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The Lunch Break Blog

For those of us who would rather be leveling right now.

Author: cmagoun

Is Free to Play a Conflict of Interest? (or Do You Really Get What You Pay For?)

Posted by cmagoun Thursday May 14 2009 at 10:23AM
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I have recently been enjoying a few f2p games. Runes of Magic is my current game, but I have toyed with Mabinogi a bit as well (btw: this game has the best skill system I have ever seen in an MMO to date, but we can discuss that later) and want to get into Atlantica at some point soon. Free to play games have come a long way in the past few years and I would say that though the best f2p games now rival their p2p counterparts in most ways. But here's a thought...

If I am developing a subscription game, then I am getting paid for making people like the game enough to pay a regular fee to keep playing. This ultimately means making the game as fun for as many people as possible -- making the best game possible. I am getting paid because people are making a value judgement each month as to whether my game is worth the fee -- and it is a binary decision. A game either falls above or below the line:

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A Game I'll Pay $15 A Month For
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A Game I Won't Pay $15 A Month For


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A Game I Won't Pay For At All

If I am developing a f2p game, then I am not getting paid to keep you playing. I do NEED to keep you playing, but that isn't what pays the bills. What pays the bills is convincing you to purchase from my Cash Shop. So, I might put items like mounts, XP potions, pets, costumes, teleport spells, etc. in my shop in hopes that you feel a need to buy them while you are playing the game. So, we get a situation that looks more like this:

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A Game Where I Want To Buy Convenience Items
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A Game I Will Play For Free
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A Game I Won't Play Even if Free

Now, a f2p game might have a very wide "Free Range" in the middle. For example, let's say there was an f2p game (called Mount and Pay... wait that sounds dirty) where the only item in the Cash Shop was a mount. Literally everything else in the game was available by questing/grinding with a nominal effort. I have played lots of games where I never earned a mount, so I probably don't ever feel the need to buy one... So I play for free (as do many others) and the game goes under.

To make money, an f2p game will narrow that "Free Range" and make the Cash Shop items more exciting, or more necessary for full enjoyment of the game. In other words, to maximize income, it is in my best interest to make the game as inconvenient and as non-enjoyable as I possibly can without actually driving you to another game.

So, in my hypothetical M&P game, I might bump the mobs up a bit and then give mounted combat a bonus, or I might make certain areas only accessable to people with mounts, or I might make PvP very mount-centric. Some people will drop out of the game; others will decide to pay under pressure to keep up with their friends in the game. The ones that dropped out were likely never going to spend money and frankly, they aren't our target audience. As long as we don't drive paying customers out, we should be looking to increase the need/desire for our Cash Shop.

This is all fine and good. I am not condemning the f2p model, nor do I think my analysis is comprehensive. But I do think there is a bit of a tightrope f2p developers walk and that tightrope has nothing to do with creating the best game possible. It has to do with creating a game that is "good enough" to play for free, but "so much better" if you were to pay. Subscription game developers don't have to walk this line. Does that give them an advantage when it comes to producing quality games? What do you think?

rsreston writes:

I found your text inviting, I went through it expecting an interesting conclusion but it came too short - perhaps you might want to revisit this line of thought later? I'd be interested in its implications; perhaps if you can offer the readers more intriguing questions and points of view.

Tue May 19 2009 4:07PM Report
cmagoun writes:

rreston: Thanks for the critique. It seems that is the hazard of writing these things on a break at work. When the break is coming to an end, I find I need to wrap it up quickly. I will take your words to heart and see if I can flesh this article out a bit more over the course of a couple days.

Wed May 20 2009 7:47AM Report

MMORPG.com writes:
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