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Free for All: Assumptions based on assumptions


I decided to write this article based on a nagging feeling. It's not something I would normally look into, being that the questions I have are not that easy to ask, or not that easy to clarify. But, as I sink deeper and deeper into the world of international websites, games and toys, I always find certain attitudes pop up during my conversations about my findings. Perhaps it is because I am used to the sights, sounds and styles of free-to-play titles, and have learned to look beyond some of the long titles and odd descriptions. I no longer see games divided into groups and sub-groups.

When hearing the complaints about "foreign" games, I rarely see the counterbalance to the comments. If "Asian" games are grindy, that would mean that North American games are not? If free-to-play games "force" you to spend money, then that means that North American subscription titles do not? The descriptor "free-to-play" is accurate, nine times out of 10, yet there seems to be an issue with using that term, because at some point the player might need to spend money to go at a pace she wants to.

In fact, I am confused by the constant use of the words free-to-play to describe, essentially, a class of game. Where is the counterbalance to that? Does that mean that all subscription games are from a different world of higher quality?

First of all, we must consider that the sheer number of free-to-play titles means that the chances of running across a dud are greater than in the tiny subscription-based market. If 25 or even 50 percent of the free-to-play market is a horrible mess, then it's very possible that you might run across a bad one. While there are literally hundreds of free-to-play titles out there, and many that we here have never heard of, there are possibly a few dozen subscription-based North American titles that many gamers would recognize. Being that those dozens represent the majority of the subscription market, then the familiarity alone would make judgment calls less harsh. After all, we are suspicious and sometimes very rough on that which is alien.

Many of the issues with the free-to-play market come from the look and feel of many of the games. It seems to me that, over the years, two distinct style categories have arisen in North American gamer's minds: cartoony, Anime-inspired romps and more "realistic" looking models. I have seen people say that they all look the same, or that click-to-move always operates the same, again without presenting the counterbalance. If these free-to-play games all look and play the same, does that mean that all North American subscription-based games hold more variety?

I know that I am more than likely picking on the increasingly uncommon practice of lumping all free-to-play games together, but the issues are still there. "Engrish" is now a common hip gamer term, along with "rape" and "retard;" terminology that I find very disturbing. Also, how common is the usage of "Chinese gold farmer," as though there are no dirty deeds being done by gamers that come from this land? Even popular comics, like the one shown above, do not hesitate to get in on the act.

Many times in our history, when a group of people or a foreign idea begins to take hold, the remaining hold-outs raised their rhetoric to alarming levels. I "drink the free-to-play Kool-Aid" I've heard, as though I have been brain-washed by an alien force, rather than found myself enjoying the heck out of some really innovative and charming games. For some, the fight seems to be a source of American pride, the equivalent of "old-school" ideas (as though grinding was invented, or even perfected, only by Asian free-to-play titles).

"While there are times when a player might need to know whether the game requires payment or not, cash shops and micro-transactions are so common that they touch almost every game I can think of."

I might be making an issue from nothing, but my gut has added it up and seen the evidence. One of the most popular Word of Warcraft podcasts featured a "humorous" segment that was based around a "Chinese gold farmer," complete with horrible accent and the usual silly name. In fact, when you see the words "Asian" or "Chinese" in the description of a game, you are witnessing one of the only times that the country or place or origin is used as a negative in gaming culture. Perhaps it's an issue of pride? Maybe there is a string of denial running throughout our industry, despite the fact that some of the greatest profits are being made by "foreign" games?

For me, it comes down to the fact that in every group, type or genre there will be some good and some bad. It would seem an obvious conclusion to me that, since all of our games have their flaws, the style of gameplay or level of depth would be used as a descriptor before the nationality of the person that is assumed to have made the game, or the ethnicity of the gamer that the game might be made for. Unless I am forced, I refuse to call Darkfall a "hardcore PvP game," simply because I would be waving away the existing PvE depth and beauty that the artists took time to craft. For me, it's the same as referring to a game as "yet another Asian grinder," being that there can be complexities and details within the game that have absolutely nothing to do with combat.

Like I pointed out, this is based on a sort of gut-feeling that has built up over the last few years. I have grown weary of referring to a game by its payment (or lack of payment) model. While there are times when a player might need to know whether the game requires payment or not, cash shops and micro-transactions are so common that they touch almost every game I can think of. The assumption should now be that the game does use some sort of cash-shop or micro-transaction, not the opposite.

While I might sound over-dramatic, I am happy to say that I feel as though this blending of models is like the blending of groups of people, and will hopefully stop the drawing of lines in the sand.

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