Shocking news; F2P is dead

Well that didn’t last long, huh? Wish someone had called F2P a fad, that would have been pretty insightful of them.

Am I happy that the F2P plague is dying? Of course.

Will F2P still exist in some capacity? Yes. Games like LoL that do F2P right will continue being successful, and lesser MMOs that have no choice like SW:TOR will continue to sell you hotbars until shutdown, but finally the genre is returning to the model that makes sense for players AND dev of good MMOs.

Now does this make WildStar, FF 14, or TESO good MMOs automatically? Of course not, but it helps in that at least the devs don’t have to carry the design burden of F2P.

And let’s not kid ourselves; F2P is indeed a dev burden. Do you think the devs behind SW:TOR think their game is better thanks to hotbar limits, or XP gain rates that have been drastically reduced? Is LotRO a better game now that it spams you to buy something every 5 seconds? Is there ‘design brilliance’ for creating yet another gaudy set of wings in EQ2? Of course not; but the F2P model drives what you create, and in order to sell crap in the store, the game has to ‘nudge’ you towards it. Great content without a hook into the cash shop is a ‘wasted opportunity’.

F2P fans have commented that a sub-model has built-in grind to keep you subbed. No shit. Oh the horror, a game I enjoy is designed to keep me playing. Because what happens when ‘the grind’ is no longer fun? You quit, and the sub model doesn’t work if you quit, so simply going SW:TOR on your MMO and gimping everyone’s XP gains is not a successful way to run your sub-based MMO.

The only semi-legit knock on the sub model is that it doesn’t allow you to play a dozen MMOs at the same time, and I’m 100% fine with all of those people not playing my MMO. There is nothing worse than a once-a-week playing in your guild, and your game doesn’t develop the kind of community that makes an MMO special with those people.

If that means you ‘only’ have 500k subscribers, so be it. It’s not like anyone has reach WoW peak numbers with F2P or the sub model, so one is not more ‘mainstream’ or successful than the other. A million free accounts are worth less than one paying account, as I’m sure some devs are learning the hard way.

Who knows, maybe in a year or two some devs will start talking about the importance of retention again, or how they have a plan longer than three months for players. The more things change…

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
This entry was posted in EQ2, League of Legends, Mass Media, MMO design, Rant, RMT, SW:TOR, The Elder Scrolls Online, World of Warcraft. Bookmark the permalink.

61 Responses to Shocking news; F2P is dead

  1. Pingback: The Elder Scrolls Online: Throwing Itself Under the Subscription Bus? | The Ancient Gaming Noob

  2. Mark says:

    I think it’s a bit early to say f2p is dead, these games won’t last 9 months before announcing plans to switch.

    Not saying I like f2p or support it but games announcing a sub model is different than them staying with it for years.

  3. bhagpuss says:

    The main reason I prefer F2P is that it allows me to try many MMOs with view to writing about them. At this stage of the hobby I’m quite possibly more interested and invested in writing about MMOs than playing them.

    Subscriptions make that prohibitively expensive. On the other hand, there’s already far too little time available even to try all the MMOs I’m interested in, let alone play them properly so I guess a financial gatekeeper might be helpful in winnowing.

  4. Kemwer says:

    Yeahh…. not so much. Why don’t we hold this conversation until both games innevitably go F2P a year after release?

    • SynCaine says:

      The conversation is about the model they decided to go with initially, not what will ultimately happen. The post states that bad MMOs go F2P, that’s known.

      • Kemwer says:

        I disagree. I think that subs are just not sustainable on this age of many people playing more than one MMO concurrently. The market today is very different from the one Everquest, or even World of Warcraft were launched.

        Back on those days players were much more dedicated to a single MMO simply because there were not as many AAA online games out there. Today we get to pick which MMO we want to play based on what type of game we prefer. We might disagree on how good some of these games are, but ultimately the choice between Eve, Guild Wars 2, The Secret World or many others out there is one of taste, not of inherent quality, and this is good.

