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RedRaven's Roost

A traveler, nomad, warrior, wizard, priest, and sometimes thief winding my way through virtual world after world. Hopefully, someday, I'll find peace; either through reaching Nirvana or death. Or maybe some double chocolate cheesecake.

Author: Cor4x

F2P Games Are Bad or How to Pay Someone to Kick You

Posted by Cor4x Sunday February 21 2010 at 11:15AM
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There are so many ways that F2P games are horrible for both the player and the MMORPG genre, it will be difficult to explain them all in this short report. I’m certain that I haven’t seen all of the tricks, but I’ve seen more than a few.

A F2P game is one that is “free to play” but creates a revenue stream by incentivizing real money transactions to purchase virtual goods and services.

This type of game (model) is contrasted with P2P games, which charge a set monthly fee and provide a standard set of content.

F2P is short for “Free to Play” and P2P is short for “Pay to Play”.

Both at some point provide additional content. The majority of the time this is a paid edition and is a single fee.

The reason why *ALL* F2P games are bad for the player is simple: their model revolves around making your game experience painful. While a P2P game’s income is fixed, a F2P game tries to shill as much money from you as fast as possible.

The ways to rip you, the player, off are endless. I will go through a few (twenty common)  ways so at least you can see how F2P companies are picking you up and shaking lunch money out of your pockets like the bully in High School.

Method 1: Shrink your inventory & bank slots. This is an easy one. In standard MMORPGs, the standard kill-loot-sell mechanism is well ingrained and enjoyable. However, F2Pers can create an artificial scarcity by making the starting inventory so small that it forces you to buy (or RENT in the case of Runes of Magic!) additional slots to complete your character. These are usually increasingly expensive.

Games that do this ordinarily do not have droppable bags in the game. If they do, it takes ridiculous hours of play to get them until it isn’t worth it. This is so they can lie and say that “everything that is in the cash shop is available in game”. Don’t ever believe this. It is a lie.

As for bank slots, the same thing applies except bank slots aren’t available as droppable items anyway. The worst of the worst (Runes of Magic, I’m looking at you) RENT bank slots and bags. In essence, they’re creating a subscription fee by causing you anguish.

Method 2: Super-Double-Sword + 2! This is another easy one. Just create equipment that is better than anything you can find in the game. This one works especially well because equipment goes out of date, so they can charge you again and again and again. If you don’t pay for the special equipment (and it usually looks cool as they make the standard equipment purposely ugly), the “elites” that do will shun you.

Additionally, they simply make the standard game balanced for the cash shop equipment. If you don’t buy it, you’re in a hurt locker as you will be constantly underpowered.

In essence, you have to pay to “uncripple” your character.

Method 2 is usually used in Asian games as Westerners feel paying for equipment is essentially cheating. Western games have tried these models and received significant pushback. For example: Free Realms and Wizard 101 initially had these kinds of items, but removed them on player outcry.

Some games increase the appeal of these items by allowing you to trade them to other characters on your account. Some make you pay for the privilege. Lands of Hope is one. Others won’t allow you to trade these items at all.

Method 3: Bric-A-Brac. This is as high a road as F2P games take. Some P2P games have begun trying to sneak revenue in by doing some of this as well.

Method 3 attempts to sell you decorative stuff, be it clothes, sparklies for your weapons, junk for your house, emotes, or non-combat pets. Sometimes the cost on these items can be substantial. Runes of Magic, as usual, is the greatest rip-off and has you RENT non-combat pets.

Generally, companies that try this method realize that very few people buy vanity items. People do buy them, but in very small quantities. This leads them to the other methods of “revenue enhancement” and to the dark side. All, and I repeat, all F2P companies are going to or have done this. It is inevitable.

It is my opinion that some companies actively lie about only using Method 3 until the player base becomes established only to flip-flop and immediately begin ripping off the player base as soon as possible.

Method 4: Bric-A-Brac +5. Along with providing some decorative benefit, some companies (yes Runes of Magic for the win again) provide additional benefits. In some cases they increase storage or provide extra experience for logging out in the home. Some pets provide run speed or other buffs as well; although these are usually minor in Western games.

For instance: Runes of Magic provides furniture that allows additional storage of items in virtual housing. This is particularly desirable because of outrageous policies outlined in Method 1. You can only constantly pay for extra bag space and bank space. If you don’t pay, you lose access to those items. What a rip-off!

Method 5: Experience Potions/Scrolls/Orbs. These are an easy rip-off as well. Everyone wants to level up faster, so experience modifiers are an easy sell. The way companies rip you off on these are plenty:

They adjust the experience point curve so normal leveling is so painful that you either get bored and quit (which they want you to do if you aren’t buying anything) or you buy their potions.

