The cure for F2P disease is quality

In the comments section from yesterday’s post, Rohirrim raised the issue that with so many failed MMOs being demoted to the F2P minor leagues, gamers today might be weary of jumping on a new game that is sub-based for fear of the F2P switch. I think the issue has two parts, one being overall recent market conditioning (which includes things like Steam sales rewarding waiting rather than buying on day one), and the other being the somewhat recent sub-to-F2P trend.

Both problems are solved by having a quality game, but making a good game is hard.

When a new game is released on Steam, I only pay full price if I want the game right away, and the only games I want right away are the best ones (for me, of course) or if my friends are playing it and I want to join in. Civ V and its expansions were full-price purchases, and I consider those money well spent. Same for XCOM and Skyrim. How many people paid $30+ for ARMA II because their friends were playing Day Z and they just had to jump in? But that is a high bar to reach, and again, most devs can’t reach it.

The same goes for MMOs; if you have a good MMO with good retention, you stay with the subscription model. If you launch an MMO that can be ‘finished’ in 3 weeks/months, or one that doesn’t have the social hooks to keep guilds going, you switch to F2P and milk suckers with the F2P math tax for as long as you can get away with it.

Will WildStar or TESO be good-enough to stay as subscription games? We’ll find out ‘soon’. At the very least, they are not throwing in the F2P towel on day one, so they have that going for them.

But let’s not kid ourselves, no successful MMO has ever switched to F2P, because if you have a successful title, the subscription model is where the money is in NA/EU (Asia is completely different for countless reasons). You don’t go F2P because you will make MORE money with a successful title, you go to F2P because you are failing and a cash shop might hook enough suckers to keep you afloat, especially early on as you have not yet destroyed your overall game with the kind of additions you will eventually add to the shop (gear, lockboxes, etc).

And the F2P “sell the future for the present” design destruction will only accelerate as the dummies catch on. You (usually) can only fool someone a few times before they realize buying lockbox keys is stupid, or that they are paying way more than $15 just to come close to getting what they had before with a subscription. Zynga made a lot of money when it beat everyone else to those tricks, but it caught up to them (as did the laws) and the company is worth a fraction of what it once was (that they are still in business is a miracle actually).

By the time EQN is finally released, how many uneducated F2P dummies will be left? By that time, how many actual MMO gamers will be fed up with the cash shop trash and looking for a straight-up deal? Even at a site like Massively we are already starting to see such comments, and if there was ever a bastion for F2P dummies, its Massively.

Side-note; I think the next evolution of the sub model will be to increase the monthly cost. The sub ‘barrier’ of $15 is nothing to something who actually wants to play an MMO, and the only people you are going to lose are the people who were already flaky. If you have a solid title, I don’t think increasing the cost to $20 or even $30 a month is going to matter to fans (again, people paid $30 for ARMA, an older title, just to play a mod), while it would allow a developer to continue operating at a certain level with a smaller total population.

Even at $30 a month, an MMO you play as your primary source of gaming would still be ridiculously cheap entertainment compared to anything else, but it would more than double the income a studio would get per player, lowering the ‘make or break’ threshold and allowing for more target-focused titles, rather than the ‘try to cater to everyone, deliver to no one’ junk we have been seeing over the last few years.


About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
This entry was posted in Camelot Unchained, EQNext, EVE Online, Guild Wars, Lord of the Rings Online, MMO design, Rant, Rift, RMT, SW:TOR, The Elder Scrolls Online. Bookmark the permalink.

33 Responses to The cure for F2P disease is quality

  1. pkudude99 says:

    If the game is “good enough” that it’s my “only game” then yeah, I’m more than willing to pay $30 a month. I paid for SOE’s Station Pass when it was $30 and the only game I played was EQ2, just for the additional character slots, and gladly.

    I think the biggest concern anymore is that MMO players in general as well as the so-called 3-month tourists are trained to jump from game to game to game anymore and not find “the good one” and stick with it, so with any sub fee there’s a barrier to entry that many if not most simply won’t bother to hurdle.

  2. KennyG says:

    “Will WildStar or TESO be good-enough to stay as subscription games? We’ll find out ‘soon’.”

    that’s the crux of the issue now for me, in the past i would sub up right im waiting to see what happens. I want some sort of guarantee it wont go free to play, i got caught with SWTOR

    and the guys who subbed for TSW only for it to go BTP, im pissed

    • Rohirrim says:

      this is exactly the problem and developers need to realize this and start clearing their intentions and give insurances to the people.

      I agree with Syncaine that quality solve the problems, but people sometimes won’t even try it anymore…

      • Anonymous says:

        I know I wont even try it anymore. I dont care about being in a new MMO in the first 6 months now. Ive been burned too many times by multiple MMOs.

        People holding back like myself are why games are going free to play in 6-9 months. When devs start making quality games instead of factory developed crap, you might get my demographic to come back within the first 6 months of launch.

        Until quality and consistent long term quality and planning are priority, this trend wont stop.