        When you put a subscription on the table, you remove that game from the pool of concurrent options. You make your game one to be played exclusively. And I don’t believe this works today. That is why all these games go F2P, not because “they suck”. They succeed as F2P because now players can play a little bit of each.

        • SynCaine says:

          The market today features EVE, a sub MMO that is still growing, so yes, it does work. The ‘problem’ most devs have is they can’t create an MMO worth playing long-term, or one that is worth playing more than the average MMO that is ‘free’.

          The model is fine, the talent to make it work is the issue. Most MMO devs are only capable of SW:TOR or its ilk, because MMOs are hard to make.

        • kalex716 says:

          Subs work if you can offer users an experience they can’t get elsewhere, or a vastly superior version of it.

        • Kemwer says:

          @kalex716 What can you do with subscriptions that Guild Wars 2 isn’t offering right now just selling weapon skins and other fluff on their very unobtrusive cash shop?

          This idea that subs are required for online games to provide quality content broke the moment Guild Wars 2 launched and kept releasing a constant stream of free, high quality content. Sure some people don’t like what they offer, sure, but that is a matter of taste, not of technical impossibility.

          One could redirect ArenaNet’s efforts to produce more content they would be interested on, but it wouldn’t require “more” effort or money, just a different direction. So no, I don’t believe sobs are <b<required for high quality MMOs.

        • Sjonnar says:

          @Kemwer: I wouldn’t call the content in GW2 “high quality”. The game is quite average, with some really good ideas and a lot of bad ones. The dungeon content as of 4-5 months ago was still terrible, and pvp has been from the start.

          The game is pretty, and the story is fairly interesting, but the mechanics get dull quick and the game doesn’t even have the infamous ‘gear treadmill’ to keep you running the top-level content over and over and over.

        • Kemwer says:

          “the game doesn’t even have the infamous ‘gear treadmill’ to keep you running the top-level content over and over and over”

          That’s exactly why it’s a better game. You can play the game how you want, when you want it, not because the game artificially gates you from half the game until you did something for 3 months repeatedly. You can just play everything they offer and come back when there’s something new… like, in 2 weeks. I like a game that respect my time.

  5. Matt says:

    F2P fans have commented that a sub-model has built-in grind to keep you subbed. No shit. Oh the horror, a game I enjoy is designed to keep me playing. Because what happens when ‘the grind’ is no longer fun? You quit,

    What now? The F2P fan comment has nothing to do with fun. The grind is never fun, it’s just something they stick in to provide some fake longevity, since the actual game is shallow and can’t compete with single player games. The counter-argument is that F2P doesn’t reduce the grind, but actually makes it worse.

    • SynCaine says:

      Successful MMOs don’t have bad grind, they have good grind. If you don’t like grind period, the MMO space is not for you.

    • Dà Chéng says:

      Matt said “The grind is never fun”

      Then don’t so it. Do what you enjoy. If you don’t enjoy the grind, don’t do it. If any particular game is designed so that you have to do a grind that you personally don’t enjoy, then it isn’t the game for you. Find another game that you like.

      • Matt says:

        Right, but F2P Guy’s complaint is that subscription based games are always designed so as to put longevity-forcing grinds everywhere, for financial incentive. Talking about grind being “fun” totally misses the point of this complaint.

      • Devore says:

        This is something you see all the time. “If only _x_ did this, more people would play it”, while ignoring the game is already successful, due to being what it is. This is particularly noticeable in EVE, because there are just not that many spaceship MMOs. If you want to play a spaceship MMO, your options are severely limited. Jita burns has made _some_ people unsubscribe, sure, but how many new subscriptions were added or renewed because of it? Ditto for ganking, scamming, PvP, meaningful death loss, etc.

        The game is what the game is, and if you find some aspect of it unbearable, then find something else to do. And if you feel the game would be so much better according to your version of it, hey, sounds like you have a business opportunity!

  6. kalex716 says:

    I think its more likely that these games are following the trend of “lets sell in to capitalize on early adopters willing to pay 60 bucks, plus another 15 before they cancel THEN go free to play” than this being any kind of a sign that suggests F2P is dead.