In addition, if you do buy the potions, they can always slowly turn down the experience point benefit to get you to buy more and more potions. You won’t notice a 0.3% or 0.5% decrease in experience gain with each potion you buy; you’ll just think that the levels require more experience. And you’ll buy more potions.

Also, they can lower the duration. You won’t, again, notice them removing a few seconds here and there.

In addition, they can use the tricks P2P games use for extending content: They can incentivize you to run back and forth to the merchant, as most F2P games cripple your inventory. If you are running, you aren’t gaining experience and that potion isn’t doing you any good. You can choose to avoid loot, but that digs you into another hole.

Most F2P games cripple mob experience to make you use only Quest experience. These are the worst games to by time-limited items such as buffs as they have the lowest-per-hour experience gain available and require the most travel while being able to create artificial bottlenecks by not spawning enough quest mobs.

So, Experience items, unless they’re permanent, are always rip-offs and should be avoided. Most games, as I have mentioned previously, are out to make your life miserable. So in this, you are against the F2P company. They hold all the cards.

Method 6: Healing potions. Healing potions, like Experience potions are always a rip-off and should be avoided.

However, as with experience potions, companies have many ways to make your life miserable: They can simply balance the mobs to assume you are using healing potions. If you don’t, you get killed a lot and suffer whatever death penalty they have in place. Additionally, you probably can’t complete some quests without help while health potion users kill the mob and go on.

Either way, you’re going to be crippled unless you shell out more money.

A particularly evil F2P company, whose name I won’t mention out of courtesy, peeks in your inventory to see if you have bought healing potions. If you do, the mob critical hits against you with slightly greater frequency and slows down damage when you’re at 10% health. Most players pop a healing potion around then, so they can leech more dollars from your pocket. They get you coming and going. A player has no way to avoid these scams or even see them.

Finally, there are some time-based scams that I will cover later in another method.

Method 7: Buying Gold. Oh man. Buying gold is a rip-off from hell.

This one is probably the easiest scam available to F2P companies. Anytime you see game currency for sale in the item shop you know the game is a rip-off.

For starters, they make gold overly scarce in the game and charge an exorbitant rate for merchant items. This will force the players into un-fun grinds or shelling out dollars to perform standard game functions (such as travel).

Secondly, they can simply look to see if you’ve bought gold and make the mobs drop slightly less. If you’re willing to buy it once, you’re probably sucker enough to buy again.

And finally, they can create ways to remove money from you both ways: they damage your equipment. If you don’t repair it, it either breaks or becomes useless. The price for doing this removes gold from the game. It can be, but probably isn’t, adjusted like the gold drop rate. Creating pain for people that don’t buy gold encourages them to leave. Additionally, repairing equipment creates an artificial time-sink that eats up buff or healing potion time.

Which brings us to Method 8: Buff Potions/Scrolls/Orbs. Buffs are beneficial effects that have a temporary window of effect. These are great for beating dollars out of you because there can be multiple buffs you wish to have. These are usually cheaper than healing potions & experience potions.

However, the same rip-offs that work with healing potions and experience potions work here. They balance the game to assume you are running a certain set of buff potions.

Generally, these effects are removed when you die. Way to “revenue enhance”? Just make sure the mobs critically hit in strings to kill you once in a while if you’re wearing the buff or buffs. You won’t notice, but you will use another potion.

If you don’t use the potions, then the same scrape-effect applies as it does in Method 6: You will likely leave you free-loading scum!

Method 9: Mounts. Mounts are easy as most players really want them. Faster movement equals faster leveling and greater access to scarce resources or mobs.

Most games provide either no mount or a crippled mount outside the cash shop. The way to rip players off with the cash shop is to provide a sliding cost-reward scale.

For instance: I have 3 mounts: $5 for a 5% movement increase, $10 for a 10% movement increase, and $25 for a 25% movement increase. (Realms of Magic, again, takes the grafter lead by both RENTING and selling permanent mounts.) Which mount do you think most players will buy? The $25 one of course. Now, bear in mind the different mounts are no additional cost to the F2P company, they can just shill more money from you.

Also, they can make certain that the distances between the mobs and towns (where you pick up quests, repair, and so on) are so long compared to run speed, that you will either cripple your leveling, go mad watching your toon run and run and run, or you will buy a mount. They win, you lose.

Method 10: Insta-travel items. As Method 9 above, most of the same applies here, except most insta-travel items are single use. They usually sell these in multiples to hide how expensive they really are on a per-use basis.

