[Question of the Day] Do people who pay to play get more invested in their game?

I do increasingly get a sense that players are less likely to become invested in F2P games. Not all of them, for sure, the F2P ethos depends on there being a small number of players who get very invested in their game of choice and spend lots of money on it. Yet there is a continuum between cheap games, single player games with huge longevity, F2P and full subscription gaming. I try to get my head around the idea that there is some kind of connection between how you pay and how much you pay and how you feel about the game, but there are as many exceptions as rules. Or maybe it is just the time you spend in the game that shows how invested you actually are, and money spent is largely independent of this. I’m not sure that is true though, because having spent money on a subscription probably does mean you are more likely to want to get your money’s worth.

On the other hand, some of my perennial favourite games have been quite cheap ones.

I was thinking about this since reading arguments that GW2 beta players will be more invested than players in previous MMO betas because they have had to pay more up front for the privilege of being in beta. I don’t really buy this, because my experience is that beta communities are usually pretty good and have a good proportion of players who genuinely care about the game and want to improve the game experience.

If player investment is measured in money spent, then sub games should have the strongest communities. And some of them do. I suspect that the LOTRO community has weakened since it went F2P, for example. But how would you even measure the ‘strength’ of a community?

These questions probably seem rambling, but if we care about our in game communities then the answers may be quite important in steering us as players towards games and payment types that are best going to suit our needs. If I’m a social player who enjoys strong communities, maybe I do want to look for games where a higher proportion of players are invested. It just isn’t clear to me how cash plays into that, because some of the strongest communities I’ve found in games were in non commercial MU* type setups.

Do you feel more invested in games where you have had to pay for them, either for the box or as a subscription?

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28 thoughts on “[Question of the Day] Do people who pay to play get more invested in their game?

  1. I don’t think it’s a question of feeling invested in a game versus a feeling of entitlement. When you’re paying a monthly sub, you’re more likely to bitch and moan about every little thing, because you can honestly say that you’re paying for the product. If you don’t pay because you’re in a F2P game, then you’re more likely to let little things slide.

    At the same time, because you don’t pay a sub in a F2P game, you’re more likely to not have created in-game connections that could keep you playing.

  2. I really don’t know. I did try to resume Fallen Earth after it went F2P, but couldn’t be bothered to do the same to Rift. And while I did pay for a subscription for both WotLK and Cataclysm, I couldn’t be bothered to keep playing until it expired. If anything, having paid for the game does amplify the need to find something enjoyable in it like a good victim to the Sunk Costs fallacy should. But the disillusionment also felt stronger.

  3. That’s not really surprising. There are many industries who sell overpriced products only to give you the impression of buying something special (e.g. fashion, cars, etc.).

    Why should that be different with games?

    • I guess because you could argue that games are media, and are more like books or films. Sure, you could buy a special edition of a film on DVD, or a fancy edition of a book but the film or book itself will still be the same.

      And one of the things you get with books and films is that the amount you spend as a consumer doesn’t really reflect how good the book is.

      Or you could argue that online games are more of a service than a media, so paying for extras is similar to how you’d pay for cable channels or somesuch. I think these sorts of consumer definitions are very much in flux for games at the moment, which is why it’s interesting to talk about changing assumptions.

      • > I guess because you could argue that games are media,
        > and are more like books or films.

        I don’t think you can compare a 90 minute movie with a game you play for weeks or even years. (Under the assumption that we’re discussing games that are worth getting invested in, not those more movie like “play once and uninstall” games. – Which are fine, too.)

        > Sure, you could buy a special edition of a film on DVD,
        > or a fancy edition of a book but the film or book
        > itself will still be the same.

        That means it would make sense if the collectors edition of a game would have an even higher max video setting?

        I know what you’re saying but… isn’t that the same with fashion. Do people really but the expensive products because they are better and look better? Or because they are told that it’s expected from them to buy those brands?

        > And one of the things you get with books and films is that
        > the amount you spend as a consumer doesn’t really reflect
        > how good the book is.

        The price never has any connection to how good a product is. The price always only reflects how much marketing thinks you’re willing to pay.

      • With fashion, you will end up paying more for higher quality workmanship and materials. You can also pay more for particular designers and there’s a marketing effort to make people value some types of stuff more highly. But for all that, there is a link between price and quality

        Same with a lot of consumer goods really. if I pay more for a car or for a fridge, it’s probably better quality.