    • SynCaine says:

      It plays out like this:

      Is your game failing? Go F2P.

      Is your game doing well? Stay sub.

      What does that say about the two business models? Who knows, maybe TESO or Firefall will do well-enough to stay as sub MMOs.

      It also works in reverse. Allods (somehow) is doing so well, its gone sub from F2P.

      • j3w3l says:

        FYI Firefall is ftp

        But other than that I agree with you. Subscriptions are the most profitable option and usually the one which allows the better quality content to be produced. If your game is good people will pay, the longer you last the more people you scoop up that were waiting for ftp. If your game is average you go ftp, if it’s bad no payment model will help

        @kemwer and no, gw2 does not have quality. Most are reskinned mechanics and further going snd the story is tenuous at best.. Oh and more rng lockboxes. Also due to their model their is a distinct lack of updates to areas they can’t monetise like wvw, spvp, dynamic events.

        • j3w3l says:

          Bah.. I should really proof read when writing from the phone

        • SynCaine says:

          Firefall is sub+PLEX. That’s not F2P.

          Edit: Firefall = Wildstar today.

        • Kemwer says:

          “gw2 does not have quality IN MY OPINION”
          There, fixed it for you.

          I do enjoy the game and think it’s very high quality, better than any other MMO I played. It’s not perfect, but offers new events and story constantly, which is what I like about it. It’s just my opinion, but it’s as valid and factual as yours.

        • j3w3l says:

          sorry Syncaine it’s free to play all the way.. no box price, no hybrid type subscriptions, and no plex, rex, whatever you call it.

          I’ve played it on and off for a year and the ftp cash shop isn’t as bad as you would expect but it is indeed run by one. They were selling founders packs during beta and even quite a few different styled starter packs now so maybe that’s what is confusing you

        • j3w3l says:

          Sorry kemwer yes that is my opinion and I know many others don’t feel that way and are thoroughly enjoying the recent updates. It’s not the gameplay I prefer which is probably why I don’t consider it quality. Obvious bias here

        • SynCaine says:

          Haha, oh no, you were being serious and not sarcastic? See what you can make of this. I’m sure you will come to the correct conclusion as well.

          As for Xfire, it doesn’t pick up DF:UW (not to mention Xfire linking you to a different game called Darkfall from that page). That’s been a known issue for Xfire on smaller titles, which DF:UW very much is.

          On the titles it DOES pick up, what’s been its trending accuracy over the years with titles like SW:TOR, WAR, or AoC?

  7. sid67 says:

    A strict F2P interpretation was never a real viable model. But there is plenty of reason to think the variant with gated content (aka Pay to Play) is the real successor to the sub model.

  8. Given I’m a cheapskate gamer and pay zero moneys (with the exception of Mabinogi… *shakes fist* damn cute pets) that eliminates another game off my watch list. Whew!

    Thanks for the heads up Syncaine! ^_^

  9. coppertopper says:

    “The market today features EVE, a sub MMO that is still growing, so yes, it does work.”

    EVE is the EQ(original flavor, not EQN) of space MMOs in that it has no real competition until the space WoW comes along (Star Citizen?). So it still works on the niche level. Now if there were as many space MMOs as fantasy MMOs, would EVE still be a sub model with its spreadsheet like interface and plodding gameplay?

    Anyways my point is its not an apples to apples comparison. Pointing to Allods is a way better analogy.

    • SynCaine says:

      EVE is not the only Sci-Fi MMO ever though. Earth and Beyond, Tabula Rasa, SWG, SW:TOR, etc, have all come and gone. EVE is successful not because its the only Sci-Fi MMO out, but because its the best designed MMO ever. Most games are lucky if they think 6 months ahead, EVE has multi-year angles. Chess vs checkers.

      • Kemwer says:

        “EVE is successful (…) because its the best designed MMO ever.”
        You’re joking, right? EVE is successful because they made the game so simple that even with a peak number of subscribers of 500 thousand after 10 years they can still be profitable. It’s not chess vs. checkers, it’s chess versus risk.

