Have your views changed on F2P games?

With yesterday’s announcement that Rift is offering a F2P option from June 12th, it seems like a good time to reappraise the various F2P MMO models.

(Incidentally, the Trion dev team did an AMA on reddit this week about their plans for Rift.)

Lee Perry posts a considered defence of F2P games on Gamasutra, focussing on things that F2P games seem to do better than P2P. For example, for all the emphasis on metrics, they really do have a good idea of what their players enjoy doing. They do have to offer new content regularly to keep people interested. Compare this with the WoW “lets try something completely different next expansion” and “lets do patches at a glacial pace” approach. (I know they’re doing better in MoP, I know.)

As long as your goal is still to make a great game, and not to simply apply these techniques to shovel-ware garbage in the hopes of winning the mobile gaming lottery, I encourage developers to look at these concepts and pick at least a couple to embrace.  Get out there and use these forces for good.

But can these forces ever really be used for good?

World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy 11 (is 14 even live yet?) and Everquest are now (I think?) the only major AAA MMOs which still only offer subscription accounts. There are also probably lots of niche MMOs (such as Tale in the Desert, Darkfall and Wurm Online) which use this model, as well as P2P MUDs. Feel free to post about any of them in comments that I haven’t mentioned.

Guild Wars 2 has a B2P model where you buy the basic game and then there is no subscription, but they have a cash shop. EVE has a kind of hybrid subscription system where it is strictly speaking a subscription game but you can potentially pay for your sub using in game credits if you have them.

The majority of MMOs are now F2P where you can download the game for free and start playing without needing to subscribe. They make their money using a  mixture of cash shop items, paid DLC/ expansions, subscription options and selling in game gold for cash.

And then some games are totally free, such as traditional MUDs which are coded and run by volunteers. They welcome donations towards the costs of the server but there’s no reason to pay other than altruism.

One of the features of games that have transitioned from subsciption to F2P is that the player base tends to increase significantly in the short term (not surprising really) and also the number of subscribers increases in the short term. We’ve seen this most recently in SWTOR, which posted just under 500k subscriptions in the last EA earnings call. (They evidently have an effective “we will annoy you until you subscribe” F2P model going on.)

Green Armadillo compares a few different F2P models, dividing them into “Pay to Win” and “Pay for Others.” There are other ways to compare the different models, usually based on what perks/ virtual goods are being sold and how the game encourages people to become paying customers.

It isn’t even clear whether F2P does favour the casual player over the hardcore, as that also can depend on the business model. PvP games might lure in free players to act as cannon fodder for those who pay (World of Tanks), whereas other games make bank from selling cosmetic gear or lockboxes to casuals. It’s true though that if you do play casually, you can access a large number of MMOs without having to pay for any of them these days.

Liore describes the frustration that subscription players feel when a game goes F2P, the sense that the tight knit fabric of the game and certainties of the regular payments are being blown open, possibly to be replaced by an influx of rude casuals and a selection of annoying lockboxes (both of which have happened at pretty much every game which has transitioned). Without going that far, there is the potential for F2P to really divide up the player base and make existing players think hard about exactly how casual/ hardcore they want to be.

So – it’s a fast changing environment but the direction of the journey is very clear. Have your views changed at all on F2P games over the last months/ years?

21 thoughts on “Have your views changed on F2P games?

  1. EQ is free no? UO is still sub-based. EvE is the inverse of F2P in that the low-level players let the “hardcore” players play for free with the PLEX system. I’d not be surprised if there’s a single blogger out there who plays EvE and actually pays a cent out of pocket.

    As I get older and my kids get older, I have a combination of less time and more knowledge about value for dollar. Paying 2$ for a coffee and a chat with my wife for 20 minutes is a worthwhile investment. Paying 25c for a skinner box, a bit less so. WoW is good. WoW has enough unique content per patch, outside of the level grind, to last me a week or so. So I resub every other patch for a month, try it all out, then move on. I treat it as more or less a F2P game and have for a few years.

    I can play DDO, DCUO, STO, TOR, NWN, Fallen Earth, EQ1/2, GW2, about a dozen web-based games, plus a library of Steam games at any given time, for a sunk cost. If I want to try another MMO, I don’t have to go to the store and see if they have a copy. I can just download it. I am inundated with choices, often a lot of quality choices, with which to spend my money and my time (which is much more valuable than my money).

    • “EvE is the inverse of F2P in that the low-level players let the “hardcore” players play for free with the PLEX system. I’d not be surprised if there’s a single blogger out there who plays EvE and actually pays a cent out of pocket.”

      I paid for Eve for over a year with $, and even purchased PLEX to fund some things I wanted to do. There are many long term players who really dislike Eve’s PvE or would rather spend their time PvPing. Those players pay for a sub and multiple PLEXes a month. And then there are players like Gevlon, who played the market very well from the beginning and funded their accounts with PLEX from the beginning.

