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Richard Aihoshi: F2P Isn't A Dirty Word

For some "free to play" is a dirty word. In this week's column, Aihoshi explains why he doesn't believe that is fair.

Knee jerking in unison is one of the reactions I'm used to seeing when I talk about the free to play MMOG category in a manner that isn't derogatory. So it came as no surprise that some of the posts in the discussion following my column last week were like that. You may know the kind from seeing them there or elsewhere. They basically say F2Ps suck while providing no real basis to support simultaneously tarring hundreds of diverse titles with the same proverbial brush. Some say they've tried a couple, but others...

These people are, of course, entitled to have and to express opinions that diverge from my own. Indeed, I've taken part in many sessions that were highly enjoyable because they involved looking into and even vigorously debating differing points of view. But I've never truly understood the kind of knee-jerk reactions that often happen in the F2P area, and that do nothing to promote constructive, thoughtful, interesting exchanges. So, I'd like to set a couple of things straight about some of the ways people react.

One is that when I point out what I consider positive things about the F2P category, express optimism about specific titles or state that certain ones have caught my interest, it doesn't constitute an attack on subscription games, never mind the entire fee-based business model. Because of this, I just don't understand why some people react in a way that seems so defensive.

Me: "There are more interesting F2P titles out there all the time."

Self-Appointed Defender of Subscription: "F2Ps suck."

Well, that's quite a sweeping statement, even after you take into account that I've somewhat stereotyped it for effect. So, since it is my column, I thought I'd look into it a little further - in a purely hypothetical way, of course.

Me: "Have you tried them?"

SADS: "Yeah. They suck"

"You tried all of them? And they all suck?"

"I tried enough to know they suck."

"How many is enough?"

"They suck."

"How many have you played?"

"They suck."

"How much did you play them?"

"Not long. They sucked."

I'm sure you get the idea. SADS made a pretentious pronouncement on a topic about which he or she has limited knowledge. What I don't understand is why anyone would do that, especially to defend something I never attacked.

Another reaction I'd like to address is the misconception some people have that F2P is the coming thing. Implicit in this is the assumption subscription is the current thing. Well, that's simply not true. While the fee-based model isn't about to disappear any time soon, there isn't a shred of doubt that globally, more people play F2Ps. Lots more.

SADS: "Yeah, okay. But they're all in China."

No, they're not. It's pretty difficult to find market numbers for North America that I'd be willing to quote with real confidence. However, here's something else I can say with absolute certainty. There are millions of F2P players in this region. I don't know if they outnumber their subscription counterparts, but neither am I willing to I rule out such a possibility. What's more, if they don't now, I expect they will before too much longer.

And what if they were all in China? Do players there somehow count for less? Numerically, it's the world's largest market by far, and if it's not already the leader in terms of overall revenue, it's catching up very quickly.

The third thing I want to state explicitly is that I don't believe F2P is the be-all and end-all. It's just a revenue model, neither superior nor inferior on its own right. It happens to be working very well in the MMO space at this time, well enough to have taken the leadership rank in the global market away from subscription. But that's not to say something else won't come along to supplant it. I don't see anything right now that looks like an especially good candidate, but other approaches are being used. An example is free to try, where only certain areas are available to all, or non-paying players have a much lower level cap.

And the last sub-topic for this week is that I've never said anyone has to try F2Ps. If you're happy paying monthly fees and don't wish to consider the large majority of games because they use a different revenue scheme, that's clearly your prerogative. Actually, I suggest you don't even look at them unless you can do so with an open mind. Just remember that by auto-eliminating them from consideration, you might just be doing yourself a disservice by missing something that you'd enjoy for years.

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The Free Zone
Richard Aihoshi has been writing about MMOGs since the mid-1990s, always with a global perspective. As a result, he has observed the emergence and growth of the free to play business model from its early days in both hemispheres.

He is the former Editor of RPG Vault and his column, focusing on free to play MMOs, appears on MMORPG.com every Monday.
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