F2P MMOs: The land of ‘just good enough’.

One of the common complaints against the subscription model is that if you only play that MMO sparingly (whatever that may be for you), you are not really getting your moneys worth compared to those who play more. The perceived plus for a F2P MMO is that you (ideally) only pay for what you want, be it content or fluff, and you control how much you spend based on how much you play/invest in that game.

While the above is true, I never see people talk about what happens when you really like a F2P game, enough that it becomes your main or even only MMO. Assuming a F2P MMO is of that quality, now you are no longer the casual jumping in from time to time, but the hardcore player logging in often and experiencing more/most of the game. When that happens, you will wish your new favorite MMO was a subscription game, as you will be paying FAR more for the F2P MMO monthly than you would for a subscription.

That after all is the F2P model, those who play for free/little are supported by those who play and pay far above the average. I believe the reason more people are not up in arms over having to pay MORE per month to play a quality MMO is that simply put, most F2P MMOs are at best average, games that might do a few things well or unique while the rest of the content is cut/paste stuff you have seen 100 times before, usually done better. In other words, if WoW used the traditional F2P model (and each patch brings it a little closer), a lot of people would be paying out the nose to play it because WoW is the main/only MMO for so many. On the other side of the coin, my guess is most adults playing Free Realms do so with their kids, or jump in to take a look before move back to a ‘real’ MMO. The issue facing FR is that if it was a sub game, I doubt SOE would be putting our press releases announcing that 18 billion people have glanced at an image related to their game since its release, and so a sub model is not much of an option.

Aside from being little more than a money trap for the hardcore, the F2P model also influences game design. Tobold has a post talking about his reason for leaving Luminary, a game he originally enjoyed due to its unique selling points but later found those same selling points as negatives due to F2P business model influence. His experience mirrors my experience with Atlantica Online, a game I ultimately wished was a subscription game and not F2P. Just like Luminary, what I initially found appealing in AO was later a negative not due to design, but due to the business model.

This ultimately is, IMO, the major crutch of the F2P model, it only really ‘works’ for those who drop in and out, spending a few dollars on a quick purchase and move on. Those that don’t spend anything are just leeching bandwidth/space, and unless you become truly addicted (plenty of those stories from the East btw, Google is your friend), a hardcore player will find more value in a subscription game than a F2P one, especially now when most (all?) AAA MMO titles are sub-based. It would take a truly exceptional MMO to pull the hardcore away from current AAA MMOs and into a F2P game that they will need to spend MORE per month to play, which is somewhat of a risky gamble on the part of the developer. By that logic, the ‘ideal’ F2P MMO is what we currently have; games just good enough to downloading and keeping on your desktop, but not anything that becomes the main/only focus of an MMO gamer. The true junk titles get deleted, and those that get near the AAA status go subscription (Aion for example).

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
This entry was posted in Aion, Atlantica Online, DDO, Dungeons and Dragons Online, FreeRealms, MMO design, RMT, World of Warcraft. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to F2P MMOs: The land of ‘just good enough’.

  1. Yeebo says:

    I am increasingly becoming skeptical of the idea of paying $60 for a box and $15 a month after that. FtP games have not caught up to the quality of big budget sub based MMOs, but the gap is rapidly diminishing.

    It’s almost inevitable that FtP MMOs will catch up to sub based MMOs because they are on different parts of a curve of diminishing returns. At some point the difference in quality won’t be discernible to most users.

    And as for the “if you play hardcore, you’ll spend a ton more than 15 a month”…no, not really in most of them in my experience. If you play really hardcore very often you can use time to earn the equivalent of items that more casual players pay for. It’s generally the 5 hour a week dudes that are more tempted to use a cash shop. I will allow that this varies among titles.

  2. howtoloseyourlifetoanmmorpg says:

    I agree with your overall assessment, but I think there are some other “variables” that keep it from being a static idea.

    Some F2P games are built and/or also viewed(independently from the devs marketing) as being niche MMORPGs. So after hype, a game like Shaiya enjoys continued fruitful life through the long-term regulars.

