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The Free Zone: Can So Many F2P Gamers Really Be Wrong?

Column By Richard Aihoshi on March 11, 2014

If there's a truly accurate figure available for the total number of people who currently play F2P MMOGs, I'd love to know what it is. That said, it seems pretty safe to think it's in the tens of millions. Indeed, even higher isn't out of the question. So, whenever I see yet another statement to the effect that (almost) every offering in the entire category is bad, I can't help but ask whether their players agree. Invariably, my answer is that they don't.

I don't play any game that I consider bad - not voluntarily anyway, and thankfully, it has been quite a few years since I was last obliged to do so for an assignment. Sure, I've tried some that did absolutely nothing for me, as well as others I disliked. But did I continue after the first half hour, hour or maybe a few at most? No way.

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It follows that when I keep on playing, the game in question must be, in my opinion, good - or to be more precise, good enough for me to continue. Does it matter to me if reviewers and/or other gamers have roundly panned it? Or praised it to the skies? Not much if at all. The proof of my pudding is in my eating it, or not. And whether I do that involves my personal preferences and standards, no one else's.

Flipping this around, who am I to tell people that a game they choose to play is good or bad? I can and do judge for myself, and they're perfectly capable of doing so for themselves. My evaluation is right of course, but only for me. So, if they feel a title I'm not fond of in the least is good enough for them to continue playing, it doesn't mean their assessment is off base, only that, due to our differing personal preferences and standards, we happen to disagree.

Getting back to the many millions who choose to play F2P MMOGs, I make what seems to me a straightforward assumption, that each title's users regard it as good. If not, there are plenty of other choices and the barriers to movement are pretty low, so they have little reason to stick with something they consider bad. What's more, they know their respective games much better than I do, which means their assessments are more informed than mine. 

So, are all those F2P gamers wrong whenever they happen to disagree with me? They're not, no matter how much I  might like it if everyone in the world were to concur with my views. Each of them has his or her own individual and undeniably valid opinion. This isn't the type of situation that requires reaching any degree of consensus, or where the majority rules. I'm right for me. They're also right for them.

Accordingly, what would be the point if I were to declare that an entire category made up of hundreds of games is bad? How credible would I be anyway? Is it even remotely reasonable to think I'd spend thousands of discretionary hours playing games I don't like? Or am I some kind of savant who can learn enough in a few minutes, maybe even just by watching, to make judgments not only for myself, but for others? The answers are, of course, no and no. 

Don't get me wrong; I'm not defending the F2P MMOG category here by implying that it's entirely comprised of titles I'd rate - if only for myself - as good. Among the hundreds I've played long enough to form at least a partially informed initial opinion, I've certainly seen my share of duds. Rather, what I am saying is this. Make up your own mind on a game by game basis. Accept that opinions will differ, and also that those with which we disagree aren't wrong in any absolute sense.

In addition, don't take this to mean that I feel you should completely ignore other perspectives. In this regard, I just encourage you to consider the sources. In my case, I put muchmuch  more weight on what I learn from people - be they friends, guildmates, reviewers or whatever - when I know their tastes are close to my own.

And an intriguing rumor

There has been buzz recently to the effect that Alibaba Group is about to purchase parts of Shanda including the games division. In case you haven't heard of the former, think of it as China's closest equivalent to Amazon. It's that country's e-commerce giant. Still privately held, it's expected to IPO this year. Most estimates suggest the company will raise $10 to $15 billion, and that its full value is $60 to $100 million. To put this in perspective, Twitter raised $1.8 billion, and its current market capitalization is just over $29 billion.

Taking over Shanda Games would mean entering into direct competition with a familiar name in this column, Tencent. What's more, assuming the IPO goes ahead anywhere near the stated range, Alibaba will have plenty of money to fund any growth goals it may have within the burgeoning Chinese games market. And beyond that, could the fact that Yahoo owns nearly a quarter of the company help smooth its entry into North America, Europe et al?


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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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