How do they rip you off with these? *chuckle* They simply code the quests to require travel back and forth through the insta-travel areas. You want to run for several minutes each way and fight trash mobs or would you like to insert a quarter?

“Your pain or our gain!” says the F2P company.

Method 11: Short-circuit items. A short-circuit item is something that removes or lessens the amount of pointless clicking or dragging in some game mechanic.

For instance: If mining returned a single item for each node, a “super shiny pickaxe” might return 1-4. Or it might improve skill with each click instead of every 5 clicks.

Really, the potential for causing the players pain is unlimited. Require feeding their mount or get a feed bag item and forget about it. Find a static fire to cook on or use our handy portable stove. Click 6000 times (actual figure) to learn identification of items or buy our nifty $20 identifying glass. (This is a real item and cost.)

The only thing required is a wicked imagination and the willingness to rip you off. Any game mechanic can be abused in this manner with a little thought. You can either pay or not do that thing.

Remember, they have everything to gain and nothing to lose by making your experience as painful as possible. You will either pay them or go away. Either way they win!

Method 12: The rare item rip-off. This one is also an easy mechanic to rip players off with.

They simply code a desirable quest, item, or collection to require a rare drop. Then they make sure the mob or item to get that drop is contested and/or requires hours of grinding to get. Then they offer the item in the cash shop for “a modest fee”. Cha-ching! They win and they win.

Method 12 is especially prominent with heavy-crafting games.

Method 13: Bought blueprints. As a way to get around Western kickback to Method 2, the F2P ghouls implement a bought-only or so-rare-as-to-be-not-available blueprint that makes an item better than any other dropped item for the tier.

This is subject to the same abuse as Method 2, but generally doesn’t excite the masses as much. I guess the disconnect is too far for most people to understand they’re being ripped off.

Sometimes this blueprint is one-use-only and usually requires rare components which subjects the crafter to Method 12 for “additional revenue”. Usually they do not list the ingredients list when you’re buying the blueprint, so you have no way to know you will be paying extra unless you look it up on another game site.

Method 14: Death penalties and insurance. This Method is pretty much the same as Method 8, but in reverse. When a character dies, sometimes he is assigned a death penalty. Some game companies make this death penalty effectively remove the usefulness of the character or assign xp penalties which cost time.

To remove this, naturally, the kindly F2P ghouls provide a widget or potion that removes or guards against this penalty. It only lasts for 1 death.

Obviously, the oopsy-deathy method described in Method 8 could easily be exploited here. After they set the sucker-flag on your account, they can pretty much bet you’ll be a sucker again.

Due to the insult-to-injury that death penalties cause, this is a good money maker and one that causes severe irritation with the player base if it can’t be found or gotten during play.

Naturally, a game company will make sure that these items are scarce to intice the players to pay up.

Method 15: Lottery Tickets. These come in various forms but in general they are something that you buy that when activated returns an item or items. Some of the items returned can be very rare or valuable.

Obviously this is always a rip-off. The game company is in complete control of the odds and can modify them at a whim (such as lowering the chances with every ticket you buy or hold in your inventory). The player has no way to know what odds an item or items have for dropping and thus, outside of expensive charting, are not going to know the “value” of the item.

For instance: If a Super-sword +90 is $100 and a Magic Ticket is $1 but might drop a rare Super-sword +90, which one is the better deal? Without knowing, you might as well shell out for the Super-sword +90. If the F2P company is cheating, they can simply make sure the overall payout on Super-sword +90’s from tickets are ~1% minus the value of any other ticket-getting items that is. That is if they’re fair.

Lottery Tickets are always considered a rip-off.

Method 16: Along with Lottery tickets, we have the old Equipment Power-up Item. It can take various forms, but in essence, when applied to a weapon or armor, this item provides a permanent bonus to the item’s stats. It makes the item into a better item.

This is another way for Western F2P ghouls to get past resistance to Method 2. It is usually used at or near the endgame and is also usually very expensive.

They figure, if you’re still sucker-enough to be playing, you’ve invested hundreds if not a thousand or more dollars into this account. You’re going to want the best and you’ll pay for it.

Plus, for each additional equipment slot they can get you to buy another.

Some of these, for added comedy, have the chance to destroy your item when applied. If you guessed this has massive rip-off potential, then you’re learning.

Also, as explained later, they can make these items worthless or not as desirable again and again to fleece even more cash from you. Win to the bank!

