After hearing several positive takes (including one from a site that, at least in the past, was always wary of F2P junk) for the new mobile Command & Conquer title, Command & Conquer: Rivals, I decided to take a look for myself. Within seconds after finishing the tutorial, I clicked on a unit to upgrade and was sent to the screen you see at the top of the post. Deleted. I had ignored C&C: Rivals completely, assuming it was nothing more than the usual cash grab wrapped inside a pretty Skinner box. I’m here to tell you that my initial assumptions were correct. It’s shit.
“But you only played for five minutes!” I can hear you screaming. True. Still, when you can tell a “game” was developed with monetization methods first and only then figuring out how much frosting is needed to make it palatable [note that the base of that word is palate and not palette. Just thought I’d put that here for no reason at all -ed.] it’s pretty easy to make grand, sweeping assumptions. Those assumptions turn out to be true regardless of the ability to control units and different maps and all the other talking points meant to raise this above the other Clash Royale clones: the purpose of C&C: Rivals isn’t to entertain or even be a good game, it’s to hook whales and make EA scads of money. The problem is that the F2P model doesn’t just screw over the whales, but can have a negative effect on those who’ve never spent a cent.
My youngest son is eight years-old and this kind of stuff is like cocaine for his little brain. He lives in a world where, at his age, the F2P model is the only thing he knows. Waiting for a timer, grinding for in-game currency, and paying to unlock loot boxes mean nothing to him. It’s just the way the world works. When I offer other, non-F2P games to play, he doesn’t “get it”. Where’s the instant gratification? There’s no consistent positive feedback loop generated solely so he’ll keep playing and, hopefully, spend money. He’s never spent a dime, but his eyes get glassy and trying to get the iPad out of his hands when he’s in the middle of a Fortnite run is about as easy as getting a drunk out of the pub. I know, I was the latter, once. Now I’m the parent of the former and it sucks. It’s gotten to the point where he’s seeing a therapist weekly and, let me tell you, taking your eight year-old to a shrink for something you facilitated is about the shittiest feeling a parent can have.
There was a time, before mobile, when games were made to test your skill, to tell stories, or just to use your noodle, not to hook the unwary. Those games are still out there and, yes, the people/companies that make them want to make scads of money, too. I’m sure everyone at Firaxis wants to retire early and hopes to do so via us buying every last, damn cosmetic add-on or leader pack they can code. There’s a way to do it ethically, however, and it begins with monetization not being the first storyboard slide when planning your Next Big Thing. Playing either XCOM or Civ it becomes obvious their goal is to provide the player with a deep, thoughtful experience; one that’s so much fun that buying a few extra leaders or new soldier uniforms or a full-blown expansion seems worth it. Unsurprisingly, it usually is. That happens when people care about the product and not just the revenue. You’ll notice that nowhere in XCOM or Civ are you hit over the head with needing the latest, coolest thing. Nowhere do they shove random loot in your face tempting you to keep playing to unlock some other random bullshit in the hopes of finding “the one”. In fact, you can blow off every damn expansion or add-on and still have a great time. What a concept.
This doesn’t even take into account the fact that there are indie devs out there not just making games, but goddamned art. We live in a world where Return of the Obra Dinn and Command & Conquer: Rivals both exist and, because we suck as a species, C&C: Rivals is the one getting the press. Do yourself a favor and go play Obra Dinn and see what video games are capable of being. Go play Card Crawl or Through the Ages or Civ VI or Hearts of Iron IV or Slay the Spire or Factorio or Meteorfall or Twilight Struggle or TIS-100 or Race for the Galaxy or One Deck Dungeon or Stardew Valley (and all the other great non-F2P gems out there) and have fun knowing that your wallet isn’t the only thing those developers are interested in.
We’re raising an entire generation of gamers who think this is how video games are supposed to be. I see it with my own kids and their friends. They play the shittiest games you can imagine, putting up with ads, timers, loot boxes, and every other F2P trick out there. It’s even trickled into the premium games they play on the consoles, with microtransactions ruining nearly every game from a major publisher. They deserve better than having to deal with these charlatans that are nothing less than digital versions of Phillip-Morris, and all because their parents don’t want to spend money on a game that’s actually worth playing. Even if these F2P games were actually fun to play, we’re doing a disservice to all gamers, now and future, by giving these money-grubbing thieves what they want. In other words, let’s stop playing F2P crap so we can bury its rotting corpse in a shallow grave.
You might have noticed I mentioned the new Star Trek mobile game, Star Trek Fleet Command, in the title and, yet, didn’t mention it in this entire rant. Well, I played it for about 2 minutes and…I’ll just leave this here: