F2P games are still stuck behind Xbox's paywall - this needs to change, fast

Xbox Live changes: won't someone think of the F2P gamers?
Entertainment is free, yay! Now sort out the F2P

The Xbox One freeing itself from the shackles of Kinect may have been what got most people in a flap this week but Microsoft's blog also revealed that the console makers still don't give a damn about free-to-play gamers.

I'll be the first to admit, for the most part none of us should care one bit about this seamy side of gaming.

Free-to-play gaming - particularly on mobile - gets bad press for good reason: on the whole it is money grabbing and not much more. It's not about enhancing entertainment but lining the coffers of gaming executives. They know how easy micro-transactions can be processed on a mobile device, and put this to good use by preying on the impatient.

But there's bad deals and then there's bad deals and F2P gaming on the Xbox is a one of the worst out there. Not only do gamers have to pay incrementally to play their games, they need to cough up money for an Xbox Live Gold account as well.

This has been a bugbear for Xbox users for years now and it should have been fixed with the latest changes to Xbox. Microsoft has finally managed to make its 170-plus entertainment apps free to all - regardless if you have an Xbox account or not.

An Xbox Live Gold account is something that is now an added extra, not a requirement. This now gives Xbox users the same deal that PlayStation owners have been smug about for years.

But F2P gamers have been left out in the cold. They still have to subscribe to access MMOS - they still pay to play to pay to play.

Feedback matters

Given that Microsoft said in its blog that "feedback matters to us and it shapes the products and services we build," it's crazy that this doesn't stretch to F2P games.

Microsoft is having none of it, though, essentially blaming the gaming publishers explaining that "engineering constraints, policy constraints and partner constraints" mean that free-to-play games and MMOs still have to be accessed through Xbox Live.

This is strange. Sony manages to keep F2P away from its PlayStation Plus sub and you can fire up any PC and start playing these games for free straight away. Imagine if Apple started doing this with its mobile games? Asking you to pay before you play - it's madness.

By shirking responsibility, and hiding behind the idea that these are games solely played online so a premium must be attached, Microsoft has alienated itself both from those who make the games and those who play them.

Free-to-play gaming only really works when it attracts a large amount of people. Like door-to-door sales, cold calling and other dubious ways money is extracted from people, it works by playing the numbers game.

The more people that play a 'free' game, the better the odds that someone will agree to a micro-transaction to unlock a better version of that game. Games publishers would have jumped up in celebration if their games were taken from a premium place to a free one - the easier access to their games the more people will play them.

I am not a fan of F2P games - I am against any gaming model that isn't upfront about its costs. But I do think that PC and console F2P games house more value for money than their mobile counterparts. Games such as World of Tanks and Elder Scrolls Online offer enriched gaming experiences that aren't too hamstrung by the fee part. They are certainly no Dungeon Keeper that's for sure.

This is why their treatment on Xbox is wrong and something Microsoft should fix soon - it sure needs the good publicity at the moment, so what is it waiting for? Maybe more feedback, so if that's the case give it to them.

Marc Chacksfield

Marc Chacksfield is the Editor In Chief, Shortlist.com at DC Thomson. He started out life as a movie writer for numerous (now defunct) magazines and soon found himself online - editing a gaggle of gadget sites, including TechRadar, Digital Camera World and Tom's Guide UK. At Shortlist you'll find him mostly writing about movies and tech, so no change there then.