Remember when Valve introduced a Free to Play section to their online marketplace Steam? In the past there were only a handful, but as Steam expands, so too does the Free to Play section. That sounds like a good thing — and in some aspects, it is — but it also opens up the door to a lot of games that are of dubious quality. We’ve seen that with the store as a whole, but it’s really starting to affect the Free to Play section in particular.

When Valve originally launched their Free to Play initiative, it was seemingly exclusive to MMORPGs. Over the years, however, things have changed, and not in a good way. Because the audience for PC games is usually more mature, they’ve typically been interested in experiences crafted for the hardcore. To this day, games designed for that audience still flourish and can often be seen at the top of the sales charts for the digital distribution service.

As the casual and Free to Play market on Steam expanded, however, it brought with it a new niche. While there have always been casual titles popping up on Steam, they were, for the most part, sold as individual games. It’s not very common, but occasionally Free to Play games will make the transition to full releases to be sold at a uniform price and stripped of microtransactions, keeping the same addictive gameplay but making it more like a traditional game.

I can only think of a handful, one of which is my favorite casual game on Steam. That game is Battlepillars, and it’s a great example. Battlepillars started off as a mobile game released in 2013, designed for the mobile market and including microtransactions while maintaining a price tag of zero.  In 2014, developer Hitcents took that game and translated it into a PC port, which would go on to be greenlit through the Greenlight program and ultimately released on the store as a full game.

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Mobile to PC ports done right.

The end result was Battlepillars Gold Edition which sold for $4.99, and it was a blast. Casual Free to Play games are fun, even on mobile. The only thing that stops them from being as fun as they can be is the way they’re designed to promote in-game purchases. In porting the game to PC, Hitcent removed microtransactions and changed the control scheme to reflect the fact that it was being played on a PC, making the game that much more fun. It proved to be a good port, and the reviews on Steam show that.

Unfortunately, most developers and publishers nowadays choose not to go that route. Why make changes to a game when you could just port it directly to Steam? It’s the case with a lot of games, and most recently, it seems to be the case with Moonrise which is developed by Undead Labs. You know, those guys that made one of the best zombie survival games available on the Xbox 360 that was number 9 on my list of picks for the Halloween season last year?

Moonrise isn’t the worst offender, but it is the most recent. It’s also not Free to Play yet, but it will be in the future, according to the Early Access page. As of right now, the game is under lock and key, and in order to play it — you have to cough up $15. I’ll be posting my review of the game in Early Access soon, but as you can imagine, it’s awfully confusing. If a game is going to be Free to Play, why charge for it? Sure, it’s common practice for larger games like Nosgoth, but this is Moonrise, and it’s a mobile port.

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I just paid $15 for this, and now you want me to spend more?

It’s a little odd to be bringing up a game that isn’t currently Free to Play, I know, but since it will be in the future, I think it’s important to mention. It’s because of the nature of the game that I say this. There are plenty of other examples, however, such as the now infamous Spartans Vs Zombie Defense. That game has a lot of problems, but it’s also one of the many Free to Play mobile ports, and it goes to show that the level of quality Valve used to hold Steam to just isn’t there anymore. Refunds don’t change that.

As more mobile developers crowd the Free to Play market, fewer will see the necessity to adapt their games for the PC platform, and that’s a very bad thing for PC gamers. What incentive is there for developers to make a good port, when they can just throw the game up on Steam touch controls and all and still make money? Well, there doesn’t seem to be one. The quality of Free to Play games on Steam will eventually lower, and the market will become oversaturated.

Sure, there will still be good games, but those games will be few and far between, and they’ll be harder to find as well. It’s a shame that Steam has taken such a hands off approach, and it’s a shame that most people seem to be content when it comes to mobile ports. Just because something is free, doesn’t mean that thing isn’t subject to criticism. Perhaps eventually, the bad games will be weeded out, who knows. For now, though, it seems problematic.

If you’re still not convinced that the situation is critical, take a look at the clicker games that are now making their way to the storefront. They might be addicting, but are they really something that you want to see on Steam? Probably not. I’ve played my fair share of them — I’m still playing AdVenture Capitalist — but maybe that’s the problem. Steam has changed a lot over the years, and the Free to Play section seems to be no exception.

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Adam Capps

About Adam Capps

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Adam Capps is the editor of video games at BentoByte. He spends his days playing video games and his nights writing about them. He’s also an avid fan of anime, manga and music.

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