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The Free Zone: Are You an MMOG Snob?

Column By Richard Aihoshi on February 22, 2010

I wonder how many times I've seen people make absolute statements to the effect that "I'll never play a free to play game." And how often will this actually prove to be so? The last time I checked, never was a very long time. It's easy enough to believe things like "I'll never murder anyone", "I'll never be in favor of gay marriage" and "I'll never support abortion on demand". Such declarations are likely to be based on deeply held societal, group or personal values that aren't likely to change.

You can call me a faithless unbeliever if you like, but somehow, I can't give never playing a F2P anywhere near the same degree of credibility. Instead, I might compare it to never eating escargot or sushi. I think most people are sincere when they say rule out the possibility, but my expectation is that eventually, the majority will partake at least once. A fair number will even enjoy the experience and repeat it.

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So, when I read or hear these unequivocal pronouncements, they can come across as being snobbish. Not all of them by any means, since it does depend on the context. However, it's not especially unusual to see some that can be interpreted as putting on airs or making a presumption of superiority. They seem to imply that F2P players are inferior or second-rate in some manner. It's as if they don't have enough sense to choose subscription, or that they fall short of attaining the ultimate level of MMOG l33tness. Of course, if we continue along this line of *ahem* thinking, the next extension is that the writer or speaker is among the smarter and/or the l33t.

There are also times when I can't help but wonder if such convictions contribute to or even underlie the intensity with which some people object to item sales. The apparent basis is usually the presumption that developing your character by spending more time playing it is the good, right and natural order of the universe. That would mean anything else is somehow less worthy, even outright wrong.

This often manifests itself in reiterations of the old and increasingly tired "I can't compete unless I spend money" argument. So... what's your point? If you find certain games are like that and it doesn't sit right with you, simply avoid them. But honestly, does doing so mean you're a better gamer, or a smarter one? Or does it make you an MMOG snob?

Looking at a broader picture, there are also other ways you can be one. A fair number actually, and most have little or nothing to do with business models. For instance, there's the "I've played every MMOG" snob. This position has absolutely zero credibility. In order for it to be true, a person would have to have tried not just the hundreds that are available in English, but many more that are not. Even if we ignore the latter, it's still not believable.

Speaking of ignoring things, this can be reflected in another type of snobbishness. It's difficult if not impossible to deny the existence of a fairly common presumption here in North America that the US is the world's largest and most important MMOG market. I truly don't know why it's apparently so important for some people to believe this. If it's true, it doesn't change me in any way, either for the better or the worse. So I simply don't care, which means I'm willing to consider other possibilities.

Numerically, there's no doubt China is the world's largest market; more people there play MMOGs than in the US or anywhere else. This has been so for at least two or three years. I can hear the hue and cry already - "but that's just because of the population". Again, what's your point? The US is a bigger market than say Canada because it has a larger population. Why is that perfectly fine while China being larger somehow isn't? Also, if we take a closer look, China had more MMOG players before its internet user base surpassed that of the US, which only happened last year.

"Okay, but the US is still far larger in dollars." Umm, maybe not. The available research is limited and not necessarily conclusive, but it's quite possible China attained the highest value in 2009. If not, it's a pretty much a slam dunk to occur this year due to the sizable disparity between the two countries' projected market growth rates.

I expect some people will immediately dismiss this with no basis except that they don't want to believe it. Like it or not, that means they're MMOG snobs. Thankfully, I'm confident most people who read this column are more open-minded.

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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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