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Blade Wars Developer Blog

Thoughts from ChangYou's Blade Wars Dev. Team about publishing a F2P game in the West, living the gaming life and the industry in general. To find more info about Blade Wars, go to http://bw.us.changyou.com/en/

Author: ChangYou2

Free to Play Vs Subscription Based MMORPGs

Posted by ChangYou2 Tuesday May 4 2010 at 8:56PM
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There are many opinions when it comes to the discussion of F2P games versus subscription-based titles for MMOs available today.  When choosing which game is right for you, there are many things you should consider.  In this article I will explore these differences and do my best to analyze the pros and cons of each for any normal player. 
 
Monetary Requirements:
 
Subscription based games began with the release of Ultima Online in 1997.  While other titles such as The Realm Online and Meridian 59 did come first, UO is believed to be responsible for the popularity of MMORPGs we see today.  UO  was a subscription-based game, and based on this example many companies began to charge people for their right to play.  A person has no choice but to surrender 10 to 15 dollars per month in order to continue playing, with the penalty of losing their character as well as their initial investment if they miss any payments.  That’s right, in addition to these monthly fees a player must also pay for their initial client, usually running anywhere from 40 to 50 dollars brand new in the store.  If for some reason you don’t like the game or perhaps become too busy to keep on playing regularly, this money often ends up wasted :(.
 
 
The Infamous death of Lord British in Ultima Online, showcasing the first ever glitch to be publically documented.
 
As with most games that exist in a persistent world, eventually updates and expansions will be released in order to keep the game fresh and evolving.  With a subscription based title, every player must purchase this expansion for nearly the same price as a new game.  If you look at Everquest, that’s 16 expansions!  If you purchased the game and each expansion when it was new, then that is nearly 700 dollars just to be able to keep up with the content!  That is a huge investment, and with a subscription based game you must pay that price up front without even getting a chance to see what the content or any updates made have to offer.
 
Gameplay:
 
Aside from the monetary aspect, there are still plenty of differences that we can explore.  Differences between game play have to be taken on a game to game basis for the best analysis, for a lot of the free to play games are somewhat similar to even the biggest titles like World of Warcraft.  Many feature customizable attributes, talents, crafting skills, and even battlegrounds for PvP.  A lot of the innovations touted by these conglomerates are neither new nor unique to the gaming industry.  Based on this, you can’t really say subscription based games have better game play then their F2P counterparts.  Tabula Rasa, Star Wars Galaxies, and even Age of Conan can attest that subscription based titles are subject to design limitations that may lead to drastic underperformance.  These titles had millions of dollars invested in their content, yet it was not enough to outlast even the likes of Runescape, which was made for a mere fraction of that cost.  So for those who try to say that subscription-based titles are in fact superior, I would encourage and challenge any player to experience the game before coming to any such judgment.  F2P games do not require you to purchase their client, so experiencing what the title has to offer is easy and painless without requiring any type of investment other then the time it takes to download the client.  You have nothing to lose, but the potential is astronomical!
 
 
Don’t be fooled!  A lot of these bigger games are just money traps!
 
Another difference in game play and innovation that you might notice between these two categories of games can be related to the companies themselves who develop the titles.  Subscription-based games are usually developed by bigger companies who have more money invested in marketing and profit.  Because there is no room for error in the stakeholders eyes, this also usually translates to no room for innovation.  The most popular subscription-based games that exist today did not and cannot take any risks that could lead them to possibly losing subscribers.  These developers have to stick with what has worked in the past and continue to rehash this model and release the same type of game over and over again.  Every so often this mold is broken and we do see more differences, but often times the executives overseeing the projects do not want any risk.  I almost see the state of subscription-based MMO’s as being very similar to the video game crash of 1983.  Back then, there were so many consoles and titles in the market that people just became sick of video gaming in general.  A glut of games simply got new packaging and re-released for 50 dollars a pop to the unknowing consumer.
 
 
This game, along with many similar titles, almost single handedly killed the video game industry.
 
Development / Marketing:
 
This is another area where F2PP games can shine.  Their developers are not shackled to these big executives who only seek to line their pockets, but are given the freedom that those who created the original titles in the 90s had.  Blade Wars has a combo system that no other game I have come across had possessed, but many of the top executives from bigger companies would have never allowed it for any of their subscription based games.  Will they be successful?  Only time will tell, but the games that boast some of the largest CCU in the market today are F2P (Runescape, Earth Eternal).  More would boast higher numbers as well if they just received the exposure that some of these larger companies can generate just through sheer marketing alone.  It’s hard to compete when other companies can outspend you by millions of dollars per month, but good games with solid systems can last and continue to grow once word of their title spreads.
 