      While it’s true that more dedicated players strive to fund their accounts with PLEX, that dedication could arrive in month 2 or in month 32. It isn’t that outlandish to be a new player running missions to PLEX your account. Nor is it unheard of for veteran players to pay for 3 accounts all with real currency. It isn’t this “low-level” subsidizing that you describe.

      • I must be missing something here cause you’re providing evidence for my point. Only the “dedicated” can play EvE for free. You even gave examples of how that’s true.

        No one can play WoW for free. Anyone with the time can play EvE for free. Seems to fit the free to play definition to me.

      • I guess I interpreted your “hardcore” as the opposite of “low-level” because of the way the sentence was phrased. I then pointed out that there are low Skill Point players who are very capable of PLEXing their accounts. And conversely there are high Skill Point players who, willingly or unwillingly, do not PLEX their accounts.

        If you meant hardcore as a description of playtime, then I will tell you that ISK-making activities range from very active (e.g. mission running, arbitrage, Tech 2 manufactuing) to very low maintenance (e.g. research agents, capital blueprint copying). I know people who spend 15 minutes a day playing with Planetary Interaction and make enough ISK to PLEX their account. I have a friend who has to log in twice a month to research and sell blueprints.

        You decide your own level of involvement.

        I bought PLEX because I needed ISK quickly. I wouldn’t buy it if I wasn’t dedicated to the game. So I don’t believe the notion that the undedicated/casual let the dedicated/invested players play for free. PLEXing your account is either something you strive to do or your don’t. That decision requires a basic level of commitment to the game. The dedicated let the dedicated play for free.

  2. > Have your views changed at all on F2P games over the last months/ years?

    I was quite optimistic when GW2 launched. The idea to play an MMO that doesn’t force you to run dailies just to keep you subbed sounded like a solid concept to me. Little did I know. After playing GW2 for a few month I went back to WoW and it’s clear to me that I will not be playing another cash shop game.

    First, they have to use the same tricks to keep you constantly playing. They even have to try harder to keep you logging in because there’s no “I payed and therefore I have to play” thinking. Their daily achievements are no less brutal and even more required then the WoW dailies.

    But the most annoying thing is that GW2 is designed to keep you poor because of the cash shop. Mobs drop very little gold and expenses are high. You have this beautiful world but you’re always thinking “if I port to this zone I have to do at least 3 events to get the gold back I payed for the port” or “I want to go there but if I walk I might find some ore or flower which could be worth a few coins”. And of course there are no mounts because that would reduce this gold sink. (You get a run speed buff out of combat but it doesn’t match the WoW flying speed.)

    I was way to often doing things I didn’t want or not doing things I wanted to do just to save some coins which you need to buy your exotic gear. Cash shop games will always have the majority of player being too poor to enjoy everything the game would have to offer.

    Compare that with WoW where every char is showered in enough gold to always be able to buy everything he “needs” like riding skill, a mount and will always have enough gold to pay for public transportation or repairs. Playing GW2 for a few month really made me appreciate the freedom WoW offers me.

    • I felt about GW2 exactly the same as you. I’ve played F2P games before GW2 but I felt it was worse than the rest. Simply because the cash grabs were all veiled and underhanded. At least the buy power games are up front about their preference for cash shop users. GW2 has been nerf after nerf of anything that allows players to side step putting money into the game.

      It just left me with bad feelings. And then when they put dungeon grind in, I left.

      Right now, I’m happy in LOTRO, Tera and RIFT. My Rift subscription is just about up and I was very happy to hear about their free to play version coming out. Storm Legion is good stuff and I love my little house in the game too.

  3. One thing that I do like about the F2P model is that you get a chance to try out different games without plunking down any money beforehand. Yes, I know WoW and Rift have the L1-20 free accounts, but I know enough about MMOs now to understand that the first 20 levels/Intro Zone doesn’t necessarily provide you a view into the rest of the MMO. (Such as the complaints about what happened with Age of Conan with Tortage.)

    Besides, if you started playing WoW with a free L1-20 account, just exactly “where” in expac hell do you start depends on your toon. Want to start as a Blood Elf or Draenei? You start in a minimally updated BC zone. Want to try the Vanilla races? You start in a revamped Cata zone. The Cata races? Purely Cata zones. And none of them account for Pandaria whatsoever, so your first Pandaren encounter is opt to throw a complete noob off.

  4. @Kring

    There are players in GW2 that have 500+ gold and they are not buying that gold, they are farming CoF or Orr or playing the TP. Some too where farming Southsun, but aparently we will see everyone farming that place this month.

