Putting a value on money

I came across a rather shocking thread on the League of Legends board a few days ago, one where the author was arguing that LoL is not really ‘free’ to play, because in order to play at the highest level you have to have access to dozens of heroes, and the only way to have that many is to buy them with Riot Points (bought with $). He also argued that Riot was ‘nickel and diming’ people by releasing new heroes every few weeks and selling those in bundle deals as well.

It’s shocking on a number of levels. First off, the simple fact that someone who clearly enjoyed a product enough to worry about playing it at the high end was not willing to pay ANYTHING for it had my head spinning. How do these people imagine good games get created? Do they really think talented developers like Riot just donate their time to create something for you to enjoy? The only thing I hate more than crap games making money is good one not getting their due, and it’s this type of attitude that leads to a lot of that.

On top of simply paying for a quality product to support future development, LoL is actually far more ‘free’ than most F2P offerings of similar quality. All heroes can be purchased with IP (points you get for playing the game), and someone who reaches level 30 to play ranked games should easily have enough IP to purchase a few heroes and two rune pages, putting them at no disadvantage against someone who used $ to buy RP. The person who bought RP might have some different skins for his heroes (100% fluff), more total heroes, or they reached level 30 faster thanks to XP boosts (getting to 30 naturally is very, very doable, as plenty of Inq members are already there and I myself am at 21 now, having played only a month or so), but you can’t buy stronger heroes, more mastery points, or better runes with RP.

Now this is certainly not the first example of someone wanting the world for free, it happens all the time. But it stuck out to me given the recent news about a private WoW server selling item packs for $300 (and if they are selling them, my guess is someone was buying), games like Allods selling gem packs for thousands, and the now commonly accepted practice of paying 10, 20, or 30 bucks to change your characters name. Clearly the value of the dollar varies greatly not just between genres, but between games within a given genre as well. MMO X is really not worth paying $15 a month for, but paying $20 to transfer your character over to a server so you can play with your friends is?

Chuck-o-the-day: When Chuck Norris has a crush on a girl, it usually ends with a few broken bones.

8 Responses to Putting a value on money

  1. Sean Boocock says:

    As someone hoping to start in the game’s industry in about a year’s time, the hype around the F2P model scares me. Most developers are not self-funded and rely on advances from publishers/private investment in order to bankroll the entire cost of their development, marketing, and distribution. To then stake the future of your company on recurring sales of in-game items that you had to design the game to incentivize players to want seems rash and exploitive. If what was being sold was exclusively content, ala the mission packs in DDO or console DLC, then at least I would have no ethical qualms about the business model. Even in that case, though, I doubt whether a F2P model would ever support a large budget title and actually be profitable. Without the influx of first month sales of a “boxed” game, I don’t see how a development studio would ever recoup a 20-50 million dollar expenditure plus continued maintenance costs.

    Most F2P titles don’t sell content though, but rather ways to speed up play or empower one’s character. The developers of these games have to design the game in such a way as to make the normal (read: free) version of the game sufficiently unappealing as to motivate players to buy XP potions, epic loot, or vanity items. I don’t want to program for a game that penalize players until they buy virtual currency to play the “real” game. I don’t want games that operate with different rules sets, separated by paywalls, in the same persistent environment. I don’t want to design game systems that prey on compulsive behavior, little more than slot machines for space bucks.

    I can’t comment on what Riot Games is doing with LoL having never played past the beta. From your’s and others description, though, they seem to be doing the F2P thing relatively well. They at least tackled the first horn of my dilemma by scaling back the production. As USC grads, I’m certainly rooting them on as well. But I’m weary.

    • SynCaine says:

      From what I’ve seen, the Riot model works because the skins they produce are generally of such high quality to be appealing, yet cheap enough to not really fret over. Combine those with new champions you can purchase as a champ+skins bundle at release, and they have a stream of money coming in for their efforts, without having to resort to selling power.

      That they also allow people to ‘skip ahead’ by offering IP/XP boosts is harmless as well, since as I said, getting to 30 is nothing and the only time you should find yourself short on IP is if you purchase a lot of heroes/runes.

      It all starts with having a quality game (which I believe LoL is), but combine that with a solid, ‘fair’ business model, and one would hope Riot and LoL thrive and lead others down such a path.

  2. Ravious says:

    Whoever agrees with that thread is stupid, like in the medically provable sense. LoL is one of the best F2P games for the money ever. It’s really high quality, and I’ve put at least 10-15 very fun hours in to it without spending a dime.

    I would give them money now, but I want to see what Valve does with the DOTA trademark first.

    • SynCaine says:

      From random forum posts I’ve seen (so this must be true), Valve’s DotA is a long ways off.

      Edit: And the scary part was, more than one person agreed that calling LoL ‘free’ was misleading…

  3. Mala says:

    My guess is if they charged you 10 bucks a month to play no one would feel thats unreasonable. There is a general aversion to the free 2 play market, you know that Syncaine, this is nothing more than an expression of that, however misguided the sentiment this specific statement is.

    In any event, LoL is definitely worth paying for one way or another, assuming you like the DotA genre to begin with (which I don’t particularly, but thats besides the point).

  4. Bhagpuss says:

    One thing often gets missed in the F2P discussions on blogs like this one. Just as there’s a “general aversion to the free 2 play market” among Western MMO players, so equally there’s a general aversion to the subscription MMO market among Western non-MMO players.

    You only have to have read the comments threads on general gaming boards when a new MMO is being discussed to see the strong dislike of the “pay to play” model. Non-MMO players seem a lot happier to buy than rent and they definitely see subscriptions as a supplementary and unjustified charge to pay a game they already paid for when they bought the box.

    I think it’s a given that there are a LOT more non-MMO gamers out there than the converse, so it’s hardly surprising that companies that specialise in MMOs want to find a way to open that market up. In the long run, the winners aren’t going to be the devs with an idee fixe for one particular payment model. The winners will be the companies who have really creative, insightful marketing departments, able to come up with a basket of payment options that allows the greatest number of players to feel they are getting a good deal.

    I’d also say that if games can only get made with tens of millions of venture capital dollars upfront then maybe those games could just not get made. As consumers, I doubt we’d be any worse off.

  5. Wilhelm2451 says:

    Shouldn’t the title of this post really be something like “Putting a Value on Fun?” We already, in general, value money. That is why some people are loathe to spend it on a game.

    But as Bhagpuss says, there are a lot of gamers out there for whom the subscription model is anathema.

    I have friends who treat me like their retarded cousin when it comes to gaming choices.

    “There is Wil. He pays as much as I do for a game, then he pays a monthly fee to actually play the game. We’ve tried to get him help, but he persists in this behavior. His mental defect must be deeper than we suspected.”

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