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Buying Into the F2P Myth

Posted by Segun777 Friday May 17 2013 at 9:09AM
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I’ve been playing a lot of The Old Republic lately, most leveling alts. I’m working on one character that I hope will help me get into endgame, a feature of most MMO’s that I avoid like the plague. Recently the 2.1 update dropped and out came the usual furor against BioWare and Electronic Arts. As I sat back and read the articles, opinion pieces, and comment sections I came to a realization; that gamers do not understand the mechanics behind a company choosing to move a game to F2P.


The news came out of Trion headquarters last week that Rift, their most popular MMO, was going F2P. The news wasn’t wholly unexpected given the laying off of 1/3 of their staff late last year after launching the Storm Legion expansion, still many had hoped that it was business as usual, the part-timers being let go after the successful launch of product.


What gamers, and some game writers often fail to understand, is that F2P at its core, is nothing more than life support for a dying MMO. It’s not a golden ticket; rather it’s the last gasp of a dying game. For some it’s the way to continued profitability (SWTOR), for some it’s a way to revitalize a game (Vanguard), for some it’s a different business approach (DCUO), and for some it’s a way to get people back into the game, sometimes for the first time (Tera); but for all these games no matter how many years they last afterwards, F2P is only keeping a dying game alive.


In the beginning of May, word came down that World of Warcraft, the subscription juggernaut, had lost 1.3 million subscribers. Hordes of gamers, both predicted and cast aside, the announcement as the end of Blizzard’s reign at the top. Losing a large amount of subscribers is never a good indication of health for a MMO, but on the same token, no other MMO in the world could lose that many subscriptions and still be making billions of dollars every year.


Gamers often seem to take the well-published numbers of a MMO as proof that the game is doing well. I won’t say that companies fudge data, it’s usually illegal and frankly investors can smell it a mile away. However, the numbers that gaming companies use are usually irrelevant without corresponding data. For example having a million new users is nice, but unless they all are paying $5/month, all you have is more server costs. It’s one of the traps of F2P, there is no guarantee of more revenue, and even an increased user base only guarantees increased costs.


I stand in disbelief at the idea that if every F2P MMO was completely open, then gamers would just dump out their wallets for BioWare, Trion, En Masse, Turbine, Funcom, or NCSoft. I believe in our heart of hearts we are all somewhat like Veruca Salt, one of the five golden ticket winners from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. When we as gamers don’t get what we want immediately, we throw nasty tantrums and take things to extreme measures until we finally get our way.


Do I believe that every gamer complaint about the way F2P has been operated in former subscription-based games is without merit? No, but I do believe that gamers need to better understand the dynamics of what makes a company shift its product from subscription to F2P. No matter how well a game appears to be doing after a switch, it should be clear to gamers that any particular MMO in that situation is a cat with no more lives. I won’t stand and say that the MMO genre is dying or on the verge of collapse, but be wary if you think that all is well in the MMO world. Gamers getting what they want always looks nice on the surface, but if companies aren’t making money this way, all that follows is demise.

The Do-Nothings

Posted by Segun777 Saturday May 4 2013 at 7:56AM
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I live in Pennsylvania, don’t remember if I’ve ever said that before; didn’t want my legion of fans to break down my door (…). In my hometown, lately there has been talk about whether or not to renovate the aging high school or build an entirely new building. It’s something every town goes through, especially in these difficult economic times. What is somewhat different is that this isn’t the first time it’s come up.


A while back, a previous school board voted to build a new school. A grassroots, but vocal and angry, section of the residents cried foul about the way the decision was made. They even managed to get the school board voted out and themselves in; as such the discussion was tabled. Years later a new council is faced with the same decision, the school is out of date, not up to code, and frankly needs to be overhauled or torn down (the land is worth far more than the buildings). In the end no matter what happens, the ‘do-nothings’ won. All the outcry and fervor was pointless and meaningless in the end, little more than a pyrrhic victory.


I look at Star Wars The Old Republic and I am impressed, the game is better today than it was a year ago. The switch to F2P alongside subscriptions has revitalized both the game and the company. Sales are up and the cash shop items are better than ever. Better yet, the game caters to both sides of the equation. Gamers, who are flush with cash, can go straight to the cash shop and get pretty much anything they want. While gamers who have more time than money, can buy everything the cash shop has to offer on the market for in-game currency; it’s a win-win for both parties.


I’m reminded of the steady and unrelentingly bad press that has dogged The Old Republic from nearly the time it launched. No matter what EA and BioWare did, their naysayers would point to flaws wherever they lay. And make no mistake, there were gaffs made across the board, as with any new enterprise, nothing ventured and nothing gained. The missteps were compounded by the lofty and unrealistic expectations both from within the company and from without. The Old Republic is likely to be a harsh lesson to any potential newcomers into the MMO world for sometime to come.


Through it all The Old Republic prevailed, fixing mistakes slowly but surely and adding new content and ‘cost of living’ upgrades along the way. It’s been an eventful one and a half years, but TOR is a better game for it. BioWare had to make the hard calls over these last couple years. Lowering costs by cutting staff in half is never popular but it was necessary, going F2P with a subscription attached made for some vocal naysayers as well, even making gamers pay for content announced before the switch to F2P has made some critics but it worked out in the end. BioWare made decisions, while the ‘do-nothings’ wanted no change at all.


Making hard decisions before the problems become obvious, is about as fun as pushing a giant boulder up a mountain, naysayers point out that it isn’t broken and ask why the ‘fix’ is necessary. Getting people to look forward into the future, to look at the longterm, is never easy and making decisions that will have costly repercussions now rather than later is harder still. But decisions have to be made; as the saying goes ‘you pay now or you pay later but you’re going to pay’. BioWare made the hard calls, when doing nothing would have garnered them far less criticism, this gamer for one, is mighty impressed with the results.



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