        I find that incredibly ironic because many of these MMOs you call complete failures have similar numbers over the same period of time. So how exactly do you define “success” anyway?

        • SynCaine says:

          Wait, what MMO has 500k subs right now? What MMO not called WoW will ever approach the longevity of EVE? Please, please name me one.

        • Kemwer says:

          I said “over the same period of time”. How many subs did Rift have after the first year, and how many EVE had? What about LOTRO? Warhammer Online? Take all large MMOs on the past 10 years and see how many subs they had over a similar period of time, and you’ll see that EVE is just another point on the average. WoW is out of the average, and that’s it. If having X subs is your criteria of success, then all these games were successful, or none of them.

          If you want to compare how “well designed” they are, then let’s talk about user interface friendliness, and see how EVE holds up. Chess is what it is because it’s easy to learn, but hard to master. EVE is NOT easy to learn at all, so your analogy is very flawed.

        • SynCaine says:

          What kind of metric is comparing EVE retaining 500k subs 10 years in (and going up) to the initial box sales of something like Rift, which lost 50% after 3 months? Because I’m pretty sure any studio not named Blizzard would trade any MMO they have made for EVE right now.

          The chess vs checkers is a saying. As in, most MMOs are checkers, in that they are a kids toy, and EVE is chess, a much deeper game.

        • Kemwer says:

          “What kind of metric is comparing EVE retaining 500k subs 10 years in (and going up) to the initial box sales of something like Rift, which lost 50% after 3 months?”
          No metric at all, which is why I’m not comparing that. I’m comparing EVE’s subs one year after release (2004), with Rift one year after release (2012), and every other MMO one year after release. That’s my metric. What is yours?

        • SynCaine says:

          Besides further making my point about EVE being the best designed MMO right now, going from 50k to 500k+ over 10 years, what does EVE selling 50k boxes in 2004 have to do with anything? Are you suggesting any MMO out right now is going to have 10x the number of subs when it hits its ten year anniversary?

        • Xyloxan says:

          Either your math skills are not up to par, or your comprehension needs some work, or both.

        • Kemwer says:

          @SynCaine: you’re not making any points, you’re just repeating your mantra without any facts to support it as if that would it any more true (it really doesn’t). You also didn’t say anything about what metric would YOU use for comparing these games, which I don’t find surprising.

          The thing is you don’t want to compare subscription numbers with other MMOs, because you know comparing those numbers in any similar fashion makes EVE look bad. Rift, WAR, even SWTOR had more players than EVE over similar periods of time. The only reason EVE has larger numbers today is because the game improved over its lifetime, something inevitable considering they started slow and managed to stay alive for 10 years, something only possible due to its much lower initial production values. But comparing a 10 years old game to a newly released one is silly, no matter which one ends up ahead.

          @Xyloxan: fell free to correct my math. I would love to read exactly how it is incorrect even considering I didn’t post any math at all, I only posted HOW I would go about comparing these games.

        • Jenks says:

          Kewmer sounds like one of those people who will claim SWTOR was a huge success, and then find all sorts of creative ways to defend that position. Do you comment on (or write for) Massively?

        • SynCaine says:

          My metric is number of subs+retention, because we are talking about MMOs and not single-player games, so how long you can keep someone paying you $15 is kinda important, don’t you think? And how long I want to keep paying $15 to one game is important for the best parts of an MMO; community and player interaction.

          By both of those metrics EVE is king, and only WoW is close simply due to overall sub numbers (it blows for community and interaction).

        • Kemwer says:

          @Jenks sounds like one of those people who mistakes personal attacks for intelligent arguments.

          I didn’t say anything about SWTOR being a success. Only that you can’t make the apples to oranges comparison between EVE 10 year subs and Rift/SWTOR/LotRO/Whatever 2-3 year subs and call it the day.

          @SynCaine: and do you have any number to share about any of these games to back that up, or are you just going by your “personal experience”, since no MMO really shares retention numbers?

        • SynCaine says:

          I do.