    A game like Atlantica Online really appeals to me. I love strategy RPG’s and love how AO made it work online. I don’t pay(never have and don’t plan on it), but being an MMOSRPG, I play in bursts the same way I play SRPGs on my PS2.

    F2P MMORPGs that try to be an all-in-one(or at least cater to the general MMO player) are usually much smaller in scale than a subscriber based MMORPG. However, I think subscriber players approach these games regardless of their business model. The “hardcore” are so hardcore that it boggles my mind how fast they gobble content up(these are the players that have seen and done everything in todays WoW, in as little as 7 days). So when they get into a F2P, they usually do everything they want in less than a week before they move on to gear grinding in raids. This player type usually doesn’t stay. But more casual players have a higher tolerance for the limited content. If the game is poor, it is poor and will start to reflect that in overall dropping of players.

    The majority of MMORPG playres don’t “want” to drop in, drop out. It’s reflected in the fact that even though there are slews of new F2P games out every year, most of them stay around and support a healthy community. I know I’m beating a dead horse, but on top of that RMT is the 2nd most successful business model within the video game industry, only overshadowed by the casual gaming market. So much so, that warhammer now incorporates the RMT model, and Blizzard staff have said they are looking at ways to incorporate RMT into World of Warcraft.

    I think a jump in, jump out style has developed because the attraction of it being free, with absolutely nothing to lose, is a strong attraction to “give it a try” but many expect or hope for an MMORPG the size of the subscriber based games.

    I came from “the world” of F2P for 2 years, from the day I first played an MMORPG, they were all F2P, and when I finally jumped into the subscriber based, I noticed I had many different perceptions than a lot of players who came from subscriber based games.

    Some of those are the fact that playing a game like Shaiya for 2 years never aggravated me, because I didn’t know about the much better character control that games like EQ2 or WoW had. And now that I know, I switched to not being disheartened, aggravated, or upset at F2P continuing to offer “weak” or “inferior” gameplay but “different” gameplay that is still fun. I find I’m awefully forgiving because it is a free game.

    I know it’s a bet egotistical of me, but I’m happy of my MMO background. I think it’s helped me to better home in on the point of any of these games-“Fun”.

    Also, I play Runes of Magic. I started shortly before starting WoW. I like it better than WoW. RoM is the first game that I feel like I can get behind. I feel the burning desire to really be a part of it, and help the devs. It’s the first MMORPG I can call “Home”. I still play WoW and others, but RoM is my favorite, and I’ve been playing for 3 months, and have yet to get bored.

  3. Anjin says:

    This is an interesting take on the F2P model and one that isn’t getting talked about a lot. Much like Darren and his $10 horse, there are going to be varying levels of tolerance for cash stores.

    I don’t think most people really think about how economics shape game design. Subscriptions are going to encourage random rewards and perpetual grinds to keep sub fees rolling in. F2P will drop road blocks in the game that will push people into the cash shop. The games people play will be the ones where the money grab does not feel too onerous.

  4. Dblade says:

    I don’t know. I play FFXI, and recently I started playing Mabinogi. I wouldn’t mind paying more for Mab because I have more fun.

    FFXI is a slog, and worse than the f2p games. I think people who only play WoW forget how insanely grindy old school games are. It took me months of fishing to raise my skill to 30, and it will take me hundreds of fish to get a pop item for a 6 percent chance at a dagger my corsair needs to not look gimp in the eyes of people if i want to be more than an AH corsair.

    Even though i would pay less, i pay more in time just playing FFXI and get less enjoyment. Since they can’t supplement profits by a cash shop, every thing meaningful has to take forever to ensure continued sub fees.

    F2P gives more freedom I think for people to tailor the experience. In FFXI there is only one legit way, either spend the time or be gimp.

  5. Coppertopper says:

    Good point Syn. We really need someone from end game RoM to reply. Although Saylah (mystic worlds) has had tons of posts on RoM and it seems she has found a good amount of long term fun in crafting and decorating the ol house and alts. But for semi-casual or burnt out mmo players, $15/mo is too much for a game you sort if play.

  6. Melf_Himself says:

    I think games should just offer both RMT or subscription to the player. That way if you think, yes this game is going to be occupying a lot of my time, you get a subscription. If you think gee I’m only going to pay once per week, you just buy the content with RMT.