        It’s not a 1:1 correlation, depending on what you wanted from the item. But it’s not totally unconnected either,

      • Surely with media paying for it tends to make you more immersed. If I go to the cinema to watch a film I pay much more attention than if I’m watching a film on TV at home. (Of course there are other factors too, but forking over £15 is part of it).

      • I dunno, I might hypothetically download “TV series that will remain nameless” that I really want to see but don’t have cable, and get immersed in that just fine. Especially if I have friends who are talking about it all the time also. (I would happily pay for it, btw, if they’d sell it one episode at a time rather than pressing for a cable subscription.)

        You’d think that that paying for something would result in a more immersed community but I wonder. Maybe avoiding paying for something has the same effect ;)

  4. Pingback: Committed to Testing | Diminishing Returns

  5. In general it’s true and is based on (more or less) accepted psychology research. Dan Ariely has lots of videos and books that are very interesting reading:

    Personally I have some idiosyncracies. Because I love gaming pricing systems I often get quite invested in F2P games because playing the system is another minigame. In Eve for instance I like pvp, I like the often horrible player actions, I like the trading game and crafting but I also love working out how I can play for free via the plex system. In DDO I figured out a fast way to start a character and grind 100 favour points, then delete it and start over for more cash shop points.

    So for me my hierarchy is
    1) game where I can finesse the pricing system
    2) game where I invest cash
    3) free to play game where there’s no scope to finesse the system

    • EVEs model is a very interesting case, because its easy to get the feeling from experienced players that only noobs or bad players actually pay subscriptions.

      So at that point, every time you fork over money, you feel as though you’re failing at the game. I can see for some people that’s an incentive (ie. play more or better, cover your fees), but I’d find it offputting.

      • No that’s not true at all (although I can understand how you could get that impression). Many veterans pay for their subs. There’s a perfectly reasonable playstyle of always pvping in nice ships and never grinding that is available to the affluent. If I didn’t find the economic side interesting I’d probably do that (and spend about £80 a month playing Eve).

        Logically there are as many people selling plex as there are buying them – otherwise the market would run out.

        I think it’s just that being very clever and playing 8 accounts for free is something more likely to get talked about.

      • Do you think you would pay £80 per month if that was the only option (assuming you have the spare money) or do you think you’d be more likely to find a cheaper way to get some of the same thrill and do something else with the rest of the time/ money?

      • No of course not. The point of spending £80 per month is to win 90% of your fights. If everyone was at the same level it would merely be an expensive game in which I have no edge over anyone else.

  6. I think so. I don’t know about the entitlement part though.

    Relating to outside world, I equate it to wine drinking. Here in Virginia, wineries are a pretty good deal. We have reasonable prices, young wine, young wineries, young vinyards. You have plenty of choices, but pricing tends to only range between 15 to 30 a bottle no matter where you go.

    Almost every winery you visit offers a membership. VIP if you will. If you like a place enough you can buy into a monthly, quarterly or yearly membership that gets you so many bottles a month and some discount and normally secial access to reserve years the public can’t buy. Some wineries are good enough to get this membership costs from me.

    The cost comes with a great deal of expectation. Each month I am to recieve 1 or 2 bottles of wine at their choice. This is a contract I am locked into. If these wines lose quality it just outright angers me. I’m not optionally buying their wine anymore, I bought into a contract based off the initial taste and the quality has degrated. Not cool. Granted this is probably only $20 a month on top of $50 yearly fee (sound close to familar), but $20 a month no matter what for crap is not acceptable.

    All others I visit are nothing more than F2P. I go, I buy want I want but lack the ability to get their VIP reserve wines and discounts.

    It’s kind of the same thing in MMOs. F2P games are fun and you can jump right back in. But as for being invested, it doesn’t matter.

    My personal experience with MMOs in F2P market versus Monthly. This is for games that luanch F2P, not those that have switched.

    Monthly tend to have a work to become elite or own nice things. Those type of games thrive on an untold assumption that you better keep playing or you will fall behind. Taking a break for 3 months will put you way behind the game.

    In my F2P experience, they always make it accessible no matter when you come in. What you have to buy to get there is another story. Just my experience.

      • They send you a case of wine with an I.V. to hook up to. The developers pride themselves on realism. ;)

    • I like that analogy.