    While farming the same mobs will not me productive in GW2 because there is s system that makes the mobs lower the drops after the player is killing the same mobs for some time, players found ways to farm gold. Some people say GW2 economy is bad, but players too found ways to get rich playing the TP, so who have an entrepeuner spirit is being rewarded. And I don’t think an economy where any player can buy the best gear for level in the TP relativelly cheap (something I don’t saw in any other MMO, because the prices there are inflated) is a bad economy. A buyer economy is not something I think it is bad.

    GW2 is not designed for mantain evryone poor, but only the players that know how to make in game money will make in game money. IMHO, it is a lot better than the huge inflation you see at ALL other MMO, where everyone gains lots of in game gold with no effort and the newbie player find any gear low level cousts thousands of in game gold because the in game currency is devalued.

    Anyway, IMHO, you need apreciate the “freedom WoW offers” while you can. If they continue to bleed one million players each QUARTER (and I fear that that bleed will no only continue but get worse because the competition if going stronger with more F2P/B2P MMO coming), they will go F2P in 2014. Be warned that Blizzard will create the worse kind of cash shop game in History (worse than the Diablo III cash shop…). And be warned that we will know when WoW will go F2: when Blizzard try sell other one year pass ticket, the next month the game will go F2P…

    • Oh, I’m sure it’s possible to make money in GW2. But the big money is concentrated on a few percent of the player. That’s probably the same in WoW. The difference is that in WoW even the poorest player has no problem paying for essential things like public transportation or repair but in GW2 these things really hurt.

      And the problem, for me, was that I started to optimize the fun out of my play stile to save gold.

      • Did something drastic change in WoW since 2010, when I quit for the 2nd time? I was dirt poor the entire time, barely could afford a respec, buying skills was occasionally problematic. I had to mine ore 1/3 of my in-game time just to make gold.

        I didn’t have a max level char, so is wealth related to end-game content? I thought WoW’s economy was horribly broken, especially for newcomers.

      • You don’t buy skills anymore, they just appear in your spell book and there aren’t any levels anymore.

        60% riding is 4g (level 20), 100% riding is 50g (level 40) and 150% flying is 250g (level 60). There is no way in hell you don’t have that money at the corresponding level unless you waste everything in the AH (which is unlikely because there isn’t anything useful to buy for low level chars.) But that change was in 2009 according to the wiki.

      • @mmojuggler Depending on what level you got to and when you quit, I’d say there’s two things:

        1) Being at max level in every expansion really does tend to increase your gold as long as you’re actually out doing things and not spending it willy-nilly all over the place,
        2) Cataclysm happened, and one of the things they did was increase the gold earnings in the 1-60 bracket. Prior to that, characters running through vanilla content were incredibly poor, comparatively.

      • @Ming “[…] Cataclysm happened, and one of the things they did was increase the gold earnings in the 1-60 bracket. Prior to that, characters running through vanilla content were incredibly poor, comparatively.”

        And one of the (various and tottally diferent) reasons I see for try explain why WoW is losing subscripters is that the game get easier over time and all that players lamenting how the game was good when “vanilla”. Can I point that both “vanilla” WoW and GW2 the toons were poor?

        Not that IMHO WoW “going easier” is the cause for WoW loose subscripters. IMHO WoW is having a hard time for cope with all that new F2P/B2P MMO making the market more competitive.

        And all that new new F2P/B2P MMO have cash shops, but IMHO for someone think that GW2 cash shop is “greedy” is because not saw other games cash shops. I will warn you again: when WoW goes F2P (it will if they do’nt stop the subscripters bleeding), you will know the REAL greedy cash shop. And I hope you will not be fooled to buy the one year subscription Blizzard will launch before go F2P…

  5. For the enjoyment gained from the game, business model doesn’t matter. The game itself does. I think it’s stupid to base an opinion about a game only on its business model, without actually playing.
    So there shouldn’t be a single opinion on F2P games in general. There are good F2Ps and terrible ones.

  6. Have thought about subbing again from time to time, but haven’t subscribed to any game for a year or more, and don’t think it is likely to happen.

    At the moment I have GW2 (B2P), TSW (B2P) and Lotro (B2P!), between those three there is more than enough engaging content that I don’t really think about playing anything else. AoC is an also-ran, but it has a terrible business model. SW:TOR, is a maybe, though I’m not too keen on Bioware games and haven’t tried it. Neverwinter was considered, but haven’t heard too many good things about the cash shop. In the future there is Wildstar and Elder Scrolls, and I can honestly say I’ll try neither if they are not B2P.

    Was following the Rift announcement on the official forums, and the general consensus was that it would open the floodgates on the dregs of the internet. Which is funny because when I was back for a free weekend recently, the community was more obnoxious than that found in either of the three B2P games listed above, which all have helpful and mature communities. I will go back to play the game, but hoping for a revival of the community to happen, the RP server Argent (?) was essentially dead.