 
Blade Wars and their combo system at work!
 
Community:
 
Finally, we come to perhaps one of the most unique and drastically different aspects when comparing a Subscription based game with a F2P game.  This aspect is of course, its community.  While larger companies are content with just releasing a title and treating all players as if they are just numbers, F2P developers take a different approach.  Instead of focusing relentlessly on just getting new players, the focus is more on keeping those that they have and making them happy with their experience.  These companies are then usually more transparent with their work and their updates to the game.  It is commonplace for popular opinion to be able to sway these Devs quickly and get many features implemented that might be too risky or over the top to be considered otherwise.
 
The GMs and producers also have a closer tie to the community and their role in F2P games.  While not every company has the same policy when it comes to this, most of the companies I had experience with allowed the GMs a lot of leeway for not only player interactions, but events and prize giveaways as well.  Many in game events like Game Master monster spawns also can populate these titles, making the players feel closer to the people responsible for running their game.  They are not disembodied overlords, but real life people who are concerned for the players well-being and gaming experience.  In short, you are more than just another player, but a valuable member of the community.  A lot of times player problems could be solved on the spot with a GMs help, so more personalized support can be counted on from these smaller companies. 
 
Subscription titles view everyone for their 15 dollars as opposed to their standing within a personalized community.  If you want to receive any kind of help, it will usually come in the form of canned responses designed to try and just get rid of you and your issue one way or another.  I have seen how many of the bigger companies treat their players and frankly, it is quite alarming how poorly it is handled.  The simplest issues usually would require a few minutes work to solve, but policy and quota dictate the service received.
 
Summary:
 
In conclusion, the choice you make between a Subscription based game vs a F2P title does come down to a personal choice and also to the enjoyment of the game in general.  While both have their + and –‘s, a F2P game will give you the freedom to experience their content before ever being forced with an option to dedicate any cash towards the experience.  The community will be somewhat smaller and more tight- knit, and the developers and Game Masters will all be more readily available for personalized and expedient service.  F2P games are also bound to have more innovative and unique combat and talent systems and take more risks then their larger corporate counterparts.
 
As you can probably tell by the preceding article, my taste lies more in the realm of the F2P than with that of the subscription-based titles.  Subscription games always sound better than they actually are due to the hype machine and the marketing dollars that can be dedicated from these larger companies.  Age of Conan had some huge marketing behind its release, but due to their desire to just make a few bucks before the World of Warcraft expansion was released, they launched a good 6+ months early with an unfinished product.  The content was not there, the classes were unbalanced and even the skill trees themselves were bugged and malfunctioning.   A player couldn’t even use certain basic skills because they were not even implemented yet.  Money would have been better spent on development of the game rather than just trying to rope in the players. 
 
Make sure to be careful what you spend your money on when sizing up the next MMO.  F2P gives you the flexibility to find your game without making you waste part of your paycheck.  Closed Beta for Blade Wars is just around the corner, if you are looking for a unique experience that doesn’t have to cost you a dime!  Make sure to check it out :).
 
Here are the linkes to the Blade Wars Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/BladeWarsGame
 
Twitter - http://twitter.com/BladeWars_US
 
and even Communty Manager Jaynestown's Twitter :) -  http://twitter.com/JoshForester
 
Thank you all again for your support, and make sure to tune in next time for more from the Blade Wars Developers Blog!
 
-Josh Forester (Jaynestown)
--Community Manager, Changyou.com
Coldrain_13 writes:

Interesting read, while true on P2P games. At least payment wise your players are on an equal playing field. Unlike F2P games where people who have extra income whever ever it may come from have the advantage. As majority of F2P mmos offer something within their shop that can give their players an huge boost and smash the competition.

Tue May 04 2010 11:26PM Report
Papajahat writes:

f2p will cost you more if you want to be competitive. i don't mind a game that requires you to spend to have some advantage.

i hate f2p that force you to spend just to enjoy the game such as perfect world and worse, mo siang online. to name a few.

Tue May 04 2010 11:50PM Report
causs writes:

I'll never take F2P serious, due to imbalanced gameplay (IF there is PVP). Is such a joke that, if you want to enjoy endgame, you'll spend more then a P2P per month.

 

I'm a P2P fan, that's for sure. What is worse tho, is having a cash shop in a P2P. That's not entertainment anymore.