Method 17: Equipment Enhancement Chance (Refinement) Gem: This is the nuclear option of rip-offs. This is the F2P equivalent of selling you the Brooklyn Bridge. EECGs are items that have a CHANCE when applied to an item to increase it to some point. It will usually destroy the item on a good roll.

They can generally be applied multiple times. This is to apply people’s greed vs. their own pocket book. Guess who wins 100% of the time? (Hint: It ain’t the player.)

Runes of Magic has refined this rip-off to a fine art. I have a hard time understanding how someone would be so stupid as to be ripped off by these, but people also still fall for the Nigerian 419 scams. P.T. Barnum was right.

Method 17 also lends itself well to PVP games. PVPers are like NASCAR drivers; any advantage at or near the top tier becomes overwhelming in morale or fact. All PVPers strive to have the absolute best gear.

Method 18: The Magic Window. A magic window is a marketing technique that plays off of standard psychology; people react when there is a perceived closing window of opportunity.

The scam works like this: On Friday morning they put out a “Sale on Healing Potions!” and they get a spike of sales on them.

However, they turn up whatever mechanism requiring you to use those items and use them up faster. If you don’t buy them, you suffer the standard psychological pain. If you do, you lose anyway. So they win and win.

Method 19: The Magic Carrot. A magic carrot is another marketing technique whereby an older uber-item is placed on sale juuuuust before they release a newer, more expensive item that is obviously better. This way, they can snake some additional money out of an old item they’re going to retire.

As an additional gambit, they can announce retirement of the item with no replacement and create a run on the item beforehand. Then, a week later, they can announce the new happy item.

More money for them, less for you. They win and win!

Finally, Method 20: The Games Workshop Staircase: Here I look at a technique not unique to F2P games, but heavily used nonetheless: packages of unlockable content for a price.

These are easy to exploit. First, you create some simple content with your development toolkit and existing artwork. Maybe you pay the artist to throw in a couple of new models.

Then you add a single benefit that is better than anything else at the content’s tier and a handful of useless items at the end of some annoying quests.

If the players don’t buy the upgrade, they short themselves the valuable content and cripple their characters in some way. The “elites” all go there to play immediately and exploit the new gear to race ahead. Either you pay or you’re in pain.

Additionally, they always turn up loot and experience rewards in the first couple of weeks to entice players to shell out while the iron’s hot. Naturally, competition for rewards usually brings rewards over time below what they would normally be!

As soon as the number of people buying the expansion drops to a dribble, fire up the content tools and spin out another droplet of content.

This time, as you know, this content has to be slightly better than the previous content to entice people to shell out. You use one of the handful of useless items in the previous module(s) and create an EVEN BETTER item by combining those (or requiring the first expansion’s item to start the quest in the second expansion). That way, you can ensure that people have to buy both expansions to have the good gear.

If you go ape with this, you can likely sluff off 6 or so on the populace per year. By the second year, buying your way to end game could cost over $400 or more. And, sadly, some idiots will pay it.

Really, all that is required is starting a quest in expansion 1 and leading it through 2 to 12. This requires you to have every expansion in the chain and at the end you get the best items in the game. Of course, the company has shook a huge amount of change out of your pockets in the process. Far more than a subscription would’ve cost.

As you can see, playing a F2P game is like playing a dice game where you send me money, I roll some dice on my end and tell you if you won. If you win, I’ll send you back double your money. Sound like a great idea?

In finishing, F2P games are always more expensive than the comparable P2P games for anyone interested in actually playing them as a hobby. MMORPGs are a very cheap hobby when a P2P game is played.

Almost everyone will spend more per month on a F2P game than a comparable P2P game or they won’t have as much fun. The F2P model requires they make your experience painful.

P2P games with item shops are so far of a rip-off, you should show up and burn down the building. You obviously shouldn’t play them. I can’t express how bad a deal those are. It is like paying for a Corvette and having them substitute a Fiat. With a coin slot.

F2P games are also usually filled with miscreant morons, griefers, scammers, and children. Since the game is free, you get the lowest common denominator in players. Far, far worse than WoW.

If your counter argument is: “I don’t have $14.95 per month to spend on a game!” My reasonable retort is: “If you can’t spare $14.95 PER MONTH, then you don’t need to be playing video games. You need to be working on your cash flow. You could be recycling aluminum for that much money.”

F2P games aren’t ever more entertaining than P2P games because the company has a vested interest in making you fork over dough constantly in order to play. They, in fact, hate you as the player.
You are, in fact, rewarding them for kicking you in the groin. Why?

F2P games have radically lower production values. Most of these games are built on the cheap with packaged graphics packages and/or physics engines. Some of them are turn-key systems with graphics pasted in.

