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Contributors: BillMurphy,MikeB,garrett,SBFord,Grakulen,

The Rise (and potential fall) of F2P

Posted by BillMurphy Tuesday February 23 2010 at 4:45PM
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I’ve been playing a lot of the recently “soft-launched” Allods Online this week, as I assume a lot of folks have. Sure enough it’s very much like most games that came before it, and sure enough the proposed prices for items in the game’s Item Shop are ludicrous to the point of launching a tirade of epic proportions across the blogosphere, but at the heart of it all lies a very engaging game that I can’t seem to stop playing even while Mass Effect 2 beckons me from my desktop. Allods is a quality game judging by my first hours spent in Astrum Nival’s world, and it’s just the latest title to come along and challenge the notion of “free = crap”.

Of course the argument could be made that with an item shop in place, the game’s not actually free, but the game itself is free to download and enjoy and that’s good enough for me. So let’s put the revenue models and the price-points of F2P games on the backburner for now and instead talk about how what was once a trend reserved for barely passable Asian imports is now a movement belonging to a slew of particularly enjoyable titles.

Runes of Magic came out of left field last year to surprise gamers with a highly playable theme-park experience akin to Blizzard’s World of Wacraft. Dismissed by skeptics initially, the quality of play eventually earned Frogster’s game a space right alongside some of the more regaled titles in the industry today. Sony’s FreeRealms is a similar case of a developer really crafting an engaging and unique experience for minimal initial cost. Not really a traditional MMO experience, players can do everything from race go-karts to deliver mail while still saving room for grander combat centric quests. The argument could be made that for the price of “free’ you get more game from FreeRealms than you do most retail offerings.

Alongside FreeRealms, SOE’s even toying with the idea of making their spy-centric MMO “The Agency” free to play when it finally launches later this year. A hybrid shooter/MMORPG, The Agency is decidedly more hardcore than FreeRealms, and will likely make use of RMT to drive revenue for the developer. As long as said micro-transactions don’t too heavily influence the game’s PvP I can’t imagine many gamers will complain of being able to play James Bond or Jason Bourne for cheap.

Wizard101 also came out last year to low expectations and proceeded to win over parents and kids alike with an engaging (and family-friendly) story, an addictive card-based battle system, and plenty of content and mini-games to boot. Of course with W101, players must eventually pay a subscription to access all the game’s content, but at ten bucks a month, it’s also decidedly cheaper than other games in the genre.

And need we forget about Turbine’s Dungeons and Dragons Online? Here was a game on the brink of extinction that has seen new life by changing their revenue model from subscription to F2P. More importantly, Turbine did F2P right. Prices are reasonable, you get a good amount of content for your money, and if you want some real perks you can even subscribe monthly for additional benefits.

And while we see a rise in quality for these free offerings on the market, there has to be money made somewhere, right? And that’s where the problems set in, as we’ve seen this week with Allods PR struggles. What’s strange about Allods is that it’s such a quality game players have been stating left and right that they’d gladly offer up a subscription to enjoy it. And then the initial “Open Beta” prices for the gPotato store were released and all hell broke loose. Fans started doing the math and finding that with their gaming habits they’d wind up spending over a hundred dollars a month to enjoy the raiding and other features of Allods. Something’s most definitely afoot, and the company is clearly reading feedback to hopefully readjust their pricing to something more palatable.

It’s obvious from the buzz around the internet that people are enjoying the game, and that they want to pay something for it, but they’d also like to afford food and shelter (though maybe not healthcare as it’s become far too costly anyway). As the F2P model rises in the West, the real trick for developers and publishers is to find that sweet spot of what the player sees as a good deal, and what actually means sustainable and profitable to the company.

It’s fantastic that the quality of free games has gotten to the point where I can think of Allods and Runes of Magic right alongside some of the industry’s heavy-hitters. After years of subpar imports, I never thought I’d see the day. But I’ll just as soon go back to games that allow me unlimited access for a low monthly fee if you’re going to make me apply for a second mortgage to enjoy my “free” game.

Holgranth writes:

The problem is that "free" games are intent on bilking as much as they can out of as many people as possible. I support subcription based games because I can play them with exactly the same advatages and disadvantages as everyone else for a low price.

Wed Feb 24 2010 9:06AM Report
PortiaBell writes:

 I think it took developers way too long to see the potential of F2P games. I've been playing them for years (yes, even some of the crappier of imports) and the one thing that absolutely rang true in almost every one: people spent more money in those games than in any P2P model. In a high end guild, you may get 1-2 players out of 50-90 that do not pay anything but know the economy well enough to get what they want. But the majority of the high end players payed at least $30-$50 a month (on a very low month) to get the best and the greatest.

The problem was that games would be built to make F2P grind like crazy to get high level and offer items in the cash shop that would adjust that grinding to a normal degree once purchased and used. 

And then there is the issue with girls. If you have outfits/dyes/pets you will see a lot of us girls playing that game and even moreso, spending money. Out of all the F2P games I've played, most of them had easily 50/50 male to female ratio and the girls spent more money than I thought sane on the games.

I can guarantee that, like Bill says, if they find that sweet spot, the future models of MMO's will be a combination of F2P/P2P where the game itself is free, but to get the most out of the game you can play an "unlimited" mode for a lowered subscription cost - along with the ability to buy customization items in the cash shop still. 

I gladly will play any of such game with that type of model because it will allow me to choose how much I want to spend and how much I want to get out of the game. Some of us think our time is worth more and will pay a few extra bucks to shorten a level or farm less. Some of us just love cute outfits ( me ). Either way, I want the choice to decide on my own.

Wed Feb 24 2010 4:56PM Report
trancejeremy writes:

This is how f2p games have always worked , you just never noticed

Wed Feb 24 2010 7:46PM Report
Annwyn writes:

The F2P model will not fall for the mistake of a greedy company. There are several company that clearly understand how the F2P market should work (such as Nexon) who holds 2 very succesful games :MapleStory with over 92 millions accounts worldwide and Mabinogi with over 2 millions accounts worldwide. 

MapleStory offers fluff items and XP potions. Mabinogi offers Fluff items and other conveniance items that players can sell to other players using in-game currency (with the exception of pets and mounts which are sold at fair price)

One of the latest release from Nexon (Dungeon Fighter) also allows players to sell those Avatar Items to other players using in-game currency (these are powerfull gear sold in Item Shop), allowing non-cash users to gain access to almost the same content as cash shop users without paying a dime.

And Nexon is just an exemple. The mistake of gPotato only strenghtened the belief of "F2P naysayers" but never hurted the F2P market as a whole and rather simply hurted the credibility of gPotato.

Wed Feb 24 2010 8:21PM Report
UnsungToo writes:

You lost me when you said let's put price points and revenues on the back burner, and then the first thing you did was talk about price points and revenues.

Wed Feb 24 2010 10:33PM Report writes:
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