NOTE: I am not being paid to write this. I’m just a fan of both Avengers Alliance and Fire Emblem Heroes.
Once upon a time, there was a Facebook game called Avengers Alliance. It was a game of RPG-style battles where a player could take his favorite Marvel superheroes into combat against an array of dastardly foes. As a free-to-play game, players had the option of paying real money for special tokens which allowed them to acquire specific heroes — and the more popular a hero was, the more expensive they were. Millions of dollars were sunk into the game by players seeking an advantage, and player-vs-player competitions only heightened this tendency. All in all, the game captivated all who played it.
Until Disney shut it down on October of 2016 because it wasn’t profitable enough.
The saga of Avengers Alliance shows the essential flaw in the free-to-play model: the game often tempts people to spend money, and they spend lots of it, but then the developers pull the plug on the game if the flow of money runs dry. Of course, they must do this, for they cannot afford to service an unprofitable game. Despite that, it is still very unfair to players who sink hundreds of dollars into a game only to have it arbitrarily pulled.
The traditional model of game releases — the one-time purchase of a game — is far fairer to the consumer, in spite of “microtransactions” where the game tries to make the player buy overpriced downloadable content. At least the player gets to keep the game; this is why the free-to-play model hasn’t completely replaced the traditional model (but free-to-play is invulnerable to piracy, making it attractive to developers.)
Due to the above considerations, I would conclude that no one should ever spend money in a free-to-play game.
However, there is a free-to-play game that does something right: Fire Emblem Heroes.
In the game, you summon “heroes” using orbs that you acquire either for logging in every day or for completing various missions. The hero you get is completely random, as is that hero’s power level, and you direct the heroes in chess-like battles against opponents. You can purchase orbs with real money, but you don’t really need to — and you can’t purchase any of the other items. It is possible to have a great experience for free.
But why am I telling you not to purchase anything? Won’t that sink this game like it has so many others?
No, because the purpose of Fire Emblem Heroes isn’t to get you to buy orbs, it’s to get you to buy full versions of the game for 3DS and other systems. That’s the game’s real monetization strategy, and the possible reason why they can afford to be so ethical with the microtransactions.
So in conclusion, don’t sink your money into games you can’t keep. It’s a losing proposition. And “Fire Emblem” is two separate words; stop pronouncing it like it’s one word!