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How to Critique Free to Play

Richard Aihoshi Posted:
Columns The Free Zone 0

There is no “one size fits all” business model that's best for the entire MMOG space. The key reason is simple; the audience isn't homogeneous. Furthermore, it's becoming increasingly less so as it continues to expand. As players, we don't all have the same values and preferences, which means we don't all want the same things. Indeed, each of us can even want different things at different times. I know I do - and depending how I happen to feel at any given moment, the best available fit can be an F2P, subscription or B2P offering.

Nonetheless, it's still not unusual to see criticism directed at F2P that doesn't take market segmentation into account. I'm not about to suggest that people aren't entitled to their opinions. That would be pretty disingenuous considering the nature of this column. However, I will say that I feel quite a number of the negative views I see aren't expressed effectively, at least not if the goal is to do more than just vent. If you're aiming beyond that, here are a few tips you may want to consider:

Don't pretend there's only one possible or reasonable point of view

Have you ever noticed how often politicians do this? In that field, where it's a pretty standard tactic, it's not really intended to change minds or even to foster open thinking. Rather, the main objective is to reinforce support among those who already share the opinion in question by polarizing the issue. So, the perspective being (over-)stated is presented as right or good, while any others are typically dismissed as completely without merit.

This approach tends to work considerably better when the other side is basically doing the same thing. However, this isn't really the case for MMOGs. As an admitted generalization, we don't see F2P players directing much negativity at any form of P2P. This can contribute to the anti-F2P camp looking closed-minded by comparison.

Furthermore, it's self-evident that many millions of people, both here in our region and around the world, are content to play F2P games. How likely is it that all of them were brainwashed and/or made uninformed choices? Isn't it far more probable that they simply made their own choices based on their individual preferences and values?

Don't over-generalize into reductio ad absurdum

In my mind, this is akin to the practice of polarization, and similarly ineffective. Basically, it involves presenting a severe example as typical, then attacking the entire category as if this were so. The most common example may be characterizing all F2P games as acutely pay to win. The truth of the matter is that among the hundreds of titles we can choose among, there's quite a broad range in terms of how much advantage paying players can gain.

What's more, let's say we accept the premise that all F2P releases are P2W *to some degree*. There's still what seems to me a rather significant question. Is said extent unacceptable? In this regard, the opinions of each title's non-paying players are the ones that truly count. It also seems reasonable to assume that those who haven't left weren't sufficiently put off to do so. I've experienced F2Ps where I felt it was possible to buy more advantage than I was willing to live with. But that was my *subjective* judgment, and thus only truly applicable to me. The non-paying players who opted to stay in those games weren't wrong. They merely had different values.

Get your facts straight

It's not particularly credible to present a position purportedly supported by either inaccurate data or none at all. Nonetheless, it's not hard to find examples. A fairly common one is alleging that F2P, while growing here in North America, still trails subscription by a meaningful margin in terms of market share. I'm unaware of any recent research findings or other evidence that would lead to such a conclusion. Wishing it were this way doesn't and won't make it so.

Another familiar example involves over-stating one's experience and/or knowledge. When you see someone claim to have played (nearly) every MMOG, what's your initial reaction? Do you immediately think it's obviously true and that you should therefor give the person's thoughts greater credibility, or is at least a small seed of doubt planted in your mind as to the likely accuracy of the individual's other statements?

There's also the matter of World of Warcraft's inaccurate subscriber count. In China, where the game launched using a business model in which users purchased blocks of hours that they could use whenever, Blizzard decided to define subscriber rather differently from the way I use the term. Anyone who logged in during a given month was counted. So, theoretically, someone who bought 60 minutes and then logged in for two minutes each month would have been deemed a subscriber for two and a half years. The Chinese players were P2P, but not subscribers, at least not in the sense of paying a monthly flat fee. Something like “monthly user” would have been much more accurate.

Address the message, not the messenger

Since this tip can be a touchy one, I'll limit my comments to what should be obvious. The validity of an opinion does not increase because it's stated by a person you like and/or agree with. Neither does it decrease when you don't regard that individual favorably. By far the most effective way to critique something is to present informed, logical counter-arguments. Slinging mud at the messenger may be the worst. 


Richard Aihoshi

Richard Aihoshi / Richard Aihoshi has been writing about the MMOG industry since the mid-1990s, always with a global perspective. He has observed the emergence and growth of the free to play business model from its early days in both hemispheres.