted. Valve is cool like that, and TF2 is fun... even if those crates are straight up bullshit... XD
  • SuperNewman - July 2, 2013 12:32 p.m.

    You could've traded both of those off for a reclaimed metal each, whoops!
  • Rub3z - July 2, 2013 10:22 p.m.

    I don't know how trading works... I just know how to join games and shoot people.
  • DeeEss - June 29, 2013 6:52 a.m.

    I paid about 15 Euros on a pack for Tribes: Ascend. Other than that, I've not really spent any money on F2P. I just don't care for the model. Give me a price for your game, and I'll buy it or not. Don't try to leech me over time.
  • jorge-patino - June 28, 2013 11:50 p.m.

    I've never spend money on In-game currency or stupid DLC and never will.

Showing 1-6 of 6 comments

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