        • Rohirrim says:

          I clearly understand your feelings…but as you said, when we holding back we don’t help the game but we rather push it to the f2p model…I know it’s hard to make a choice…Should I support this MMO or I will get burned again? And how can we see if the game has quality or not if we don’t play it. Information on the net is plenty but is very different to play it by yourself.

          I think is time companies chose their side and stay there to the end. I think, knowing the company intention on f2p right now is even better than quality of the game. Games like EVE, DF, FF you know they will never touch the f2p and that is bigger advantage for them than the quality of their game…

      • spinks says:

        I agree, they’ve lost our trust. As soon as I see a game announce it’s going to be sub on launch I think, “Are you planning to milk the hype and then switch to F2P 6 months in?”

  3. coppertopper says:

    I was about to say something about the $30/mo thing then realized that’s what I paid for my 2 accts when I played DAoC.

  4. sid67 says:

    How do you feel about “pay to play” gated content? For example, would you pay $15 for access to a new dungeon?

    I see that as a very viable model and not too similar than the idea of paying for expansions.

    I’ve always felt the flaw in F2P is that people are often Paying to WIN or Paying to SKIP content. I won’t play a game like that.. but I would play a game where I had to but access to new areas or classes.

    • SynCaine says:

      The flaw with pay to enter content is half your guild buys it, the other half doesn’t, dramalama.

      Or the new content has the best gear, so it’s “pay to win” anyway.

      Or its PvP content and only you buy it, so you just payed for something you can’t use.

      • You mean, like expansions? Somehow, the problems with people not owning the right expansion or the best gear appearing in the latest expansion don’t seem to be a problem.

        Perhaps you’re making a mountain out of a molehill?

        • SynCaine says:

          Expansions are one-time large buys that happens (usually) once a year. Very different from buying each little bit of content separately (and usually at a higher total cost).

          I can’t remember the last time anyone quit an MMO because an expansion was coming out and they didn’t want to drop the money (not to be confused with quitting because of the expansion’s content; ToA is a great example of
          that kind of disaster).

          I do remember playing DDO in a group and playing “who bought what content” almost nightly, to the point of everyone just saying F it and dropping the game.

        • saucelah says:

          I did quit CoH when Going Rogue came out because I didn’t want to spend the money.

          I must admit I was unemployed at the time though.

  5. bhagpuss says:

    I pay something like £30 a month ($45) for two SOE All Access accounts for me and Mrs Bhagpuss and we don’t really use them. We took them out when they were first offered many years ago. We cancelled them only once, for about 4 months when we played WoW and thought we probably shouldn’t pay subs for games we weren’t playing. Didn’t like it. It felt wrong so we re-upped and now keep the subs whether we play the games or not. It feels comfortable, like belonging to a club. Worth it for that alone.

    As for cash shops, I think the part of the equation that’s rarely commented on or appreciated on blogs is that a lot of people like spending money on themselves and the cash shops offer an additional bonus to those people, not a penalty. F2P games should rightly be seen as a form or retail rather than a service. The key thing is to sell things people want to buy.

    • Anonymous says:

      sorry that’s a bit bizarre, paying all that money for no reason

    • carson63000 says:

      On the “people like spending money on themselves” angle, It always really irritated me when people raged about Blizzard selling pets and fancy mounts in a cash shop, as well as charging a sub,

      To me, it felt a bit like going into the souvenir shop at Disneyland and abusing the staff for selling t-shirts and keyrings rather than giving them to you for free because you paid to get into the park. Or abusing the waitress at the Hard Rock Cafe because you don’t get a free badge with your pig sandwich.

      I couldn’t have less of a problem with any business in any field trying to make a little extra revenue through selling souvenirs. If people already buy your product, and want to spend more to show their fandom, LET THEM!

  6. Jenks says:

    I paid a $40/mo sub for a while. That’s a pretty good trivia question actually, name the MMORPG with the $40 sub :)

  7. evehermit says:

    I have 3 EVE accounts, which I pay for in 12 month blocks. The cost to me changes with exchange rates, but I am probably spending round $35 a month. If EVE dramatically increased its price, I would drop one or two of my accounts – so that $30 a month level is about what I feel I can justify for a game.

    It is an interesting thought though with EVE – you can play the game fine with one account, but new / interesting options open up with a second or third account. This is viable with CCP’s monthly pricing and discounts for longer term subscriptions. If CCP’s base price was higher, less people would use multiple accounts. They might well end up with less revenue.

    • spinks says:

      Yes, the trick to making money off subs is either be WoW with a huge network effect, or get people to buy multiple accounts — so multiple accounts give more game options or more advantages. (It worked for DaoC with the buffbot account too, works even better for EVE.)

      The concept of a niche MMO with high subs sounds good but I don’t think it’s been proven.

  8. carson63000 says:

    The model that I’ve been expecting for a while – but not yet seen from a new game, as far as I can recall – is sub without box price.

    Basically the reverse of B2P. You can freely download and jump into a (time- and/or content-limited) trial, then activate a sub.

