Evolution of the F2P model (pay to win is coming)

Brief post:

Tobold commented earlier this week that he feels that the Facebook model for gaming is broken. Tami Baribeau gives a more detailed analysis of why she feels Facebook games are an unsustainable business strategy.

I think the latter post is the more intriguing because she identifies that Facebook games were never designed to be sustainable. This would probably be news to the majority of players, even the ones who try it for a day or two, get bored, and move on.

So what makes a more sustainable F2P model? Well, Bigpoint reckon that they’ve just sold 2000 in game items at 1000 euros each (that’s 2M euros from a single item) in one of their games. How do they do it? They let people pay to win, run a game that is intended to be sustainable, and make the high ticket item rare and powerful.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the future of F2P. It won’t be so much about knocking out cheap Facebook games quickly, it’ll be about figuring out what makes a massive online game stickable for players, and then monetizing the heck out of the high spenders by letting them pay to win. This may actually have some good side effects for MMO players if it inclines devs to be thinking more about issues like immersion, sustainability, etc. But it will come at a cost.

(I remain dubious that DarkOrbit has 65 million registered accounts, seems a lot for a fairly low profile game, but what do I know?)

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18 thoughts on “Evolution of the F2P model (pay to win is coming)

  1. According to some RPS commentors, DarkOrbit has had ads on TV in some European countries – I believe Germany and Sweden were mentioned. So possibly the 65 million registered accounts are from a playerbase we never really think about.

  2. Of course pay to win is coming. It’s been coming for a while now, just in smaller bites.

    I’m ready for it. The playing field has *never* been level; the time-rich have always had an advantage. Time for them to learn life’s not fair and learn to live with it. If you’re playing these games to win (“you” generic), maybe you just need to find one you have an advantage in.

    • “Time for them to learn life’s not fair”

      I’m sure most people know that life isn’t fair already ;) You sound quite vehement though.

      I think personally I’m easy with other people having an advantage over me as long as I’m having fun. Just this notion of ‘pay to avoid the grind’ probably ends with the advantage going to players who have both time AND money (and lots of it).

      • Someone always has the advantage. The sooner players (and devs) acknowledge that, the sooner games will work better. Balance is an illusion, *especially* in MMOs. There are too many players, too many variables.

        …of course, devs can and probably should strive to make PvP as balanced as possible, but yes, I am very, very tired of people whining about what other players have and how they got it. It’s corrosive, and destroys a community and possibly even a genre.

      • I still really don’t understand the anger.

        You’re upset that I’m not delirious about the prospect of players being able to buy their way to virtual superiority in games? Of course some players always have an advantage, but some advantages are more corrosive and damaging than others (to the players).

        I don’t think it’s inevitable that talking about inequalities will destroy communities, or that not talking about them won’t. LoL is widely cited as a well balanced game, for example, and its community is execrable.

      • I’m not angry with you. Sorry it reads that way, it’s not intended.

        No, I just see way too much fussing in game communities about the Other Guy, instead of just playing the game. It’s a quirk that comes with MMOs being as social as they are, but envy and greed are troublesome beasties.

      • In other words, if there’s a game design imbalance, I’d say address that. Whether someone purchases it with time or money, it’s still the imbalance in the design itself that’s at fault.

  3. A few notes.

    First, Bigpoint is pretty huge in Germany. I did some contract work for them when they were opening a U.S. office and let’s just say they weren’t shy about spending money. And, yeah, when I was working with another company in Germany I saw the TV ads pretty regularly when I watched TV in my room.

    Second, this is hardly a “get rich quick” scheme. Dark Orbit has been around for several years, so this is hardly a way to make big bucks over night. I suspect this is the milking a creaky old game. Kinda like if an MMO operator put in a high priced sparkling mount, or some cutsey little non-combat pets for a large chunk of change. ;)

    • The thing I’d highlight is that the pets and mounts are generally cosmetic. (LOTRO is edging towards making the paid mounts marginally faster than most of the in game ones but it’s not by much.)

      But a game that had pay to win more deeply embedded might not need to be around for several years, if the gameplay attracted players who liked that model.

  4. P2W is the future but it won’t completely replace any other business model. Big Point also wanted to exchange links lately with my blog, so I don’t doubt they do P2W. It seems to be a typical “money first” company.

  5. I don’t know anyone who plays Dark Orbit, Battlestar Galactica or Florensia but these games are promoted on TV. Pro7, RTL2, Tele5, Sat1 etc. all show ads for these games regularly. The TV stations even have online browser game portals and cooperate with Bigpoint. It’s not creaky and old, just take a look at screenshots and videos. I also didn’t have any lag issues while playing. <- ha, I am a registered user. Guess why I didn't bother to continue playing, it's fucking stupid F2P of the worst kind.

    Think of Farmville, millions of people play that crap. Probably not much or anymore at all, but enough to count as registered user. And some really vote with their wallet and are more than enough to make this a highly successful business model.

    MMOs are not safe from Pay 2 Win or similar horrible money making schemes. Guess what Blizzard will be testing with Diablo III's auction house. WoW also started selling things, just slowly enough to make people not realize what's going on.

  6. From what I’ve seen in Wizard 101 and Lord of the Rings Online, the goals of F2P don’t become new content per se but finding what players use the most and slowly inflating the price.

    In Wizard 101, the money isn’t made in pets, mounts or even houses. Its the mundane items like helpful potions and fighting companions. The game is subtly changed to up the need on these items and simultaneously raising their prices.

    Frankly it’s getting old for me, and I will be less likely to start playing any F2P games from now on.

  7. The way I’ve played MMOs for many, many years should be completely unaffected by P2W strategies but I will benefit hugely from access to games for no cover charge.

    It’s unusual for me to reach maximum level even in an MMO I play for years. I have no interest in raiding or most end-game play. I enjoy PvP but don’t much care whether I am good at it or not. And most importantly, by far my favorite gameplay is low-level pottering around.

    If people with high disposable income and/or poor self control choose to keep MMO companies churning out product by buying vastly overpriced goods and services to gain competitive advantage against their peers then bully for them. They’ll be playing in parts of the game I would never have bothered with, doing things I wouldn’t have wanted to do with people i wouldn’t want to meet. Meanwhile I’ll be wandering about beneath their attention horizon, enjoying myself for nothing.

  8. This has the feel to it of paying in game gold to the cream of the raiding guilds so that you can tag along and get the Lich King kill. The only difference is that it is built into the game system, so that the game company gets a cut of the profits.

  9. Pay to Win is a suckers bet. It is like putting your money into an online casino where if you win, all you get are pixels. If that is what appeals to rubes, that is their problem, but I will be playing something else.

    The real problem with P2W games is the companies eventually get too greedy and focus on the few suckers who spend thousands of dollars, and ride that for all it is worth, to the extent that the game becomes so unfriendly to new players that the player base drys up.

    • You hit the nail squarely on the head. They may start out innocent and with good intentions, but all it takes is for a quarter or two with a handful of suckers who drop several thousand dollars, for the bean counters to take over complete control of game design objectives. From that point on, drops are nerfed for everyone, new player areas are intentionally ignored, while gated end game content begins to be churned out. The gates usually consist of level and gear requirements with said gear being accessible only with substantial cash shop purchases.

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