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Free to Play but Pay to Win
[ Issue 149 Page 14 ] Saturday, November 26, 2016, 02:55:04 Dongwon Cha Senior Staff Reporter dongwon132@kaist.ac.kr

     30 billion Korean Won. That’s the amount of money a game developing company called Nexon invested for 4 years to develop their next-generation first-person shooter (FPS) game. And it failed catastrophically. Welcome to the “short” story of Sudden Attack 2, and how the current gaming industry in Korea led to the demise of a game that may have been doomed before it was even released.

     On one side is a game released way back in 2005 that still captivates the attention of a significant number of Korean gamers to this day. On the other side is a game that was proclaimed to overcome the technical limitations of its predecessor — and, according to its catchphrase, become “The Evolution of No.1 FPS” — but turned out to be only a graphic remastering for a game that came out 10 years ago; needless to say, it was panned by critics and gamers alike. So disappointing was Nexon’s newest brainchild that the company announced to close the game servers in a mere three months after its release, something that has not happened before in Korea for a game of this scale. The following is a “short” list of problems gamers encountered with it-that-shall-not-be-named: graphics and textures that can barely be considered on par with games out today, so poor of an optimization that even high-end computer users had trouble playing it smoothly, a mediocre single-player prologue that is full of clichés from previous shooters, gameplay and maps that basically copied off its antecedent, characters that focus — to the point of being extreme — on female sexuality, absurd random boxes that only offer items for lease after one buys them with real money; the list goes on and on. Yes, many other games have some of the problems stated above, but for a game that was supposed to be revolutionary and bring hope to the Korean gaming industry that has already been weakened by games from overseas, this was such a complete disaster that even Nexon realized it was easier to simply pull the plug instead of trying to save it. So, what happened? What happened to the 30 billion KRW invested to make a decent game?

     The answer possibly lies with how Korea’s abnormal gaming industry operates, with game developers focusing on developing free-to-play (F2P) games. Instead of directly spending money by buying a product, gamers can play the game for free, but to improve or ease the gaming experience, they can buy items or accessories that is unavailable for purchase with in-game currency. Now, the concept itself should not be reproached; it’s just another way for a developer to profit from a game. However, “how” it is accomplished has been criticized, especially when the game incorporates extreme pay-to-win (P2W) methods to procure earnings. Some games have stayed too true to P2W that gamers who don’t spend money cannot compete with those that do; the so-called “balance” can be completely destroyed. Since game developers know that some gamers are willing to “pay to win”, they — and Nexon is renowned for this — have introduced, for example, selling items that are considered overpowered (OP) or that technically can be acquired in-game but only after completing extremely arduous tasks. The most notorious system is the random box; true to its name, it offers random items with high-valued ones having an extremely low appearance rate. This also means that even after paying, you might only receive common or even worthless items. But the money keeps on flowing in, and developers do not have a great urge to innovate or create quality games if they can easily earn money from these methods; if anything, more innovation can be found in how they devise new ways to create more of such methods. So, then, do we have only the developers to blame for the ephemeral life of Sudden Attack 2? Actually, they only tell half the story. The other half of the problem lies with the gamers themselves.

     Many Korean gamers take games for granted; in this case, granted meaning free. Just visit one of the many PC-bangs in Korea and discover for yourself that the number of people playing paid games, as in games one must purchase beforehand or buy a monthly subscription, are vastly outnumbered by the number of people playing games that one can register and play for free. Oxymoronically, even while playing these F2P games, many find excessively purchasing P2W items, some to the point where buying a quality game could have been cheaper, the norm. Why many Korean gamers have this concept of “games should be free” is a very complicated question that I cannot answer here, but it is definitely one of the main reasons for the current state of the gaming industry and its problems in Korea today. We gamers are as much to blame.

     Of course, there are other problems in the Korean gaming industry that I have not brought up, but this seems to be the most critical of them all, this being the premise of the rise of Korean F2P games that might lead to the downfall of the industry itself. It has created a vicious cycle of developers spending money on ways to make more profit instead of increasing the quality of gameplay, and gamers replenishing those losses with their P2W mentality. Already, the majority of games played in PC-bangs in terms of market percentage are from overseas, and the downfall of Sudden Attack 2 may just be the beginning of the end. If more quality games are to come out in this current mess, both the developers and gamers need to have a change of heart, and fast.

Dongwon Cha Senior Staff Reporter Archives  
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