      I could also compare it to getting an annual pass to a museum, or somewhere like Kew Gardens (which my sister does) where you get free entry to visit, plus a member’s newsletter, plus access to member’s events. She is always careful to use up enough free visits to cover the sub because they’ve been paid for in the sub, even if it means going to Kew some weekends as opposed to somewhere else she might want to go.

      It’s a nice place, and the pass is decent value if you are a fan, but using it efficiently means deliberately not going to other places.

  7. For me, the money doesn’t have much relation to my investment in a game. I’ve been heavily into free games (like Subspace/Continuum) for years. I’ve paid retail for games that just didn’t grab me (Civ 5, Bastion) and I’ve paid for games like WoW that I really like. My personal investment has more to do with my enjoyment of the game as I play and whether I think I can realize my dreams for future play.

  8. DDO was free to play, I have a vague affection for it, SWTOR requires a sub so commands my love.

  9. I certainly find it difficult to feel committed to F2P games, I think it maybe the lack of continually releases that put me off.

    When I’m subbed to a game I will try to make sure that I get my moneys worth and even though other smaller games are picked up but generally my focus is on the subbed title.

  10. Eh, no difference for me.

    Most I’ve spent on a single game is WoW – 3 year subs + xpac + going back for cata on a clean account.

    GW comes second after that over the last 3 years on cash shop fripperies and lolmerc slots.

    FW comes a close tie-in to GW in just over 10 months… (eek).

    Love GW, like FW very much, WoW’s not my cup of tea anymore. Don’t think the money *I SPENT* has anything to do with that.

    Had a terrible experience in GW2 beta, so not touching that till release.

    However… the economically influenced design differences between WoW, GW and FW are huge – perhaps that plays into attachment more directly than whether or not someone spent / how much money someone spent on any given game?

    • I also wonder about how economically influenced design decisions affect these things.

      In older games that were noted for how attached players got, like Angband/Diablo2/Dwarf Fortress (just picking one genre I know about) the original design was for a freeware game. So there was no original intent for profit, the game was just designed to be fun. Same with MU*, they were designed to be fun games for people to mess around in for free. And those were both genres that were quite influential for MMOs.

      So one of the questions may be: can a game be that fun and that sticky if maximising profit is a stronger design goal than that.

  11. I do think you’re onto something with MUDs though, I’ve never fallen in love again quite the way I loved LegendMUD… but again, I think the pay is only a small part of it.

    But yes, at least for LegendMUD, being part of something so beautiful that was free certainly (for me at least) cultivated and reinforced a very real feeling of community and community pride.

    • I think the conclusion I come to is that I don’t want to just be a consumer for the MMOs I really love, I want to be part of the community. Whether that means getting to know the staff on a MU* and eventually helping out like that, or being part of an in-game community, for me to feel that I have a real stake in it, I need to somehow be part of creating content.

      The thing I remember with MU* is that they always felt like our game, joint between staff and players. So the more MMOs shift towards a producer/ consumer bias, probably the more I tend to drift away. It’s not about the money, I’m happy to pay for stuff I use. It’s about the relationship between the players and the game and the game producers.

      But I may be weird ;) Also pretty sure I’m not the type of player they’re looking for going forwards.

      • Nailed it there Spinksness, I don’t think there was a single person on legend who played over a month who didn’t come to feel a sense of ownership. Which is not something I’ve ever been able to find again in commercial models.

  12. Irrespective of the impact on the wider community, my choice is made entirely by a very simple mantra; the lore, the world and my place in both.

    Money simply isn’t a driving factor for me at any stage. I’ve spent thousands watching a crap football team over my years, and am comfortable that this activity will continue.

  13. Feels chicken & eggish. When I have time to play, I can justify a subscription. When I don’t, I can’t, and do more F2P. Does that make me less invested, or is it a reflection of how busy I am? Is it time or money that makes me spend my money or time?

    I’ve finished GTA3 (okay, minus the last mission) and GTA3:SA, but does the fact that I returned over the course of 3-4 years with each to do so make me more or less invested? In a sense, GTA was a book series I couldn’t put down. I played each for days, I’d imagine. That’s investment.

    (The GTA series, I should add, was my standard, “I don’t have time for to pay for WoW” alternative until F2P to 20 started.)

    So my answer is investment is measured most simply and accurately by time spent gaming, and that it’s ultimately time invested that makes Castronova work. You don’t get paid for goods/gold because you paid a subscription. It’s because of the amount of time the virtual goods represent.

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