  7. My views have changed somewhat. I’ve been a big fan of free-to-play for a while, but I think the main shift in opinion I’ve had is that I think any well-designed free-to-play game should have a subscription option in addition to other ways to make money. I like how DDO generally works, where if you subscribe you can get access to almost all of the game. You pay for expansion content, to unlock stuff faster, and for some consumables/cosmetics if you want. Subscribers get a few other perks as well, but you can mostly go free-to-play if you want without feeling like you’re “missing out” on stuff.

    I think that helps make the business model a lot more palatable.

  8. I still prefer paying a subscription because it feels more honest to me and while I’m happy to financially support a game I enjoy, I hate constantly having to worry about the details. (Should I buy this virtual item? Will I get enough use out of it? Which of these is the best value for money? etc.) However, while I expected to hate SWTOR’s F2P transition I haven’t actually minded that much in practice because they did keep subscriptions as an option (and the most attractive one too if you are actually happy to pay for the game).

  9. I used to be a “holy warrior” for the cause of the monthly subscription… and then I had kids. That is not to say that it is impossible to justify subscriptions and balance them with family life, but for me it just works out better to be able to “bounce” from game to game more freely, and be able to purchase things “a la carte” when I truly need them. That said, the market has also drastically changed. F2P used to be confined to either Asian grinders, or games that generally failed. Now F2P is almost a standard unto itself (like the monthly sub used to be) and high quality games are adopting it. So yes, my views have changed a lot. Will F2P be the standard for the next decade like subs were? That remains to be seen, but it is becoming the standard for today.

  10. My views on F2P haven’t changed but they’re rather atypical.

    When F2P started I viewed it as a way to play for free what I’d been previously paying to play. When I realised that the F2P systems were in themselves gameable that became an enjoyable metagame. I ran several fast low level Barbarians through the early parts of DDO to wrack up Turbine Points and of course I’ve loved figuring out how to pay for accounts in Eve (I have 5 now).

    I’m now in the position where paying anything ever is entirely optional. There are loads of great games I’d like to spend more time on while playing for free. I don’t care about hair dye, I don’t care about being raid-optimised.

    I do occasionally spend money if it’s a title I particularly want (Diablo 3 was the last one) or if I have an excess of real life cash that I just feel like spending (I paid for a year on one of my Eve accounts last birthday).

    But I’m the poster child for why free is bad for games companies – I’ve gone from spending a lot on my hobby (I bought 2 games a month in the 90s) to rarely spending anything because there’s nothing on offer that I can’t find an equally interesting free game experience for.

  11. Pingback: The Hiccup with F2P | Leo's Life

  12. I’ve never been particularly opposed to F2P – just bad implementations of it.

    I’ve friends who go omg F2P = P2W = I HATE IT I’LL NEVER TRY IT.

    …it’s not so black and white as all that, imo.

    I do think, though, that for F2P to really work, the entire economy needs to be built from the ground up FOR the F2P model.

    PWE’s Forsaken World is one of the best implementations of F2P/P2W that I’ve ever seen. It’s also the F2P title I’ve dropped the most money on, by a looooong shot. About 240 dollars over just over 2 years – which works out to slightly less / same as a $15 monthly sub, and I don’t regret a single cent.

    See, the thing about the P2W being not quite as black and white is this. Companies can set the ‘tiers’ needed in order to P2W. In FW, that’s a few grand AT LEAST. And yet, PWE has also managed to balance the curve of spending out so well that even if you are a nugget, and only pay them $15 a month tops, and then only if there are promotions (and therefore more bang for your buck), that you can still compete with the big boys.

    FW recently implemented a new solo instance called ‘Hell Road’. There are 50 levels in it, and the faster you can kill the mobs in under a set timer, the more ‘points’ you get. Points reset weekly, and the top 10 ranking players of each class get rewards. Quite shiny ones.

    So there’s me with my $240 dollars, and I’m usually rank 8-10 for my class (bard).

    There’s a friend with currently about $6.5k into his account (same as the $240 is total for my account). And he’s rank 3-4 mage.

    That’s what $6.2k USD buys you. 7ish more ranks. That is P2W done right. There simply aren’t enough whales to truly matter (i.e. don’t bother joining party unless you have spend over $5k). And $240 over 2 years can put you on competitive, but not even footing, with an adolescent whale. (There are Elder Whales who’ve spent $15k+ over 2 years…)

    F2P / P2W is fine, as long as it’s done well. IMO, PWE has done it amazingly with FW.

    Of course, when it comes to PvP, then all bets are off. But then, PvP in F2P really is WvW (wallet vs wallet).

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