Good F2P, bad F2P

A proper free-to-play game allows players to enjoy the game and still spend money based on the amount they feel comfortable with


The “they feel comfortable with” is, for me, the key part here. Comfort to me is when the decision to spend is totally optional, but still has enough personal benefit to make that spending more than a straight-up donation (donations don’t work long-term). Comfort is spending at your own pace, based on how you feel about the game, rather than feeling ‘hooked’ and having the ‘encouraging’ message to spend slowly morph into demands.

Buying a skin in League of Legend has zero effect on the result of any one game, but some of the skins are cool enough that I’m more than happy to drop some cash on them. The ones I don’t like are not thrown in my face with constant pop-ups, I don’t suffer through ads or lesser service, and I sure as hell am not playing a weaker version of that character.

I also have a much easier time justifying spending in LoL because of how great the core game is, and how frequently it gets updated and just the general ‘feel’ Riot (the devs) puts out. They are very active on the forums, transparent with their design decisions, take customer feedback into consideration, and anytime things have even remotely gone bad (servers down) they have more than made things right with the players (free RP or IP boosts for example).

It truly feels like spending is not required, and this for me makes spending that much easier. I’ve easily spend over $100 on LoL, and I see no reason to stop yet. At the same time, if I don’t spend RP for a month, fluff aside, I still experience the same quality gameplay. In short, I still feel like an appreciated, ‘normal’ player.

In contrast, teleport licenses in Atlantica Online are far closer to a must than a comfort. Either you play without them and suffer terribly design (super long walks for no reason other than to make you waste time and wish for a teleport license), or give in and play the way the game was REALLY intended. At best it’s a major annoyance, at worst it gimps your power (if you are at war with another clan, being able to teleport is pretty huge). Spending money on the license is in no way a comfort, it’s a cost you just suck up and deal with.

AO is full of such spending. Plus most patches include major power additions to the store, usually in the form of a lottery box that may or may not result in the item you want. Of course the super powerful stuff (mounts with stats, character boosts, etc) is also very rare, so if you really want something you are going to spend a ton of cash and end up with a lot of lesser ‘junk’ from all those boxes. Plus even after spending a lot of money you still might not get whatever item you wanted. Buying into that kind of power lottery feels more like being pushed off a cliff than treating yourself to something nice. And should you reach the end-game, good luck still enjoying the game if you decide to totally stop paying. It’s a nightmare.

The ‘good’ F2P model is a tougher sell IMO from a business standpoint because it only works for great games. If LoL was some meh title that Inquisition picked up for a month and then moved on, no one would have spent any cash. But because it’s something we have been playing for months and month, ‘investing’ in a skin feels like a good use of money.

The ‘bad’ F2P model works because it begs/annoys/forces you to spend, and often that spending makes the game better (at least short-term). That model can squeeze out a few bucks from someone playing for a bit, while it will demand a small fortune from its most serious players. The model is, in some ways, like a drug. You start out small, weekends, whatever, but the plan all along is to hook you to the point of doing damage. The more you get into something like Atlantica, the more you are ‘encouraged’ to spent. If you stop spending, you will noticeably see your game quality degrade. Not to mention the fact that everyone around you is also spending heavily after a certain point, and you either keep up or get left behind. There is very little comfort here, and it has almost nothing to do with the actual quality of the content.

The biggest hurdle right now is that ‘bad’ F2P dominates the market. For every LoL, there are dozens (if not hundreds) of games that will happily sell you godlike powers, or even just slip you a little 5% damage boost. I believe, perhaps foolishly, that eventually players will smarten up and see ‘bad’ F2P for what it is, and avoid it. I refuse to believe that millions really want to buy victory in a game, especially ones where player skill plays such a large role.

Good F2P has a lot of the traditional benefits going for it (easy to get your friends to try it, low initial risk, etc), but it ‘unfortunately’ also requires a quality product to support it. For some companies, it seems shipping something of quality is rather far down the list, and sadly too many players currently continue to reward them.

