It was clear that there was an interesting game underneath all of Anthem‘s technical problems. After paying for the experience, Anthem feels almost like it steals your time and takes away your ability to enjoy the game as you must fight through technical issues to see the good bits. Fallout 76 is exactly the same way, with early adopters enduring through a litany of technical problems before being able to actually enjoy the game that they have paid for. It’s a shame because most of these shortcomings would’ve been acceptable if only a Fallout 76 or Anthem free-to-play version came out instead of their $60 counterparts.
Looking at games like Warframe, Fortnite Battle Royale, and Apex Legends, it has become clear that free-to-play games are not looked down upon as they once were. A free-to-play game used to come with the assumption that the game would be lower quality, and constantly urging players to pay for microtransactions. That’s simply not the case now and free-to-play games are some of the largest in the world. Free-to-play titles don’t have to be the budget experiment of an indie studio anymore, and famous AAA studios and publishers are throwing their hats in the ring. And for games like Fallout 76 and Anthem, their fortunes might be better for the future if they go free-to-play now.
What making Anthem free-to-play would fix
If Fallout 76 or Anthem free-to-play versions came out at this point, it would cause a bit of an uproar among those who have already purchased the game. There’s no easy solution to appease those players, aside from perhaps a big helping of premium currency, and perhaps a handful of exclusive skins. The rage from the existing players would be initially arduous, but ultimately, will lead to a healthier game in the long term. EA and Bethesda already know how profitable their microtransaction model can be, and expanding that to more players is the most sensible thing to do.
And, while it’s too late for this now, a free-to-play release can also result in players being far more forgiving of problems. Bugs, glitches and other issues are more easily ignored when you haven’t paid to be plagued by them. Players and reviewers alike are more forgiving of cheaper games, and if the cost is free, then there’s very little to lose. And again, not only would this move benefit the publishers financially, it’ll help the existing playerbase too.
Those playerbases would only grow and benefit the game in the long run. For Honor was more popular after it went free-to-play. Team Fortress 2‘s base grew over five times after it jumped to free-to-play. Starcraft 2 also saw a spike in players when it transitioned. None of these games were as maligned as Anthem or Fallout 76, but a sizable audience can help a game live on in a way these two titles desperately need.
Moving these games to a free-to-play mode might anger some players but it might be a necessary evil to give these titles the booster shot they need. After their rage has subsided and they’ve been given their exclusive goodies, they’ll find they have many more players online to play with, all working towards goals together or forming new factions to keep the online world dynamic and alive. Anthem is buggy, but enjoyable, and would be less enjoyable if there weren’t online players to partner up with on missions.
Hand over heart
But even ignoring all of that, microtransactions are the most pressing reason why these games should go free-to-play. Yes, the microtransaction models are already in place and making money, and frankly, that model has no real place in a full-price AAA game. We all understand that EA and Bethesda wanted money upfront in addition to a few bucks a month over time. But players should be able to earn all of those skins and gadgets either in-game without their chances being hampered by pushy premium currency. If that’s the case, then the game should be free in the first place.
But if we’re going to deal with the frequent inclusion of microtransactions, then the publishers should follow Warframe‘s example. And while it is a free game, Digital Extremes’ live service shooter has seen incredible praise from fans and critics alike in the years since it first launched, proving that while first impressions are important, they don’t necessarily decide the fate of your game. There was something to Warframe and being free-to-play allowed Digital Extremes to find it. Stubbornly clinging to a $60 purchase point and microtransactions is a good way for Anthem and Fallout 76 to burn players out before they can reach a theoretically better place.
And after EA has already seen massive success with the free-to-play Apex Legends, well, the writing is on the wall. In order to get new players, ensure long-term, healthy communities, and encourage players to invest in microtransactions without making them feel like their initial purchase wasn’t enough, EA and Bethesda should implement a free-to-play model that will save these games from an uncertain future. And, given how dire it looks for both Anthem and Fallout 76 in how they are both failing as full $60 products, it is not even guaranteed they will have a future.