Entertaining read from Jef Reahard over at Massively about F2P, from the mouths of some of the industries ‘best’ in that area. Not sure where SOE, NCSoft, Perfect World, and GamersFirst rank on your all-time list, but that is who was talking.
First the entertainment portion:
“German gamers like to think a lot, whereas American gamers like explosions,” Merel said.
“Chinese players are willing to grind it out, and work for it,” Young agreed. “American players won’t put up with that.”
“American players need a context, or a story, or a reason to go in [a dungeon],” Levy interjected, before going on to say that the only real context is loot and rewards. “In an MMO, the reason is the loot. The reason is that I’m getting something cool.”
“That is what MMOs have devolved into,” Georgeson laughed.
The above would be insulting if it was not true. I mean we are talking about the same playerbase who bought a million boxes of SW:TOR to play an MMO remember. Farmville was a big deal. Germans love wargames. And Asians are STILL playing Lineage in huge numbers. He should have also included that all South Americans play to troll (huehuehue BR Mord es #1 right?).
Joking aside, the last line is more tragic than it is funny. Mass market MMOs ‘work’ because they are heavily dumbed down versions of what the genre originated as. And really, to reach the mass market in ANYTHING, it has to be ‘accessible’, which means the average dummy has to get it enough that you get his money. It’s why millions shop at Walmart, summer blockbusters work, pop music is what it is, and it’s why WoW is trying to recover by adding pokemon and pandas.
But like any pop fad, the masses will (have?) move on, and when they do, the people left are the ones who enjoyed the genre to begin with, and likely DON’T enjoy what was produced during the ‘mass marketing’ phase. Boy bands that get manufactured a week after that fad ends become laughable rather than successful. Movies that cash in a few months late on whatever was ‘trending’ fail. And mass-market MMOs will be no different.
Well, one difference. MMOs take year to produce, so if you are working on a WoW-clone right now, you missed the boat by about two years. SW:TOR would likely have worked in 2007. LotRO did after all. But not so much in 2012.
Getting back to the F2P aspect, is that model itself a fad, or is it really the evolution of payment? A bit of both I believe. I think the predatory F2P models, the ones designed like casino games are a fad. They are the ‘new shiny’ to lure in the mass market dummies, and until the dummies really catch on, they will keep falling for the tricks. Margins on fooling dummies are high, as Zynga has show (bonus profits if you can exploit people before rules/laws change to make that illegal).
What I don’t believe is a fad is the ‘good’ F2P model, as used in a game like League of Legends. Rather than relying on trickery or feeding into peoples weaknesses (buy this item to get stronger, so you suck less!), Riot sells fluff. But the fluff is of high-enough quality to sell. Combine the quality of the store items to the fact that LoL itself is one of the best games out, and it’s not hard to see why LoL is printing money.
Of course LoL would have been successful as a $50 box game too (it’s a good game, those sell), but not nearly to the level it has achieved under F2P. THAT is the true value of the model; if you produce something really good, you can earn WAY more than what you could under the old model. In many ways it’s the same thing as games going from the flat box price to a box+subscription model. If you create a game people are going to play for months/years, only getting $50 up front is leaving a lot of money on the table. And really, as a gamer, while it would be great to pay less, realistically if I’m enjoying something for months/years, I SHOULD be paying more for that, if for no other reason than to cast my vote for “more of this”.
What most MMO devs have not figured out, or are ignoring to chase short-term Zynga-bucks, is how to add or implement the ‘good’ F2P model into MMOs. Or perhaps they do know how, but also know that the quality of their game is such that the only choice is Zynga-bucks. I mean look at a game like EQ2; clearly the quality is lacking overall, so SOE feeds into the small subset of ‘gotta catch em all’ players and feeds them mount after mount after mount, to the tune of 80% sales (which makes SOE’s Dave Georgeson’s comments about the dungeon creator and beast master class items pretty comical).
Assuming (big assumption) that the Zynga-bucks phase ends, what we will be left with is a market that highly rewards great games, but offers little to generic titles that don’t offer a solid reason to stick around over a competitor (under the old model, if PR could fool you into buying the $50 box, the devs get paid even if you end up hating the game 5 minutes in. Under F2P this is no longer the case). This means that niche games still have their place (the niche can over-pay and/or budgets adjust), while the few ‘top end’ titles will print money like WoW did back in the day. I’m more than OK with that.
Now if only that Zynga-bucks phase would end already…