    What you can’t do though is mix subscription with F2P with no RMT available. You have to make it clear that either option costs money. Otherwise you run into the ‘Hellgate’ effect where people bitch about having to pay to get the good features.

  7. sente says:

    Yes, you might end up paying more per month for a game which uses micro transactions as payment model than for a subscription-based game.

    Part of the problem with a pure subscription model is the implied statement that all subscription-based MMOs cost the same, pretty much.

    A big title with lots of subscribers and/or one that has enough backing to attract lots of subscribers will be the winners there. The cost to make a new festure will not depend on the number of subscribers/players.

    I think some smaller MMOs would like to raise the subscription fee in order to get more funding to compete with larger MMOs. But if they do so they might lose their less hardcore player base, which likely is the majority in many cases.

    For a more diversified MMO market the payment options will need to be more diversified also. Not necessarily a strict subscription vs micro transaction, but more options for different types of players.

    And that means some will pay more than others. More diversified payment options will give people choices also and more visibility into what they are paying for.

    I’m fine with some titles being pure subscription-based, but I suspect that in the long run this will be restricted to a few larger and established titles.

  8. Armagon says:

    While I mostly agree I have to wonder why no one brings up time-based “subscriptions”?
    I’ve been happy for 2 years with Ragnarok Online’s (euRO server) “30h game time for 6 EUR” offer. I could only win this way. I could even play 2*30h for the same price as a subscription. Hardly any month I played more and had a balance of ~14-15 EUR instead of the 12/13 for a full month subscription, whereas most months I averaged around 7-10 EUR.
    The time you grab a month your “hours” get suspended and after your month is up they start ticking again. It’s the perfect model for players, only the company gets less money from casual players. Then again I know a lot of people who, like me, only stayed because of the hours packages and never paid for a full month..

    • syncaine says:

      When a raiding guild averages 30h a week, or when the typical hardcore player plays 40h+ a week, the only people who would buy into that model would be the casual players, and what would games like WoW or WAR be without the hardcore players to drive them forward (UI mods and raid/PvP tuning in WoW, campaign progress in WAR)

      Plus, anyone who remembers AOL time-based internet is too scared to ever go back to that model. Casual Bob has to log out of the game every time his daughter needs attention, because he does not want hiw 30h timecard to be running while he is afk, etc.

      • Armagon says:

        I’m not saying it would be the best model.
        But if it that was possible *additionally* me and some other people would be giving 1-2 other companies at least 5 bucks per month. Now they get zero.

  9. Centuri says:

    As I stated on Tobold’s blog, I still feel that there is another untapped revenue stream and some niche’s that aren’t quite filled. Mainly offering actual services, read not pixels, for some fee. How much would it cost to have GM run events every night on a microtransaction game if people had to pay to be there?

    I think most F2P microtransaction games are focues so much on creating a grind and then having the item shop as a way around the grind that they are shooting themselves in the foot. DDO seems to be getting a clue about this as becoming a subscriber only allows access to new content. Thus you can purchase new experiences for your microtransaction dollar (or Euro).

    While I don’t think we will see the “$10 dollar horse” problem go away, it does seem that companies agree that the F2P-MicroTransaction model is making further and further headway with big name game companies.

  10. howtoloseyourlifetoanmmorpg says:

    End game RoM doesn’t offer a whole lot right now. Mainly the world is only 8 zones(each equivalent to WoW) and so there’s a very finite number of instances.

    It’s very similar to WoW in the Endgamers gear grind.

    Personally I think it’s too narrowly focused on gear grinding at endgame right now.

    But…2 new zones-along with new instances, dungeons, quests are coming in September, and unless they changed their mind, Runewaker(the developer) said they would like to have 80 zones out in the next year and a half(personally I don’t think they’ll make it, but even half that would be awesome).

    One thing they’re trying to do, on top of some of the evolutionary F2P changes they’ve already done, is grow their company much larger than any typical company running a F2P game. They say they already have 60 some employees(and mention that’s almost double what most F2P companies have).

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