Hopefully in five years or so, we look back at bad F2P model games and laugh, amazed that they lasted as long as they did.

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
This entry was posted in Atlantica Online, Inquisition Clan, League of Legends, MMO design, Random, Rant, RMT. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Good F2P, bad F2P

  1. Rast says:

    I’ve been playing a game called Spiral Knights lately, and it’s very much in the “bad” camp. Doing anything in the game more advanced than scratching your ass requires energy. You regenerate up to 100 energy very slowly (going 0 to 100 takes 22 hours of real time), but once your free energy is gone you’ll automatically switch over to paid energy. This paid energy is tradable on the in-game market for in-game money, and this is how free players get access to it.

    The main block for free players is that the market sets energy prices, so low to mid-range free players won’t make enough money from dungeon runs to afford the energy they need to continue running without having to wait until tomorrow. Much more crucially, it’s impossible to craft the equipment you need to access the middle and end tiers of content without paid energy because the energy costs for crafting the gear are higher than what you can regenerate for free.

    So you end up with a game that has three distinct classes of players. At the top you have people who play totally on paid energy and have total access since they can literally buy anything they want (which is less powerful than it sounds, since you need to level your gear by using it before it’s really all that great), people who bought starter packs for $20 and played in a manner that allowed them to become self-sufficient free-players, and people who never paid anything.

    This is the only F2P I’ve ever really gotten into so I’m using to evaluate the entire business model from a player’s perspective. It’s grossly unfair – I can see why they call it Pay 2 Win – but then again it’s not really a game I’ll ever play seriously. I can’t imagine myself ever playing a serious MMO or MMORPG with this business model though, the last thing I want to think about in a competitive game is how much I have to outspend the other guys, I do that enough already IRL thanks. And nothing kills immersion faster than “Hey, if I take this elevator / rez / open this door / buy this widget it’ll only cost me XXX cents, but then again I’ll have to do this 20 more times this gaming session, and that adds up to a couple bucks, times 30.5 days in a month…” etc.

    • Shadow says:

      I’m with Mesar. I’ve played a bit of Spiral Knights, haven’t spent a dime, and have a full set of self-crafted two-star gear. If I had been more savvy about game mechanics, I’d be buying energy for crowns at this point. And that whole system I like, as its very similar to PLEX. 100 energy let’s you do ten floors of dungeons, which the first ones can all be completed with starter gear.

      Not hard to become self sufficient.

  2. Mesar says:


    I also play Spiral Knights and don’t really see a problem with their model.

    I have 100 energy per day which allows me to do one or two runs before it cuts into my paid for cash energy. I’ve also spent $5 for 1600 energy, some of which I’ve traded for crowns.

    This is not a raiding game where you can do a six hour session, but for a quick hack and slash in a a 2.5D environment, it’s great!

    I do believe you need a fair amount of personal discipline to monitor your spending, which many human beings are poor at, but for me personally it’s easy to stop playing and do something else.

    • Torcano says:

      Personally I don’t see why anyone would play this or any other game like this unless A) far superior gameplay or B) far superior value in community were present.

      It boggles my mind that you would pay anything for a standard hack n slash mmo with 2.5d graphics. Firstly if you aren’t guilding in it or having any meaningful interactions…why not play any one of countless classic single player RPGs or free internet bases ones.

      Hell if you desire the MMO tag so badly why not play a AAA one that’s honestly F2P or pay 10 bucks more to play a sub one for a couple hours a day.

      It’s brain dead consumers like you guys that keep the market for subpar games and models alive.

      • Mesar says:


        I’m not sure about your financial situation, but here $5 is a cup of really good coffee.

        Paying $5 (and I really don’t have to since it IS F2P), for a Zelda-like co-op game, that I DO play with my regular guild mates is nothing.

