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F2P Isn't a Charity

Michael Bitton Posted:
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Free-to-Play isn’t a charity. I realize this is obvious to most of you reading this today, but there appears to be a subset of MMO gamers who look at Free-to-Play games with a sense of entitlement that honestly bewilders me. I’ve been reading commentary along these lines for a variety of games for quite a while now, and while it’s been grinding my gears to some extent, it’s finally come to a head with the recent release of Gazillion Entertainment’s new F2P MMOARPG (yep, that’s a mouthful!), Marvel Heroes.

For the uninitiated, Marvel Heroes is a Diablo-style action RPG with an MMO twist. Players can select from one of five completely free starter heroes and will be granted two additional (randomly selected) heroes from the starting lineup over the course of the game’s story content. The entirety of the content is free, by the way. You aren’t blocked from anything and there aren’t cheeky little restrictions on game features or game design that make you reliant on the cash shop.  There are heroes available outside of the free starter heroes--16 other heroes, to be exact--but if you want them you’ll either have to pony up some cash (anywhere from $6 to $20 each)  or find them as drops in the game. There are also convenience features, such as additional STASH (bank) tabs, experience boosts, and other typical F2P fare, but nothing remotely outlandish.

Despite all this, just like many other F2P games, Marvel Heroes can’t catch a break from some folks and I’m finding the outrage to be the best example I’ve seen in some time of this subset of MMO gamers blowing things way out of proportion. I personally don’t mind dropping down some cash on a game I enjoy, but this notion that what Gazillion does offer for pay (particularly heroes and costumes) are overpriced borders on ridiculous to me. 

The folks at Gazillion pretty much bent over backwards to give gamers ample opportunities to pick up their favorite heroes either individually or bundled together on the run-up to launch and these packs or bundles included half or more of their total cost in bonus cash shop currency as well as skins and bank tabs for each hero available in their respective pack. But most importantly of all, heroes, costumes, and even other cash shop consumables can be found as drops in the game. Heck, you can even put together gear sets with +special item find, the statistic that governs boosting your chances at finding just these sorts of drops. A friend of mine just started playing today and found Deadpool (one of the three $20 characters) within his first half-hour of play without dropping a penny on the game.

I’ve seen everything from heroes should be free because Marvel Heroes is essentially just an advertisement vehicle for Disney and their upcoming film properties to comparisons to League of Legends’ pricing scheme. I’m not going to entertain the former, but as an avid fan of LoL, I find the negative comparison between LoL and Marvel Heroes somewhat amusing. You can pick up a champion in League of Legends for anywhere from 260 RP (Riot Points) to 975 RP. 650 RP (the lowest amount you can purchase) will set you back five dollars, so you’re basically looking at a five to ten dollar proposition for any of the game’s available champions. Like Marvel Heroes, you can also unlock these characters by playing the game. Sure, a couple of characters are more expensive than your average League of Legends champion, but I think people may forget that LoL characters mostly come with a meager set of four abilities, while Marvel Heroes characters come with a full suite of 15+ skills and  progression. It’s almost an apples and oranges level comparison.

The point in all this is that it takes money to actually create and support these games, especially for a smaller studio like Gazillion. None of this sort of complaining is unique to Marvel Heroes, of course, but it just continues to grind my gears that there are some players that don’t seem to understand that while these games are free – they are still a product and a business. Yes, they want to make money off of you. This isn’t a secret, nor is it insidious. 

Free-to-Play doesn’t mean that everything is completely free or dirt cheap or that offering things like consumable respec devices or additional bank tabs are a ‘cash grab’. In some cases, things are overpriced, but you also have to look at the game as a whole. If you had to buy a box and pay for access to a variety of the game’s features, then yes, charging anywhere from $6 to $20 for a single character class might be much. But when you’re given three characters and all content and game features are free? Where’s the return-on-investment supposed to come from?

It’s all a matter of convenience and options. If you’re strapped for cash, but you’ve got lots of time, feel free to farm for the heroes, costumes, or other consumables that you want. Otherwise, you can drop a couple of bucks in the cash shop and get your instant gratification.

I personally know people who will drop $30 in a single day on two Steam games out of sheer boredom for a day’s worth of entertainment, but then balk at the notion of paying $12 for the one character they want to play in Marvel Heroes just because the game is F2P. This is a character they may end up playing for dozens or maybe even hundreds of hours. This value disconnect that appears to be so prevalent seems especially unique to MMOs and it truly puzzles me.

Frankly, Gazillion has given players many ways to sort themselves out while offering up a completely free game and let’s not forget that there will be sales, too. There are certainly games out there that really stretch the boundaries of what should be acceptable for Free-to-Play, such as the launch version of Allods Online, or more recently, perhaps Neverwinter, but Marvel Heroes isn’t one of them.  If you really feel like you’re being bent over by a developer on something, go ahead and make your voice heard with your wallet and even let them know by posting about it. However, before you do that, try and take a step back and look at the whole situation and understand that these games are still a business in the end and they would not exist or be available for free if there were no way to actually make a profit on them.

Agree? Disagree? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!

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Michael Bitton

Michael Bitton / Michael began his career at the WarCry Network in 2005 as the site manager for several different WarCry fansite portals. In 2008, Michael worked for the startup magazine Massive Gamer as a columnist and online news editor. In June of 2009, Michael joined MMORPG.com as the site's Community Manager. Follow him on Twitter @eMikeB