Alesha Serada graduated in Cultural Studies with a specialization in Visual Culture from the European Humanities University (Vilnius, Lithuania). Before that, they gained a Specialist’s Diploma in Oriental Philology (2006) at the Belarusian State University (Minsk, Belarus). Currently Alesha is a researcher and a PhD student at the University of Vaasa, Finland, where they study value and meaning in applications of blockchain technologies. Their research interests revolve around exploitation, deception, violence, horror, Machiavellian ethics and other banal and non-banal evils.
Win the Game by Not Paying: False Consciousness in Free-to-Play Games
FROG 2020 – Short Talk
In this paper, I evaluate the main argument in favor of the freemium monetization model as opposed to a one time purchase and the subscription model. This argument is usually presented as follows: “one can play a free-to-play game for free if they cannot afford to pay”. Firstly, I turn to the available statistics on free-to-play economies (Seufert, 2014) and find out that, indeed, free-to-play games possess a democratizing potential in making gaming experiences available to the widest audience (Clark, 2014). However, such games are still perceived by critics and gamers as morally ambiguous because of their potentially coercive techniques (Nieborg, 2016) and ‘dark patterns’ of game design (Zagal et al., 2013). I proceed with the observation, derived from game reviews on Google Play and the App Store, that players take their pride in achieving their goals in a game without paying. I suggest that a free-to-play game is a game between the player and the publisher of the game: the goal of the publisher is to make a player pay, and the goal of the player is to enjoy as much of the game for free as possible. One possible direction of critique is to apply the Marxist concept of ‘false consciousness’. The starting point is that ‘false consciousness’ is never completely false: ideological claims labeled as ‘false consciousness’ are often based on true facts (Eagleton, 1996). So, if the publishers promise free gameplay, they in fact make the game playable without investing real world money; however, the game is never completely free. The illusion of ‘free play’ results in a situation that Tiziana Terranova calls “a poverty of attention”: the qualitative degradation of attention in overstimulating digital environments (Terranova, 2012). Paradoxically, based on that, I state that only the players who have already paid really play the game for free: they can dedicate most of their time and attention to self-actualization in the game.