        Three Rings Design is one of the very few game companies that regularly take risks in design and make money out of it. Did you know that there is skill based crafting in Puzzle Pirates? That they release the code for their games under an Open Source License? That the CEO wears a pirate costume to work in San Francisco?

        So am I happy to throw Three Rings a fiver every few years? Yes, and I’m fucking proud to support these guys.

        • Torcano says:

          It seems Iike you read my post as the opposite of what it said…

          I say why not pay a measly 10more you infer I can’t afford 5 more? WTF?

          And then you say you play with guildies…thank you for proving point B in my first sentence above.

          But you could clarify WTF you are talking about, spiral knights or puzzle pirates or both? And I would bet a ridiculously high amount that when you say 5 every couple years you really mean a fraction of that amount of time. Weeks? Days? You’ve played one of these games for years now continuously anyway with guildies? That’s sad but if true I guess you still prove my point in your excessive wasting of time anyway.

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  4. Adam says:

    The F2P model seems to me to be aimed at the smaller, hardcore community of a game. If you like the game, and enjoy playing it at a competitive level, then you’ll be more apt to purchase things to help you stay competitive.

    I don’t prefer to play games that allow real money transactions which make characters more powerful than those who don’t purchase the same thing, so I don’t play them. Other people don’t mind the model. To each his own, I guess.

    I’m far more put-off by a company adding balance/power changing micro-transactions to a game which didn’t originally have them than by a company that had them from the beginning. Don’t surprise me. Just design the revenue model for your game, inform me about it, and let me decide if I want to play or not.

    Perhaps that’s just wishful thinking, though. When companies get strapped for cash (or just greedy), there’s no predicting what they’ll do. Hello, CCP.

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  6. Adam D. says:

    It can go both ways.

    I play World of Tanks, which is theoretically a F2P game. I say theoretically because there are so many ways that Wargaming uses to get people to buy gold (RMT currency) that it’s a little on the silly/disgusting side.

    Personally, I play it mainly for the Clan Wars (think raiding) & territory control aspects. But say you’re levelling up a base tank. Once you research all the upgrades, the tank is “elite” and all the xp can become free xp… once you pay 1 gold per 25xp you’re looking to convert. Doesn’t sound too bad, until you realize that some of the higher tanks take upwards of 400k in xp to unlock everything.

    Then there’s the Premium subscription which increases xp and credits (in game currency) by 50% for every battle… definitely helps when you’re trying to grind 6 million credits for that big heavy tank.

    And then there’s the premium ammo, which costs gold per shell, but has much higher armor penetration than the base rounds… paying for performance, as it were. Rampant QQ on the forums for this… and in this case it’s pretty justified. I’ve tried it once or twice and it does turn the game into easy mode sometimes.

    And the current gold tank fiasco… the Lowe (German for Lion) and KV-5 (Russian Heavy Tank). The game has 10 Tiers (levels) of tanks, 1 is the new stuff, 10 is the really heavy stuff… but for the price of 6,500 gold (About 35 bucks) you can buy a Tier 8 tank to start with. Sadly, it’s worked so well, there are so many of these Lowe tanks in a game (Sometimes 6-10+ tanks out of 30 are Lowes or KV-5’s), and the tank design on the Lowe is so solid that they’re on equal or better footing than any of the tanks at the same tier. So well that they’re increasing the price on the Lowe to 12,500 gold (about 55 bucks). Oh yeah, and the Lowe and KV-5 have higher credit generation than regular tanks (hence why people buy them, so they can afford the really heavy stuff). And even better… once you buy the tank, it’s elite so guess what? you have to pay gold to convert all that XP to free xp, because it doesn’t upgrade into anything else.

    TL:DR – World of Tanks is fun, but it’s got a RMT system that makes Atlantica Online look fair by comparison.

    For all that, damn it’s an addictive game. If you don’t believe me, try it. It is free to play, and you can get quite a bit of mileage out of not buying any gold.

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