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A Thought about F2P

Posted by Stradden_bak Friday July 17 2009 at 10:01AM
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The idea of microtransactions as a way of life has been gaining traction in the world of MMORPGs, and as much as some of us would like to hide our heads in the sand ostrich-style, the pesky things keep on edging forward, looming on an ever tightening horizon, threatening to overtake our precious and familiar subscription model.

Now, that might be over-dramatizing things just a little bit, but with the recent Turbine announcement that DDO would be going the way of the item shop, and Cryptic’s recent revelation that microtransactions will be available in their upcoming release of Champions Online, the call of the item shop is getting harder and harder to ignore.

Now, I’m going to start this by saying that I’m not an expert in either finances in general or microtransactions as a phenomenon. We have other people for that. I will say though that whenever the topic comes up, I am reminded of something that a F2P game developer said to me at one of last year’s trade shows:

I had asked what the advantage was to having a microtransaction based game as opposed to the traditional subscription based game. At least with a subscription, I assumed, you’d be making money from every player in the game. Free players, those who don’t buy from the item shop, were to my mind just a drain on resources.

The answer I got to this stuck with me and got me thinking. He said that there are a number of ways to look at it, but that in the end, the players who aren’t paying anything are still playing the game, meaning that they’re providing “content” for paying players. These free playing players keep the game world from ever feeling dead to players.

Looking at MMO launches over the last few years, with few exceptions, this has been a complaint that I’ve heard over and over again: “The servers are dead”. When server population starts to dwindle, so too do subscription numbers as even those who enjoyed the game enough to stick with it and keep paying for it after launch begin to feel isolated. So why then, based on that alone, would companies not want to at least consider a free element to their games? From a business standpoint, it just makes sense.

So, with that in mind, what is it that makes so many of us turn our noses up at the very notion that microtransactions might one day (and sooner than we’d like to admit) become the dominant business models for MMOs? I think that there are lots of reasons:

  • We don’t want to see people ‘buy their way to the top” of any game. We see enough of that in our every day lives.
  • We’re afraid that games will start to be designed to suck as much money out of us as possible rather than to entertain us.
  • We think that while our $15 a month is reasonable, we’re going to have to pay way more than that to get the same level of service we got in a subscription based game
  • We worry that a quick trip to the item shop will replace a tough run through a raid in terms of getting gear.
  • We carry over a stereotype about F2P games being of low quality
  • We don’t like the idea of change unless we see a clear benefit

These are just a few of the reasons that I see, I’m sure I missed a bunch, and until some or all of these concerns are put to rest through experiencing this business model, there will continue to be resistance to the change from plays who just don’t think it’s a good idea.

Now, since I’m talking about microtransactions and I have a bit of space left, I have a bit of a rant to make:

Part of the problem with Free 2 Play games is that the industry and players alike KEEP CALLING THEM FREE 2 PLAY GAMES. They’re not free to play. Sure, there are free elements to the game, but they’re based on an item shop or microtransactions revenue model. Free 2 Play implies that you can get the game, the whole game, without paying any money and that just isn’t true. At best, it’s misleading and at worst, it’s actually contributing to the subconscious feeling of being somehow scammed when we hear about a F2P game.