This week’s Community Spotlight focuses on a thread started by forum user maji entitled “why are so many people into ‘free’ MMORPGs?” In the thread, maji wonders why free-to-play games are so popular, especially when given the number of cons he feel the genre inherently has:
“Sure, there are some great ones, but there are quite some reasons why I wouldn't play one.
• in general, the companies who make f2p MMORPGs have a lower buget for the game than the P2P ones, and more often you not you notice this as well in the game
• they are not really for free but rather like free trial. The deeper you get into the game, the more likely you are to pay some €€€ anyway and then you could also play a P2P game
• in many f2p MMORPGs, the one who pays most gets most. they level faster, look better, hit harder, have more options in general and whatnot. It's as if you'd play Monopoly or something, and you could buy an additional dice by paying 50€. In P2P, everyone got basically the same chances.
• if you are really into the game for a while, you risk to get into the mood to pay a lot for the game. Far more than you'd pay for a P2P which has a fixed subscription fee
I mean sure, you can download them, try them and play them for free. But if they are great, you're probably going to pay €€€ anyway. And if they are bad, then you wouldn't want to play it anyway. In addition to that, you often get less depth or less content. Not always, but often.”
I don’t have a huge amount of experience with F2P games myself, but a number of the criticisms ring true for me, while some do not. One of the main reasons I have personally stayed away from F2P games in general is found in maji’s first point. Whether we like it or not developing an MMOG is a long and expensive process, with a lot of variables involved, and many competing games whose feature set must also be matched and innovated beyond to get the attention of players. This essentially makes developing new competitive MMOGs harder as the genre ages.
For every new MMOG that innovates even with a single wildly successful feature, every game that follows it must be complete with said feature as well as many of the various successful features found in games dating all the way to back to games like EverQuest. If they are missing a number of these key “checklist” features they are considered lacking. The likelihood of a small F2P game as it is traditionally known to accomplish this is generally slim, and so that is generally a heavy consideration, at least for me, when deciding whether I want to spend time in a F2P MMOG.
However, games in the F2P genre, like indie games, do tend to do some things entirely differently, and many gamers find this more appealing than P2P games that simply say “me too!” The lack of huge budgets, and the risks that come with them, means they can also try out different ideas. Games like Dungeon Fighter Online are essentially side-scroller MMOGs, where do you see that in the P2P genre? You don’t. A smaller developer looking to create unique games like this would have a hard time convincing already skeptical gamers to shell out $15 a month, so F2P is a fitting genre for such experiments.
There’s also the future to consider. F2P games with item malls have been pretty successful, and appear to be emerging as a legitimate business model for future games. This means we may be seeing the sort of big budget games many of us look forward to playing, without the monthly subscription fee, in the relatively near future. I think what is more likely to emerge is a hybrid model similar to Dungeons & Dragons Online: Eberron Unlimited.
One point I mostly disagree on with maji is the point the idea that F2P games are essentially “pay-to-win,” as many of our community members describe them. It is true that some games offer item malls stocked with items that make a significant difference to gameplay, if not entirely necessary, but at least everyone is on a level playing field here. P2P games that traditionally don’t offer this functionality are subject to gold farmers and powerleveling services which accomplish the same goal but are not freely available to all players without the inherent risk of dealing with these unscrupulous people. The point is “pay-to-win” is happening in both types of games, it’s just that one is upfront about it.
But how does the community feel about F2P games? Let’s find out.
User Latella makes a compelling point about F2P games:
“To me, free to play games are not really free, but simply the same as a pay 2 play , only that i get choose when, how much and for what i do pay.
They also have the benefit that i can try them as much as i want and decide if it´s really a game worth my time and my money or not.
I tried many pay to play games where i paid the big $ buying the retail boxes only to find out i did not really enjoy it, where as in a free to play game, i would ´ve never paid a cent before i found out i didin´t like it.”
Many people don’t like to subscribe to P2P games because they feel that now that they’ve shelled out $15 bucks for the month they have to play a ton to get the most out of it. While I don’t subscribe to this practice, I can certainly see why it would give some pause to players. On the flip side, in my brief experience with F2P games I’ve come across games with play limits, which is extremely awkward and a huge turn off for me. For example, in my earlier example of Dungeon Fighter Online, you can only enter a certain amount of rooms per day, arbitrarily capping your play time. Obviously, this isn’t true for all F2P games, but it does occur.
Latella also brings up the point of having to pay for the game just to give it a spin. Obviously, most games have free trials, but they don’t often appear until later in the game’s lifetime so many gamers end up shelling the $50 out and finding out the hard way that the game isn’t for them. F2P are obviously free right out of the gate and avoid this issue, but it doesn’t mean P2P games can’t address this issue either.
The Chronicles of Spellborn was a “Freemium” MMORPG, where levels 1-10 were free to play for as long as you wanted, but if you wanted to advance further you’d have to actually pay up. Recently we’ve seen this strategy appear in troubled AAA games like Warhammer Online, Age of Conan, and Champions Online, which have embraced this “Freemium” idea. If this becomes a trend for new P2P games, I think they would have a leg up on one of the positives of F2P games.
Eqvaliser hits on another reason that F2P are popular:
“Im just tired of paying 15$ each month to a game thats not really that great anyway,
for 15$ a month i can get so many other things i rather have, like nice graphics,
amusement, excitment, depth.
Since most mmo's are by default developed to have some 600-800 hours of gameplay
why would i spent 1000's of hours, unless they continuely add content which alot fail todo.
Free mmo's or micro payments such as ddo. are great cause when im fed up with it
i donot feel as attached to my character as one i might have spent years and 100$
building up. and for what,.. ... nothing..”
Many of our community members are disenchanted with the genre as a whole, with so many new P2P games releasing in recent years and failing to meet expectations, I get the feeling that, at least in our community, many members are less willing to give new games a chance. This makes F2P games a bit more appealing as the barrier to entry is incredibly low, something we touched on with Latella’s point. As I mentioned earlier, I think P2P games can get around this issue by launching their games with a “Freemium” strategy right out the gate.
So what do you think? Why are F2P games so popular in your opinion? And how do you personally view the genre? Do the games appeal to you?
Let us know in the comments below!