          Rift sold close to 1m boxes, and lost more than 60% of their playerbase in the first few months (Xfire). They have zero subs now of course, but the count must have been tragically low for Hartman to do what he did after all his bluster.

          SW:TOR was under 500k prior to F2P, since that’s the number EA said was break even, and they went F2P after EA declared the game “not that important”.

          LotRO has always been below EVE on Xfire, even with F2P, and Turbine being local to my area, I know a few people there. It’s not exactly killing it, and it hasn’t been within reach of EVE for years.

          And overall, you would be surprised by how many emails I get from people at different studios. Just because someone is collecting a paycheck does not mean they love working on a game turned to trash, or that they won’t provide some info when asked.

        • Kemwer says:

          Well, that’s the catch isn’t it? Xfire isn’t a good source at all. It gives you an idea of current online players, but says nothing about retention because it doesn’t differentiate between new and old players, a fundamental distinction if you want to know anything about retention.

          It also only parses a very small part of the hardcore community that cares enough about gaming to install something to track their played time. The casuals who make the largest slice of the pie and usually have higher retention don’t show up on these numbers at all, making them highly skewed.

          There’s also the fact that I can’t see these other numbers, aside from what you are telling me, and well… you want EVE to look good, so it’s hard to take you on your word. No offense, but anecdotal evidence is no evidence at all. All I care about here are the facts, and there are none here to see.

        • SynCaine says:

          If you want to dismiss Xfire that’s fine. It’s been proven time and time again to accurately reflect reality, but I guess you can still have your head in the sand about it.

        • Jenks says:

          When I said you’d find creative ways to defend your position, I had far higher hopes. This is sad.

        • Anti-Stupidity League says:

          Based on Xfire stats it seems that the latest Darkfail is already dead and buried – it doesn’t seem to have had any players during the last month or so. Did that take 4 months for it to die? Half a year? I’m not sure, I don’t care enough to check.

          And as we all know, “it’s been proven time and time again [that Xfire] accurately reflect[s] reality, but I guess you can still have your head in the sand about it.

        • SynCaine says:

          I’m going to give you a bit of credit and assume that was poorly written sarcasm.

        • Anti-Stupidity League says:

          I was hoping I could compare f2p minor leaguers like sw:tor and lotro to subscription mmo heavyweights and hardhitters like Darkfail 2: Fail Harder, but I couldn’t as multiplying Darkfail’s perfectly correct Xfire player stats (zero, zilch, nada, 0, nobody is playing it, there’s only Jack and shit and Jack just left the town) doesn’t really provide any valid results.

          Let’s just say that those f2p games keep a lot more people entertained than Darkfail 2: A New Fail does and leave it to that.

        • Xyloxan says:

          Still, not sure what your point is – Mr. Wisdom. Farmville still “entertains” about 60 million people. Should we conclude that Farmville-style games are the way to go?

        • Anti-Stupidity League says:

          What my point is? Do I really have to spell it out? I thought I had made it pretty clear already. But once again, even for simpletons out there:

          1) Based on the playerstats (Xfire, for example, because it’s always correct and so right and basically the bible here) from recently new and currently operating subscription based games like DF II and f2p games like Rift or SW:ToR, is it plausible to say that f2p is dying and subscriptions are manna from heaven?

          2) Which one of these is making the most monthly profit: a) SW:ToR when it was a monthly subscription based game, b) SW:ToR now as f2p, or c) Darkfall II with its monthly subs? Which one is making the least profit per month? Which conclusions would you make based on your answers? That f2p is dying?

          3) When TESO loses the most of its subscribers after 4 months and switches into f2p business model like the rest have (maybe not immediately after 4 months, they’ll just bleed some customers for half a year or so), will it mean that TESO has clearly demonstrated that subscription-based games are back in business and f2p games are dead like Syn said in his original article? You don’t believe that Zenimax has any plans for that switch already?

        • SynCaine says:

          I don’t believe you understand what the word “profit” means; it sounds like you are confusing it with revenue.

