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The Broken Promise of F2P

Posted by Ozzallos Sunday June 6 2010 at 1:03PM
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A number of readers were no doubt elated when they loaded up MMORPG's page the other day, finding that Lord of the Rings was transitioning from a subscription based revenue model to free to play. At first, so was I, at least until the reality of free to play gaming set in. Frankly, I've been debating its merits for quite some time, but LotR has finally helped me come to a definitive conclusion on the matter...

...Free to Play is where gaming goes to die.

For years we've been fed the line that f2p is the future of gaming. It is supposed to be the payment model that allows you- the consumer -ultimate control over your gaming expenditures; and that much is true, I guess. But is it the future? Do we honestly want it to be the future? Simply put, it's time to pull the plug on this particular line of bullshit. To help clarify this, I'll pose a very simple question to you:

What company in their right minds would forgo guaranteed month to month cash flow in the form of subscriptions, versus the uncertainty of a consumer that controls their revenue base by showing up at their cash store to pay via incremental transactions?

Or to be blunt, Free to Play is the last stop for games that can't cut it as a subscription in some way, or have failed to generate enough up front revenue and interest to sustain long term operation from the outset. Does that make them bad games? Not necessarily, but something went wrong somewhere, and they are now forced to rely on your good will for continued funding. While nearly every company is ultimately at the mercy of the consumer, F2P marketing is at the absolutely worst end of that profit curve. In short, it's a position that no MMO wants to find themselves in unless they have no choice... Or are simply looking to hide their profit structure behind the word "free," and that's even worse.

It's an easy concept to see, especially when you look at the very banner ads that inhabit MMORPG.com. In fact, Phantasy Earth Zero (producing eyeball spam off to the left even as I type this) is a prime example. What's the difference between that game, and say, Final Fantasy XI Online? That's a rhetorical question, one that anybody who has played FEO can answer definitievely. It's an old MMO developed for an old market, and would stand no chance gathering a subscription base on it own merits; which is the category that a lot of free to play falls under these days. Essentially, it's the bargain bin at Gamestop full of titles that nobody will pay full price for.

At the same end of the spectrum are those companies looking to cheat gamers out of a dollar, inflating the cost of services beyond those of your average subscription in order to make more of a profit, or by putting as little effort as possible into their title so that anything they make after the initial development cost is gravy. We've all seen both, and it happens far more often than not. You either play a game that you can't get anywhere without paying in large amounts to stay competitive, or you get a substandard product, usually released full of localization issues or bugs. A lot of the time, you get your fair share of both, and I can count the number of fair, quality f2p products on one hand, if that.

In a way, I have Lord of the Rings to thank for helping me solidify that philosophy. It should teach anybody watching its transition a crucial lesson in MMO gaming. First, unless you're absolute certain about the company, never, EVER throw in for a lifetime subscription. Those people got boned in transition, because there's a huge difference between "life time sub" and "500 free points/month" that may or may not retain any significant value. Second, Turbine's comparison chart makes it crystal clear that key portions of the game- such as the Trait System -are going to be crippled unless one pays in. Ouch. The term "Pay to Win" has been floated in many discussions on the topic, and it's one I think I'll be adopting as well; and not just for LotR.

At this moment, p2w probably encompasses 95% of the non subscription MMOs out there, hiding behind the misnomer "free to play". While free to play may very well be the future of online gaming, what it has become by and large is not. It has become a haven for the sick, the lame; a home for greed and apathy. MMOs taking on the Free to Play title either couldn't cut under the far more secure subscription revenue model or are looking to fleece you for more money by claiming your ability to "play for free".

Most of these games are free only insofar as you don't attempt any serious advancement, and I think it's time call it what it really is. LotR is becoming MMO shareware. It's Pay to Win by any other name and just another method by which to strip you of your cash. Maybe it can survive under the new micro transaction model and that might be a good thing... but it won't be because it's so much better for your wallet.

Superman0X writes:

One of the best examples of how this business model has worked in other similar (service) industeries is email service....

How many people use google, yahoo, or hotmail?

A lot...

They use a F2P business model, where they get you to use their product for free, then they monitize on the back end. This was NOT the original business model for email service... it is the business model that took over, and dominated... the same thing is happening in the online gaming industry.

So, the next time you think that the F2P is where dying services turn... check out google or microsoft... and see what massive failures they are.

Sun Jun 06 2010 10:08PM Report
Ozzallos writes:

Yeah, about that... What service does yahoo or hotmail break if you don't pay in? Nothing. Your email account is fully functional in both examples.

Now I will conceed that you do get advertising from the host email company in return for the service, which is how they are able to justify the expense of your account's continued operation.

That I would consider "free to play," which in turn bears no resemblance to the current state of most MMOs claiming the title; who in turn cripple their products in an effort to force you to pay in.

My point stands.

Sun Jun 06 2010 10:52PM Report
poncecool writes:

i have to agree, i played fantasy earth zero and i got to say... "crap i spent 20 minutes downloading this?!?" and i look at final fantasy and i want to get a subscription right there but since im more of a casual gamer i just play games for the hell of it, i play a game for 10 minutes and play another so pay2play didn't seem like the smartest idea for me but thats just my idea, i bet there are billions of pro gamers that play one or two games.

also there are some games that suck and are p2p, but those games are just p2p because the creators got stupid and though that a game with shit graphics could survive in the p2p category, but i guess there are some retards in the world. if i had money i would play Global Agenda <--pro game.

Mon Jun 07 2010 12:10AM Report
sfly2000 writes:

To the OP. You shouldn't burn a whole type of business model just because a trend of games developed right now are not doing it in a good way.

You are not alone though. Many like to generalise. Most people think they know what an MMORPG is. I say they don't. We have yet to see a good and intelligent one not solely aimed at the bulk of consumers...

Tue Jun 08 2010 4:41AM Report
Ozzallos writes: To the contrary, I make conciderations for the exceptions to the rule, but by and large- something even you atest to -free to play is largely a playground of greed and apathy. All that said, f2p DOES work... As our other wayward commentator mentioned, email work plenty fine. Just this shit is trailware at best. Fri Jun 11 2010 1:35PM Report

MMORPG.com writes:
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