Let me first state that this isn’t a distinct attempt to ruffle feathers. It’s merely a list of several reasons that the current trend of taking underperforming games and turning them into F2P titles is not succinctly “a bad thing”. Sure, right now it seems like little more than a marketing trend or a grasping-at-straws tactic for games with falling subscription numbers. But I’m of the mind that it’s one part of the greater evolution of the genre in the West. The space is getting crowded, and in order for variety to survive certain steps need to be taken to differentiate one product from another. The cost is only one piece of the puzzle, but it may be the most important one for some games. Let’s take a look at just why you shouldn’t be afraid of the current F2P Movement.
4.) Less Stress on the Wallet
This is the clear cut reason, is you ask me, as to why we shouldn’t get too worried prematurely at the F2P-ification of some of our current AAA MMOs. As I wrote in my blog last night, I have a self-imposed rule that I’ll only carry one active subscription at a time. I do a lot of testing products out for my work here, and thankfully I’m given beta keys and the like for those purposes. But generally, I don’t have oodles of free time these days to play all the games I wish I could. So it only makes sense for me to limit myself to how many $15 subscriptions I carry. The beauty of games like DDO, LotRO, and now EQ2 going F2P is that I don’t have to make quite as many sacrifices any more in terms of what game I have to play from month to month. Sure there are still fees involved for the above-mentioned games to reach their full playability, but I won’t begrudge the developers that. They need to make money. As a somewhat casual player of many MMOs, I find it extremely relieving to know that I won’t always have to drop $15 to start up my adventures in Middle-earth or Norrath again.
3.) Some Real Quality for Cheap
Let’s not beat around the bush. Before this all started, the F2P moniker usually meant that a game was going to be crap. The old adage of “you get what you pay for” comes to mind, but then games like Runes of Magic started sprouting up. It’s as though (GASP!) developers are taking notice that just making a game free isn’t enough to get our attention and certainly it’s not enough to get us to actually use the cash-shops. In order to get any money from gamers, a sect of people who are notoriously wishy-washy, your game had better work hard for our dollars. There’s a new term circulating around the blogosphere for DDO, LotRO, and EQ2: “No Cover Charge”. I like that. In most cases, you can play a great deal of the above three games without ever spending a cent. But like any club that’s without a cover charge, eventually you’re going to find yourself thirsty. And that’s exactly what developers are hoping happens. They’re hoping you come in for free, see how much time and effort they’ve put into their product, and then you’ll throw them a few bucks for some nifty items, bag-space, or whatever.
And if you don’t? Well at least you didn’t fork out a ton of money for a coaster or paperweight.
This is a bit of a vague reason, but let me try to explain. There’s a certain level of stagnation that happens when something in entertainment becomes popular. Suddenly ever other company is out there trying to duplicate the success of the person who first started the party. The reasoning, from a business standpoint is solid. If there’s only one person dominating a market, it makes sense to try and create your own similar service to grab a share of their customers. Only that’s not always been true in gaming. In fact, it often proves to be an unwise choice. Look at the startling number of bad GTA-clones for example.
What the F2P movement can offer, if the trend continues to prove successful for more people than Turbine, is change. What I’m hoping for, and perhaps vainly, is that the other potential revenue models offered by the F2P movement will show publishers that you need not replicate Game A to succeed. I’m hoping that LotRO and EQ2, and even Global Agenda, have a good measure of success in their “free” ventures, because then I believe we’ll see the suits start to realize that variety is the spice of life.
Of course the cynic in me says that may never happen. But as long as every so often we get a game changer, and it does happen, I’ll have to be happy.
1.) The Games Can Survive Longer
This is the most obvious benefit. It’s become commonplace to watch a game launch in today’s post-WoW climate, watch it stumble, and then watch it have its plug pulled because too much import was placed on a (now becoming outdated) subscription model. I suppose it doesn’t always follow that just because a game goes F2P it’ll become a better success. But what I do hope is that instead of just pulling the plug on games that are underperforming in the future, we’ll see more developers/publishers at least extend the life of their creative works by trying a different revenue model. One need only to look at the success of the DDO Unlimited re-launch to see that sometimes all it takes is a fresh approach to an old problem.