Wed May 05 2010 11:30AM Report
ChangYou2 writes:

Alot of the points you all make are fair, and I can definitely understand why some of you feel the way you do.  There is the common perception that while a game is Free to Play, you must purchase items in order to be competitve.  While it is true that some titles do try to "nickel and dime" you, this isn't true for all free to plays.  You can go to most gaming company websites and check out the item mall and see for yourself what you're getting into.  Most allow a player to spend money instead of time to get certain basic items, and alot of what you'll see does not really affect the game directly.

Most of the store is fashion items, mounts, or other purely cosmetic features that won't give one player an advantage over another.  You just have to take care to research what systems are in your game.  Some have perma death, others have low % enchanting systems...you just need to be careful :)

Wed May 05 2010 8:31PM Report
osamar writes:

From my own experience.

F2P games are or shity games or "good" games that end costing monthly more than P2P games. In the shops F2P games have, basic items that take much more time than P2P games to get (or time sink or real money), competitive advantage objects (real money or nothing) or items to counter free players penalizing game mecanics (like ALLODS death). In the end the equation Time<>Fun<>Money, for me is in the P2P side.

Thu May 06 2010 4:41AM Report
Nesrie writes:

Well I haven't seen an item being thrown out for several thousand dollars until a F2P title decided those pixels were worth it. Now that is innovative!

Thu May 06 2010 5:16AM Report
Draemos writes:

You can try buttering it up any way you want to, but the reality is that F2P games are all about paying for power.  They then use their F2P tag as an excuse for producing a underdeveloped product, despite the fact they are making money hand over fist.

Lets draw a few parallels...

1) FP2 are popular in Asia, F2P are hated in North America and Europe

2) Gold selling/buying is considered a legit and legal practice in Asia; Gold selling/buying is considered dispicable in North America /Europe

It's not a coincidence.  Keep your trash F2P model in Asia, we don't want it.

Thu May 06 2010 5:18AM Report
ChangYou2 writes:

Its hard to say all players hate free to plays or the concept of an item mall in North America when World of Warcraft actually employs a cash shop of their own!  Also, Dungeons and Dragons Online was developed right here in the US and is one of the biggest Free to Plays in the World! 

Paying for items has been around since Ultima Online as well, so free to plays can't take credit for that. :)  People sold items on Ebay all the time, and houses could go for a couple hundred bucks a pop!

I definitely enjoy the dialog everyone, keep the comments coming :)

Thu May 06 2010 1:11PM Report
Aristides writes:

The points made in this essay are excellent, and highly accurate from a historical and industry perspective.  Not all F2P games are about paying for power.  Some are, and I do agree with the complaints that it's a problem.

 

However, the advantages to these titles of free entry to the product are huge, and the economics are extremely favorable.  Even the gameplay results are often favorable - how many people try out a less-popular subscription title and come away complaining that the "world felt empty"?  That's less common in F2P games simply because you don't have to cough up cash to get in the door.  It's all about barriers to entry, and F2P games lack one of the biggest barriers of all.

 

Because MMOs are SOCIAL games, the advantage of having a population of people to play with and among is huge.  F2P games are getting better in quality, and the economics will continue to appeal to both indie developers, and eventually even to the big houses.

 

The business model of F2P MMOs is effectively the same as that in the crappy casual Facebook games like Farmville:  bring in a huge number of people.  A tiny fraction will pay a small amount of money each, per unit time.  When the huge number of players is large enough (and Farmville yesterday was sitting at 77 million players), that trickle is a flood and Zynga is swimming in money.

 

WoW is making moves to have it both ways: subscription and item shop.  They have the largest subscription game in the world in terms of subscriber numbers.  They are already dwarfed by many of the F2P products on the market.  They see the writing on the wall.   How many hundred thousand people bought a sparkly pony?  Sure, it wasn't all their 11 million subscribers.  It didn't have to be.

 

Blizzard'll do it again next month.  Or the month after that.  Then more often.  Have no doubt.

 

Thu May 06 2010 1:27PM Report
Draemos writes:

WoW gets away with an item mall because its a significantly high quality game, and it still catches flack from it.   It's not a poorly designed F2P that leans on its F2P status as a crutch for why its a shallow game.

D&D was developed as a P2P and made the switch to a F2P because it wasn't good enough to be a P2P.  Basically its the best of the baddies... not really something worth aiming for.

Buying game property off ebay was against terms of service and was ultimately considered cheating and degrading the integrity of the game by any player that actually cared about the health of their game.

Fri May 07 2010 12:42AM Report
Khalathwyr writes:

I think...this was filled with alot of erroeous..., no exaggereated propaganda against P2P games. Looking at the more acceptable (by the west) F2P games of RoM and Allods, as well as Atlantica Online, you most certainly have to buy from the shop regularly to stay competitive toward end of game level play PvE and PvP. In Ultima Online you didn't have to spend anything more than your $9.99/month.

