One thing that annoys me about free-to-play: the bucket system

I think free-to-play has really come a long way, League of Legends is a highly successful example.  I don’t want to talk too much about the new Super Monday Night Combat, but I’ll mention that its free-to-play model is very similar to that of LoL’s.  The best part of these games is that they’re easily accessible and purchasing things in the game is completely optional.  But sooner or later you, as the customer, are going to want to buy something and that’s where that damned bucket system comes into play.

The bucket system is a consequence of the current micro-transaction nature of free-to-play games and I hate it with all of my soul.  There’s a huge disconnect between traditional purchases and the new micro-transaction ones.  Rather than buying a product out-right, you must first front a set amount of money, have it converted to whatever system the game uses, such as Riot Points, and then use that currency to buy the in-game content you desired.

This old comic from Penny-Arcade greatly summarizes my disdain at the system (and this was written long before free-to-play was a big deal):

And so the bucket system has been born.  A staple now of the modern gaming experience that I think a lot of people aren’t willing to talk about it.  Its a part of free-to-play as well as Xbox Live, PSN and the Nintendo Shop.

Of course the bucket system serves a purpose.  Its far easier to do large bulk transactions than it is to do 5 tiny purchases with a credit card over time.  Rather than causing you to pause with each purchase, the money is committed up-front and allows you to make far more rash purchasing decisions (because you’ve already spent the money anyway).

The real crux of my disdain, however, is with the arbitrary point systems used.  Every game or marketplace has to have its own currency and conversion rate.  Why is this even needed?  It costs $10.00 for 1380 Riot Points…huh?  European customers have it far worse, it costs €10.00 or £9.01 for 1779 Riot Points.  Why not something simple?  At least Nintendo does it right in this regard, $10 = 1000 Nintendo Points.

Here’s some other examples:

Maybe this is ultimately the point, but its hard for me to decide how much I need to pay if I’m pulling out my calculator to do a lot of conversions.  Suddenly these purchases aren’t so simple.

Team Fortress 2 does it the best in my opinion: Gather up all the items you want in the shop and then checkout and pay exactly what you owe, no bucket system to speak of.  However, if you want to put some money in for future purchases, like say $20, then you have that option as well.

If the bucket system is an inescapable part of free-to-play gaming, we should at least get rid of the confusing and arbitrary conversion rates.  I’m willing to give that its nice to offer bonus points for those paying more up-front, but ultimately when I see that I can’t just simply put 3 goodies in my cart and pay for the exact amount that they cost, it aggravates me to no end.


About Ryan Saul

Hailing from Portland, OR I work by day and blog by night. I like to consider myself a video game connoisseur, playing as many new things as I can get my hands on. Its hard to hold me down to one game for very long before I move on to the next big thing. Luckily, that works pretty well in terms of video game blogging.

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