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The Free Zone: Stuck in Denial

By Richard Aihoshi on December 14, 2009 | Columns | Comments

Stuck in Denial

Back in the late 1960s, Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross wrote a book called On Death and Dying. Based on her extensive experience working with and observing patients who had a variety of terminal conditions, it laid out a model for the sequence of emotional states they tend to follow. Often referred to as the Grief Cycle, it includes seven stages. In order, shock is the first, then denial, anger, bargaining, depression, testing and acceptance. It should be noted that not everyone gets through them all, or do so at the same speed.

The denial stage is characterized by unsupported disbelief. It's an extreme form of wishful thinking wherein people simply reject their diagnoses and the attached prognoses. They don't want to be dying, so they aren't. Their doctors and any medical evidence they may have are wrong. Some pass through this very quickly. Others get stuck there for a long time; in some cases, they never move on.

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While I don't try to draw a complete parallel to the model, which I learned about while studying clinical psychology, it has long struck me how instances of denial keep popping up in the MMOG space. The first one that really stood out for me happened around 10 years ago, when figures came to light suggesting Lineage might have more players than the most popular title in the west, EverQuest.

To some, that just couldn't be. There was only one possibility; the indications had to be pointing toward an incorrect conclusion. To fix this, it was pretty easy for them to downgrade Lineage's numbers because they weren't subscriptions. Instead, they were account registrations. Yes, this meant they were inflated. However, there was no basis to support the assumption that the game had to have fewer players. Nonetheless, some observers made such a leap. This was an act of denial on their part, plain and simple.

A few even took a second false step by stating that the size of Lineage's player base should be discounted even further because it cost less. This was something of a desperate stab in the dark, a blind attempt to support what they wanted to believe, that EQ was larger. In fact, they were dead wrong. The going rate in Internet cafes was about $1 per hour, while subscribers were shelling out over $20 per month. What's more, these figures had been reported in the west, although not very widely. Not that it mattered. These people were bound and determined to believe what they wanted. Mere facts would have been ignored. This too was classic denial.

A decade later, it's certainly easy enough to find people who are in denial about the state of the free to play category and market. One thing that hasn't changed is their unhappiness about the publishers' practice of announcing account registrations. I agree completely that such data is seldom if ever useful. However, that doesn't mean the space is small, only that it could be.

Unfortunately, there isn't much hard data available to the public. Research companies put out reports, but they cost thousands of dollars, so what non-purchasers see is only a few selected numbers included in PR releases, and those are most often projections of how large the market will be in a few years. What we don't get is either the current size, which would be an estimate anyway, or enough information about the studies' methodology to determine how much faith we can put in their conclusions.


De-Nile, not just a river in Egypt.

However, the scanty data does all point in the same direction. It consistently indicates that F2P is both substantial and growing more rapidly than the subscription sector. Is it already larger? Frankly, I don't know. I'm not even confident saying I think so. What I've said before, and which I stand by, is that there's a decent probability. And I think anyone unwilling to admit this is stuck in denial.

So are those who continue to express various negative views about "all" F2P games; they universally suck, every single one is grindy, players who buy items always get insurmountable advantages, etc. I do agree with all these opinions **to varying degrees and relative to specific titles**. However, anyone who believes they apply across the board is only seeing what they want to see.

Kubler-Ross' final two stages can also be incorporated into my little MMOG adaptation. Whether people who are in denial will ever reach acceptance, rests upon getting to the second last, testing, and what happens therein. As in her model, some will never advance all the way, or even beyond where they are now. Because of their ingrained preconceptions, they'll pass on checking out new F2P titles and miss finding the ones they'd actually enjoy. I don't deny their right to do so, but it's a pity.

The Free Zone The Free Zone Editorials
Richard Aihoshi has been writing about MMOGs since the mid-1990s, always with a global perspective. As a result, he has observed the emergence and growth of the free to play business model from its early days in both hemispheres.

He is the former Editor of RPG Vault and his column, focusing on free to play MMOs, appears on MMORPG.com every Monday.
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