F2P games: nice for the price, or actual competition?

Something I’ve noticed for a while now, that’s really come to the foreground with the release of Allods, is how some people play both sides of the fence when talking about Free to Play MMOs. In one sentence they will tell you F2P games are just as good as subscription games, while in the next they will say that for a free game, what they do is rather exceptional. Which is it? Are F2P MMOs ‘real’ games, or are they ‘not that bad’ for something that’s ‘free’?

And to me the whole ‘free’ aspect of any F2P game is actually a sham. If the game is second-rate in terms of gameplay, I don’t care how free it is, it’s still not worth wasting my limited gaming time on it; time that is far more limited than money when talking in the price range of $10-$100 a month. If a F2P game IS worth playing like I play a sub game, it will cost me MORE than $15 a month to play, and at that point it better be X amount BETTER than my $15 a month sub game to justify the increased cost.

The problem I have with the model is that spending more does not get me more; it simply allows me to continue playing like I have before. Spending $50 at the cash shop does not upgrade the graphics, sound, or gameplay, it simply buys me potions/books/perfume to sustain the level of progress/power that was available earlier for ‘free’. The further you get from level 1, the more you need to spend just to maintain the SAME level of progress. If you are someone who actually gets into an MMO and invests themselves into one title fully, it’s not hard to see why doing so in a F2P game is a quick way to jack up your gaming expenses for little to no gain when compared to a subscription MMO. (Unless someone feels strongly that F2P MMO X is indeed a better overall themepark than WoW, or better than EVE/DF for sandbox/PvP gameplay.)

For instance, Allods is a nice little WoW clone, and if I continue to play it casually as something to do with my fiancé, the free aspect works (for me, the company gets screwed here). But it works here because I already play DarkFall as my ‘real’ MMO, the title I spend far more time with and actually care about what happens with/in it. That’s also where my money goes. Allods fits the second-tier spot nicely because of how on-rails it is, and the near-zero difficulty of a themepark MMO means I can step away for a week and not suffer from any player-skill loss, nor do I have to keep up with balance changes or dig deep into the mechanics. As long as I hit tab-1-2-3-1-4, I progress down the line.

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
This entry was posted in Allods Online, Combat Systems, Darkfall Online, EVE Online, MMO design, RMT, World of Warcraft. Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to F2P games: nice for the price, or actual competition?

  1. Stabs says:

    It’s just a business model. The payment system in itself says nothing about the quality of the game.

    Eve is F2P for a certain playstyle. Doesn’t make it a bad game.

    DDO changed from sub-based to F2P and probably is a much better game now than when it launched.

    • SynCaine says:

      The business model determines the gameplay though. A sub game is designed to keep you going for as long as possible to get you to keep playing month after month. So long as you are happy playing, you will keep paying. A F2P is designed to hook you in and then make you pay more and more to keep going at the rate you previously enjoyed. A F2P game can’t add a tough raid at the end without also adding cash items to make it easier (or even possible). A sub game won’t benefit as much from adding more fluff pets (assuming you can acquire them in-game) as a F2P will when it sells them for a few bucks.

      While not directly related to quality, the type of business model certainly has an effect on how you design the game, and my point being that the more you actually like a product, the less favorable the F2P model is for you. So long as I’m ‘meh’ about a F2P game, the model works FOR ME. DarkFall is a steal for me because I’d easily pay double or triple what I do now to play it, because for me there is nothing even close in the MMO space compared to it. With Allods, the difference between it and themepark X are not significant enough to pay more (or at all) to play it.

    • sid67 says:

      EVE really isn’t F2P even if you can afford to spend the 300 million ISK needed for the Plex each month. Someone else bought that PLEX. It’s free for that person, but not truly free of any payment.

  2. willee says:

    I could never, ever, ever play a pay to win…excuse me a free to play mmorpg.

    I guess i’m old-fashioned or whatever, but the thought of being able to buy in game stuff via cash shop with real money makes my skin crawl. Ya, i know this stuff takes place in the sub-games illegally or whatever but there isn’t anything you can do about that and it is done by a pretty small % of the player base and is considered cheating/bad by all others. That happens infrequently enough that it doesn’t hurt my perception/immersion of the world i’m playing in.

    In FTP games however the effects of buying items are everywhere you turn. You know its more likely than not that little bobby basement dweller bought that level 500 sword of ultimate doom in the cash shop vs actually earning it by killing some badass named mob in the game. So what you ask? That in effect lessens the “gravitas” if you will of every item in the game. Would i have felt as good about getting my ranger epics in EQ if you could just as easily buy them in the cash shop? No, not even close and that would have ruined what was a great moment for me in that game.

    I realize not all items will be available in the cash shop. Doesn’t matter. Realize that these companies are out to maximize their revenue (as they should be), and it’s a very slippery slope for those FTP games. There is no telling what will be offered down the road. If everyone wants that sword, then offering that sword of ultimate doom in the cash shop will increase revenue and it will only make sense for them to put it up for sale for “real” money at some point.

    At any rate, even beyond the powerful items issue above i just can’t play a game where any items can be bought for cash instead of earned through playing. And i’m as far from a “hard-core” player as you can get. I don’t even sub to a game right now because i have no time to play. I will at some point start playing Darkfall again even though i’ll be lucky to get in 2 hours a week…so spare me the “but you play 200 hours/week in mommies basement what about the casual players who can’t get all the shinies…”, because i am that casual player and probably a hell of a lot more casual than you.