 

Additionally, if you missed a month payment, yes, you could not access your character. But, your character was still most certainly there so that when you paid up your sub fee you then had access to it. You also cite EQ's 16 expansions costing near box price yet convienetly leave out Asheron's Call MONTHLY (Since 1999!!!) content updates, many of which are the size that companies box up in expansions and sell, FOR FREE.

Oh, and as for SWG, your comments make it clear you don't have any idea of what went on there. There were's "design limitations". It was a total 180 on game design from what launched that caused it issues. As for it being superior in gameplay than Runescape, well, that's an individual choice with an answer that will never be universal. It certainly was better than any F2P I've played.

Anyway, my point is that the P2P model isn't as draconian/fascist as this blog makes it out to be. Anyone that has been playing since Ultima Online would know that.

Mon May 10 2010 12:38AM Report
ChangYou2 writes:

As always, I encourage everyone, including those with differeing opinions, to join the conversation and express their thoughts :) 

If one were to accuse me of "hating" subscription based titles, this couldn't be further from the truth.  I have played nearly every subscription based MMO when it has released and plan to continue to do so.  As with any game you must take off the shelf, there is risk, and the point of this article was to let people know of the risk involved when purchasing a subscription based title.  Unlike any console game, you cannot simply return these.  You are stuck, and you are pretty much going into the transaction blind, unless you had the opportunity to try the game out at a friends house. 

Do some subscription based games give you more then others?  Of course. 

With Star Wars Galaxies, you make my argument for me with your explaination, which is spot on.  The game was developed a certain way and released to the public for 50 dollars retail price.  The executives weren't satisfied with the revenue numbers, so they decided to change the existing game to be  like every other level based title.  Features like Hologrinding were replaced with creating level 1 Jedi's, and in the end it died because it became just like every other subscription title.  Was it going to succeed before?  It had plenty of players, but since the development costs were so high they could not sit on their playerbase and had to act. 

Is this 100% accurate when it comes to describing Star Wars Galaxies?  I can't say for sure since I was not working for the ocmpany under the title, so all I can do is speculate.  The fact remains though that this title became level based and its innovative features shrunk in order to be more in line with what studies show successful games include.  Is this always a bad thing?  Not necessarily, but then again, it just creates the same exact game in a different universe. 

I should add here, that I liked Star Wars Galaxies in its first release.  Its skill tress that required specialized expereince reminded me slightly of UO.  Want to raise your pistol skill?  Using the pistol itself was the only way to do so.  It had player housing, resource gathering, crafting....all top notch in my opinion.  Quests were kind of lacking, Jedi's were vey powerful, some monsters were glitchy, etc.... but I digress. 

When it comes to Free to Plays, as I said above, there are some that will try to nickel and dime you.  Allods "death buff" is far far far from the norm of free to plays and purely designed to get players to purchase item mall items in order to just normally play the game.  In terms of competition, you also need to be careful for games with unbalanced items like "99% cirt rate".  Check the item mall for these and you can tell even before downloading a client what type of game it is.  Also, if you try the game out and feel this way afterwards, uninstall and move on.  Free.  No lost money.  The beauty of the Free to Play :).

If you need more proof of the P2P model look at "Old Republic" and its development.  According to the rumors of how much money has gone into its developement (heard anywhere from 150 - over 300 million), they need reidiculous amounts of subscriptions to recoup that development cost.  It isn't required that a title make it all back that first year, but it would need far many more subscribers then Galaxies ever had to make it back within 5 years in my estimation, especially if the development numbers are in the 300 million+ neighborhood.   Do you think a company would risk so much on a game that isn't exactly like the most popular titles like World of Warcraft?  Same game, different unvierse, and some lightsabers is my guess.

Mon May 10 2010 1:47PM Report
Khalathwyr writes:

Thanks for the reply. Again my point (and I know I rambled on other stuff, I do that, lol) was that the P2P model, while it is more structured, isn't the beast it was made out to be. Sure, it has been attached to some bad games, but so has F2P model.

The only benefit I see of the F2P model over the P2P is that of the free trial. Even there more P2P companies are catching on and I wouldn't be surprised to see companies offering free trials up front with a client purchase after that period if the player likes the game. Yes, some do that now but I mean at launch.

Anyway, thanks for your time and best of luck with Blade Wars.

Mon May 10 2010 9:50PM Report
pandaclysm writes: The level of bias in your article is overwhelming. Please take this down and provide a non-partisan view. Sat Jun 08 2013 10:56PM Report

MMORPG.com writes:
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