Earn to Win - A Lesson From Social Games

Hardcore gamers hate free-to-play games.  A controversial statement, but I’ll run with it.

What if we created earn-to-win games, instead of free-to-play games?

Instead of being able to pay-to-enhance their characters and/or gain advantages by paying, what if we allowed free players to gain those same advantages.  What if earning rewards was the only way to get them?

completionist cape

Above, the completionist cape from RuneScape, which can only be earned, not purchased directly.

This tactic is often used (and overlooked) in social games. Why isn't it found in hardcore games, or merely games that aren't seen as casual?

The reason: it's often associated with microtransactions/F2P tactics, which are heavily frowned upon in pay-to-play/non-F2P games, at least according to some.

For our example, we’ll use Race the Sun, a game that has had requests for microtransaction support in the past, which they've declined to add.

race the sun
Screenshot of Race the Sun

Race the Sun’s depth comes from its procedural levels and community-created levels, not its planes.  Though the game has multiple primarily cosmetic styles of plane, it doesn't reveal how they're unlocked, and they're evidently secondary to the gameplay.

This means that the addition of any alternate color or style of plane could be tremendously popular.  But why would Flippfly add one?  If they (and their fans) eschew microtransactions, how could they?  It’s simple.  They could allow players to earn access to it by acting as product advocates: sharing news of the game on social media, convincing others to buy it, or by creating popular levels.