          If SW:TOR was profitable, it would not have gone F2P. If SW:TOR was profitable, EA would not be distancing themselves from the game during investor calls. If SW:TOR was profitable, EA would have pointed that out on it’s earnings report. If SW:TOR is currently profitable, why do 3rd party investor reports point to it as a continued source of concern as related to EA’s stock performance?

          I believe I’ve explained Xfire to you in the past, please go review your notes.

        • Matt says:

          Farmville still “entertains” about 60 million people.

          Do numbers matter or do they not? If they don’t then what exactly is the point of invoking Xfire?

          If they do then WoW is by far the best MMO ever created. The end.

        • Anti-Stupidity League says:

          Syn, I understand why you wanted to move the goalposts instead of answering my original questions. That’s okay, you understand it as well, thanks for proving my point.

  10. Tierless says:

    I dubbed FTP the Casino method. It preys on the weak minded and I personally can’t stand it.

  11. adammtlx says:

    F2P in MMOs is a plague. It’s a business model centered around tricking players into thinking they’re getting their money’s worth. In reality, you get a sub-par experience if you do not pay, and you’re hard pressed to get a decent experience unless you pay MORE than the ~15 bucks a month a subscription would cost you.

    Even worse, as Syncaine points out, it’s a massive burden on the developers and designers to have to divvy up their content and sell it off piecemeal.

    And, then, there’s the frequent purchase decisions necessitated by the F2P forced on the players themselves, which is the surest way of any to turn a fun experience into indecision, doubt and worry.

    The thing that boggles my mind is how so many players are just eating it up despite the result being a worse experience, and ultimately the industry is far worse off for it.

    If your game isn’t good enough or cost too much in development to work on a subscription model, I say give it up. Quit polluting the MMO space with crap.

  12. Rohirrim says:

    Reading comments all over the net about Wildstar and Teso I have discovered another major issue…Subscription supporters are afraid to invest money and time in a game that might turn out tto be f2p one day…I have to admitt that I also have that fear. While money investment is not a big deal, time investment is what it hurts most, if your MMO turns out f2p one day.

    I think companies that really want to have a subscription model and not just milk the people some months until to go f2p, need to give some insurances that they will not go f2p. They lose lot of subscribers because of this.

    Some companies, like square enix for example, are clearly stating that they hate f2p model, and that is a huge plus for them. I can play FFxiv without the fear that will go f2p in some months..I don’t came here to advertise SE, but to add another parameter to the discussion.

    • Rohirrim says:

      see for example a comment in massively from a f2p supporter

      “What is it they say in Gladiator? “We who are about to die salute you!”

      Right back atcha, guys. Soldier on with subs, you crazy, brave souls. We will honour your passing”

      they are teasing the subscribers…full of irony about the people who going to invest in the game, they say that they wait around the corner to play for free once the game fail and they laugh at you…what kind of developer would give their game to these people? I would rather throw my game to the garbage than let some mmo parasites play it

      • SynCaine says:

        Excellent point. Time allowing I’ll post about this later today.

        • Rohirrim says:

          thanks! I know you are aware of the matter, but I will leave one more comment here that may help on your post. This is a TOP VOTED comment on massively..

          “NOT going F2P on launch is actually a sound business decision. You get the first wave of players who don’t mind paying for the privilege of early adoption, milk the crap out of them, and you still get the option of relaunching your title as f2p once the crowd dwindles, thereby catching a SECOND wave of (maybe paying) players.

          Don’t think devs these days are aiming for the WoW sort of longevity with their titles. This sub-now-f2p-later model is a good way to maximize the return on their investment.

          Going f2p later shouldn’t be seen as a sign of “failure”.”

      • Xyloxan says:

        Well said. Completely agree.

      • Jenks says:

        Yeah, the whole “they provide content for the paying players” is a borderline retarded sentiment, unless your game has a population problem and >>is down to 1 server<<

        There's a far better solution to increasing population in the game if you have multiple servers/shards. Provide 'content' by merging my realm with other people who care about the game and community. Don't provide 'content' by attracting a throng of tards who care enough about the game to pay $0, and downloaded it while playing Candy Crush Saga or SWTOR.


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