F2P producers are only interested in making the cheapest game possible as this is just a front for scraping money from your pockets. Longevity in playing doesn’t mean much to them. Either you fork over the money to up your investment and thus keep playing no matter what or you quit. Either way they win.

Also, F2P games, because of the aforementioned asshats, cheap production, and expensive items, are targets for massive hordes of scammers.

This leads them to do the thing they do best: punish you yet more.

Most F2P games load layers of mal/cripple/crap/spyware on your PC in order to play. Have you played one? Chances are you have Star-force (malware that opens your PC up for a nice rootkit), gameguard (ditto), iesnare (spyware that tracks your unique machine ID and builds a profile about you with unknown amounts of possibly identifiable information that is stored in a huge database and sold / sent to anyone that pays. This one is absolutely against the law in at least one country and several states in the US.), lately panda media booster that is essentially a mini-zombie program that steals your bandwidth, or any of a thousand piss-poor, buggy, security wrecking, borderline illegal, sleeze-bag programs.

Some people tend to play down these security threats that are generally installed with no notice. Those are the people on forums whining about how their PCs won’t work because of a “virus” they can’t seem to find, their PCs won’t “go”, or how their identities or characters got stolen. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

How these people can be so blindly trusting is beyond me. It is like they’ve never been out of their parent’s basement.

Google any one of these.

As an example: I was going to try to play Allods online. I know it is F2P, but I at least wanted to see what it was like. The downloader required pando media booster, which uses your PCs bandwidth anytime it feels like it (from a remote connection controlled by them) to torrent whatever the end company feels like. They do this because of the on-the-cheap development and delivery costs. They want the cheapest way to make money possible and obviously don’t care how they do it.

I know you can uninstall it (and deal with the likely left over smudges in the system files), but it will probably require it when a new patch is available or they might just whine each time you start the game up.

In addition, they will install star force. Star Force has a page on their site about past class action and massive lawsuits against them. And for good reason. Their product is spyware and malware.

Again, this one is much harder to actually be sure you’ve removed. Further, your exposure to malicious tinkering is raised by allowing this to run on your system. It significantly weakens your security profile and allows what is essentially a rootkit (as it installs and uses kernel drivers to hide itself from the OS), depending on the version installed. (And no, you won’t know without doing some technical stuff if it has been installed or not or which version. By then, of course, it is too late.)

And thirdly, as a final wave of spyware, they install iesnare. This is a macromedia based (read extremely shady) piece of tracking software that generates a hash (supposedly) of your computer’s hardware to create an identifiable number and sends this off to a database. All without telling you anything. It uses macromedia tracking cookies to do this, which is also a shady practice. Look them up. You’ll be glad you did. (LSO’s or SuperCookies in case you’re unfamiliar with them.)

Whenever you log onto any of these F2P games or the oh-so-trustable online gambling sites, this thing tracks, records, and aggregates information to be sold. The reason that the F2P sites are using this is because lots of them were getting chargebacks and they want to stop that. The obvious remedy: install spyware on your PC.

Why in hell anyone would install or subject themselves to 3 separate security threats just to get kicked into giving them money is beyond me.

After looking at what they wanted to do to my PC and my privacy just to sign up to give them money, I opted with the sensible course of action and decided not to.

P2P games have no need to do this because their subscription model requires far fewer transactions and doesn’t really lend itself to much fraud. They also code their front ends to be much less invasive (read not-lawsuit or legally questionable friendly) to the end user.

So there is absolutely no reason to play a F2P game. They are a cheaply built, non-fun, sleazy, spyware-ridden morass. They are always more costly, less enjoyable, less balanced, and less polished than a comparable P2P server. The player base is always the lowest possible scum and orders of magnitude more contemptible than a comparable P2P server. They have an active incentive and the means to rip you off and you won’t know it. F2P gaming companies are generally disreputable to boot. You notice they never offer refunds no matter what. Ever wonder why?

If you are hell-bent on playing for free, why not go play on a free WoW server? Same customer service (or better, actually), less shilling for money, and less of a chance of spyware. In addition, people usually WANT players on their servers, so they will sort-of work to keep you there.

As for me, I will continue to observe F2P models in case they’re going to improve, but I doubt it. I will continue to play P2P games when I find them enjoyable.

If all P2P games go the way of the Dodo or put in item malls, I will just go do something else with my time. It is what I’m doing now anyway.

I know this might seem harsh, but F2P trash really doesn’t deserve any better and I got tired of repeating myself to friends and others about the ills of the F2P model.