    Down with FTP games!! (ok, i realize many people like this model and that’s dandy. It’s just not for me)

    • pitrelli says:

      Willee gets my Rant of the week award!!!11!!1!

      Gotta agree with him though :)

    • SynCaine says:

      The difference between illegal RMT and a cash shop is that the illegal stuff is not DESIGNED around you paying real money for it. A F2P is DESIGNED around you having to spend cash to continue playing, otherwise the whole business model would fail.

      • pitrelli says:

        Thats my problem with Allods, I think I read it on Keens Blog that in a patch they had removed and reduced certain chests which had ‘perfumes’ in it to limit the availability of non paying customers.

        Pretty clever ploy as it gives the non payers a ‘sample’ and therefore they will be more inclined to fork out after seeing the difference it makes. Sneaky sneaky

        • SynCaine says:

          The ‘free sample’ thing is common in F2P games. In Atlantica as a noob you got a chest with 10 day licenses (teleport, ID, something else…) After that, you have to cash shop it to get more, and they are more or less ‘required’ to play the game at any pace considered human.

  3. Irenor says:

    Just remember that not all games will offer you to buy cash shop in order to progress in the game. It’s becoming increasingly more common to see games offer “fluff” items through their cash shop rather than items that will imbalance the game. OR, some games will even allow players to trade those cash shop items (even if overpowered) with other players through in-game currency (Dungeon Fighter for exemple), allowing non-cash users to also gain the advantage for a fitting price.

    But of course it is true that may F2P games will allow you to buy your way up or even be overpowered but luckily, you’re not forced to play them so I stick with the games that actually offer fluff over imbalancing items.

  4. Stabs says:

    @ Sync “A sub game won’t benefit as much from adding more fluff pets ”

    Your point is true in general but still doesn’t necessarily make a bad game.

    In specific I’m sure you’re wrong, I’d bet good money that the fluff pets added to WoW last autumn out-sold any other fluff pets in MMO history.

    In Runes of Magic travel is really slow and your instance group will be at the instance whining about how long you’re taking if you’re too cheap to buy a horse. This is exactly what you’re talking about – game design that forces you to spend.

    In DDO however they seem to be pretty relaxed about letting people play free as long as they’re enjoying the game. They’ve just released 4 free dungeons for people past level 12 where there was previously no content. The free stuff is every bit as good as the paid stuff. There is little overt pressure to spend – the game is so much fun that people spend from enthusiasm.

    @Sid67 You can say exactly the same about any F2P game. None of them are really free – you, me and ten of our friends get to play for free because of the nut who spends $300/month. This is exactly like Eve except for the default. In Eve the default is $15/month in f2ps the default is free but it’s essentially the same business model.

    • SynCaine says:

      The WoW pets selling more is simply because WoW has 11 mil or whatever people playing. If Blizzard made ICC paid-access, it would EASILY outsell the pets hand over fist. The major difference for WoW being that ICC keeps EVERYONE playing (subbed and paying) longer as a ‘free’ release, while the fluff pet only cashes in on the people who just ‘gotta catch em all’. Now remove the sub profits, and you get to the root of what motivates F2P dev teams.

      Having played DDO before and after it went F2P, I can say that while DDO is less forceful about its cash shop (still annoying though), without spending your options after level 4 are extremely limited, and unless you enjoy running the same dungeon over and over to grind it out, you need to pay to progress. At least with DDO you CAN pay $15 a month and not worry about all of that, but DDO is a F2P hybrid due to it originally being a failed sub game. It will be interesting to watch how development goes as it continues down the F2P model.

  5. Chris says:

    Better be careful, SynCaine. If your fiance gets into Allods or the other theme park games, she might start taking your criticisms personally :-)

    You’re sleeping on the couch until you take back what you said about Allods!

    Just ease her in, man. Allods today, Darkfall tomorrow.

    • SynCaine says:

      Ah she is no MMO rookie, having capped out in WoW and WAR, and served two tours to 35 in LotRO. She is well aware of her gamer status as someone who passed up DF to play Allods. (rhymes with bench)

  6. Aria says:


    Sorry….darkfall doesn’t look…fun. At least to me. I want phat lootz and epic drops! Plus, I like the fun noise it makes when I level up!

    Seriously though, so far I like it. Other than the masses of people making it near impossible to finish simple quests quickly. I’d always be down for another excursion into WOW though… :)

  7. Zapatero says:

    “Which is it? Are F2P MMOs ‘real’ games, or are they ‘not that bad’ for something that’s ‘free’?”

    I have to admit sitting on the fence about this little conundrum. In the defence of the amorphous mass of fence-sitters that I am amongst, the F2P MMOs can easily be split into the stereotypically “Asian” MMOs made for a different audience, of which some are ‘not that bad’ and the F2P MMOG clearly made and marketed primarily for a “Western” audience, which are more…. ‘real’

    Maybe it has less to do with the payment plan and more to do with the market at which the game is primarily aimed at and the expectations of what that market demands in an MMOG?

    Great post btw

  8. Pedro says:

    I would just like to see an MMO being released that charged players by minute or day or weekly play instead of monthly payments.

    IMO the free to plays have a paying playerbase because people can easily jump in and out without worrying about wasting the money they spend. In a monthly subscription MMO people feel compelled to play for a month and if they can’t they will cancel their subscriptions. So why not releasing a game with smaller subscription options?

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