The Pie Story (Why "the game is free" is a bad argument)

This is for all the folks out there trying to beat down rightful criticism of predatory and harmful monetization with "But the game is free!"

Imagine a beloved bakery declares anyone gets free pie if they come to the bakery from now on. You show up, you sit down, the baker greets you, then goes in the back to finish whipping you up a fresh pie- for free! Finally the baker comes out and puts a plate in front of you. On the plate is a small pile of hot, sweet, sticky goop: it’s the pie filling. “Where’s the crust?” you might rightfully ask. This bakery is even known for it’s robust, delicious pie crust, after all- they even advertise it! The banner still hangs outside, even. What’s more, is that the crust was clearly on the pie at one point, but has since been removed. The baker then informs you that if you want crust on your pie, you need to pay. Someone next to you has cash on them so they offer to buy the rest of their own pie slice. The baker gives them one bite’s worth of crust. That customer looks disappointed, but starts eating anyway.

You might then say to the baker “If I go to my job, and give you multiple hours’ worth of my wages, may I have a slice of pie, with the full crust- not just one bite?.” The baker doesn’t even bother to say “no”; just ignores you and walks off to serve single bites of crust to those willing to pay. Suddenly you realize that this is the bakery forever now. You can never have a full pie slice again. You fear this bakery- or at least the full product of it which you once loved- is doomed, and try to utter a response. Then someone chastises you for daring to criticize “free pie”.

Fans of pie stop coming, because there is no pie here, only filling. Non-pie fans move on to other free restaurants because that’s a thing now, and they offer more than just pie filling with buyable crust.

They could sell us milk and whipped cream, without witholding the crust; and still make money!

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Imagine a beloved [video game] declares anyone gets free [video game] if they come to the [Microsoft Store] from now on. You [log in], you [install], the [title screen] greets you, then goes [to a loading screen] to finish whipping you up a fresh [matchmade game] - for free! Finally the [matchmade game] comes out and puts a [-Blam!- load of fun] in front of you. On the [video game] is a small pile of hot, sweet, sticky [fun]: it’s the [gameplay]. “Where’s the [customization options]?” you might rightfully ask. This [video game] is even known for it’s robust, [awesome-looking] [customization options], after all- they even advertise it! The banner still hangs [in the menu], even. The [343i] then informs you that if you want [customization options], you need to pay. Someone next to you has cash on them so they offer to buy the rest of their [Battle Pass]. The [343i] gives them [customization options]. That customer looks disappointed, but starts [customizing] anyway.

You might then say to the [343i] “If I go to my job, and give you multiple hours’ worth of my wages, may I have a [fun video game], with the [customization options]?.” The [343i] doesn’t even bother to say “no”; [because the answer to your question is obviously yes]. Suddenly you realize that this is the [Halo Infinite] forever now. You can never have a [full customization suite]. You fear this [343i] - or at least the [Halo series]- is doomed, and try to utter a response. Then someone chastises you for daring to criticize “[free video game]”.

Fans of [having fun] [keep playing], because [the game is fun]. [Dopamine] fans move on to other free [video games] because that’s a thing now, and they offer more than just [fun gameplay].

Moral of the story: The game is fun to play. You have to pay exactly zero dollars to have fun in this game. There is no pay-to-win. The players that pay and the players that don’t are still on equal footing. If you want to customize your spartan to look cool and unique, you have to pay. Are the prices for individual cosmetics a little ridiculous, and the Battle Pass progression painfully slow? Admittedly, yes. But does that take away from how fun the gameplay is? Not in my eyes. I’m going to play the -Blam!- out of this game, and pay zero dollars to do so.

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This is a terrible analogy. The core gameplay, the pie, is available (fully featured) for free. The only thing they’re charging money for is cosmetics. The game itself is great, and I’m having a fun time. I can get this experience for absolutely zero money invested.

Yes, the progression system needs tuning. Yes, prices for customization is higher than I’d like. Yes, I would support all of the customization options having an alternative track to be able to earn them. These are concerns that I have and that I will support being talked about.

But don’t say for a MOMENT that this game is not giving you the core experience for free. Because it is. The multiplayer gameplay is completely intact. No functions, maps, or playlists are hidden behind paywalls. Only cosmetics. That is completely acceptable, and the best way to monetize a free-to-play game.

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Unfortunately there’s some nuance here which your interpretation overlooks. Part of the intended game design of Halo Infinite is customizing your spartan and unlocking stuff- this intention was for free players as well. This isn’t just an expectation set by a precedence in the Halo franchise, but it is explicitly stated to be the case by multiple developers. It’s also clear in the game when we play that we’ve been given an incomplete experience.

A slice of pie with crust in this story represents the pie as it was meant to be served. Instead, the “pie” we are given is instead something with the crust removed. Yes, something good is still there, perhaps the most exciting part- but a fundamental element was removed (making it no longer “pie” in the metaphor) so that a fraction of it could be sold back to us. This means that many folks who are familiar with Halo (or “pie”), will inherently be dissatisfied, and therefore it risks the longevity and potential success of this game.

This is bad for all players, payers or not.

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I can totally understand that. They did go back on a few promises made during development. H3’s customization set a great precedent, and I do wish there were more unlockables for free players, unlockable armors for completing Campaign challenges, etc. But I might equate this more to a plain slice of pie, and one served “a la mode” rather than a slice of pie served without the crust.

Sure, it’d be great to get the pie with a little ice cream on top, but I can enjoy this pie just fine without paying extra for it. That isn’t to downplay or degrade those who can’t. We don’t all enjoy games the same way, and my first reply may have been a little short-sighted in that regard.

Truth be told, I do wish this free-to-play path wasn’t the one taken by 343i, but I can understand why they did it, and I hardly see it as the downfall of the Halo franchise some are claiming it is.

Well I’ll say this is at least a more constructive and productive response, and I appreciate that :slight_smile:

comparing pie crust (what holds the pie filling together, a necessary aspect of it) to cosmetics is just in bad taste (pun unintended)

The closest equivalent would be them handing out free pies but them charging you for toppings or something idk.

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Cosmetic customizations are and always will be extra. It is not related to core gameplay, and has no effect on player performance.

Previous Halo games did not need to monetize cosmetics because the multiplayer was primarily supported through Xbox Live Gold subscriptions. And personally, I would consider paying for multiplayer much more akin to paying for crust than I would paying for cosmetics.

What the “it’s just cosmetics” club seems to especially not understand is that customization and progression are intentionally part of the gameplay design. These things have been intentionally interwoven with the shooting aspect of the game to create structure and personal investment which transcends individual matches. This has been part of the design in mainline Halo games since Halo 3.

When we’re talking about removing customization, we’re not talking about removing something unrelated to the gameplay, we are actually talking about removing a (THE) persistent element of the gameplay. We are also talking about having a number of the game designers’ intentions undermined at our expense.

A free-to-play game COULD still sell cosmetics and have microtransactions and be succesful without removing customization OR skill based progression (something else which was removed for a more easily monetized system). It’s an observabe and measurable reality, so stating otherwise seems either dishonest or unimaginative to me.