    Back in the day, you needed a box price because you need to, well, pay for the box. Pressing disks, printing boxes, shipping and retailing cost money! But now with most online gaming being download based, you don’t have that hard requirement any more.

    The first MMORPG I ever played (Horizons, lol) was like this – not through any shrewd business decision, I don’t think, but simply because it was not particularly successful and they wanted to hook people in with a free trial. But personally I think it combines the low barrier to entry of F2P (which I think _is_ very valuable in a crowded market) with the ongoing revenue and retention benefits of a sub.

    As an aside.. “But let’s not kid ourselves, no successful MMO has ever switched to F2P”.. I’d love to see someone try to argue against that. It’s the cold hard fact that people love to forget when trumpeting about how much this game or that game increased its playerbase and even revenue after a F2P switch.

    • jjjunkk says:

      Sub without a box price is the EVE model I believe.

    • Noizy says:

      Sub without a box price is the EVE model. You do pay a $5 administrative fee for setting up a paying account, but on the EVE site you select your payment method (1, 3, 6 or 12 months) and you’re off. The $19.95 items you see on Steam and Amazon include special packages containing in-game items.

    • Halycon says:

      Yes, Eve has that business model. But Eve is such a one off in so many respects I really don’t see any other MMO doing it. Half the time I don’t even think of Eve as an MMO, but some weird super organism.

    • qyte says:

      Personally i agree with you 100% but in reality breaking down the current distribution network of box sales and large malls/shops is inconceivable, only because most people buy their hardware from those same stores (PC,Consoles,Mac) and they are required to provide technical support, RMA etc. Let alone the holiday/sales periods. I don’t think any company wants to deal with the consequences of undermining that network in the long run.

      What i feel needs to be done though is somehow not deprive people of logging into a sub-only game once their sub has expired. I would like to see my characters from time to time and even better join my guild/friends chat. Completely bereft of that opportunity hurts the sub-only option severely. Plus it would provide incentive for many people and most important you would not lose contact with in-game only “friends”.

    • Imakulata says:

      RO used to have a sub-only model in the west too, before they went F2P. I thought producers added the box prices because introduction of a new game or expansion marked the moment when most people were ready to part with their money and sub-only missed the opportunity.

      As for “no successful MMO has ever switched to F2P”, what is “successful”? I’ve seen people whose definition of successful includes “charges a monthly fee”. It’s true, however, most of the switches are done when the game is not as successful as the developer wished or when it is not very successful anymore (i. e. for the long tail). That doesn’t mean it can’t become successful after the switch (at least for the first part).

  9. Ettesiun says:

    I do not understand the “Quality will solve everything” claim. When you buy something, you always based your decision on quality, whatever the price ? For exemple you buy all your coffee 10$, because they are the best of the city? Or are we making a call between price and quality, and saying “for this product, for me, the quality is enough to pay 1$, or not”.

    • SynCaine says:

      Make a good-enough MMO, and enough players will pay the sub. Make one not good-enough, and go F2P and hope/trick a much, much smaller percentage of the playerbase into giving you (a lot more per person) money.

      • Rohirrim says:

        I really don’t understand why people make such a deal about 13 euro…I pay 13 euro to go for a movie and have pop corn and cola, for what? 2 hours of entertainment? I go to a football match and pay 15 euro too..

        I don’t think that a game must be made by gods in order to justify a subscription..actually even the semi-quality MMOs are worth the subscription in my opinion. Or maybe they need more consistency than quality. When I started world of warcraft it was very group – based MMO and had difficult content and a nice virtual world. after wotlk it changed completely..but why? I did not invest years of my life, only for the game to take a 180 turn and say, we don’t need people of your kind now, we want facebook players..goodbye and good luck…

        anyway, I agree with you that quality will solve the problem, I just don’t get it why a developer need to make the ABSOLUTE game in order to ask for 13 euro per month…

        • Ettesiun says:

          If you play 10hours/week your MMO, and you value the same the 2hrs of Movie and 2hrs of playing, are you ready to pay 13x5x4= 260€/month for your MMO ?

          This was the goal of my coffee comparison : 10€ is not that much, but 10€ for a coffee can feel pricey. When I buy a game, I play a bit of it for around 3-5 years. And I often buy them at less than 20€. When you compare 20€ with 13*12*3 = 468€, you start to feel MMO are expensives.

          The problem of price and quality ARE linked, AND personnal. If you think, that for you a Sub is very cheap for the enjoyment you take from a MMO, cool ! Unfortunately, this is not my case, evan if I would have been ready to pay a box prize to try Wildstar

      • Ettesiun says:

        You ‘re right whe you say that a better quality game will raise in average the fee gamer are ready to pay for it.

        But there is a different part of the population that will not pay a sub. And this population will also look for quality. So we can have a market with this population for Quality Game.

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  11. Keystone says:

    I’ve always thought they should just let you log into your account (on a sub model) and charge you a certain amount per play session, up to a max amount. This way someone could still log on and run around, talk to friends, but not get charged 15 bucks for only spending 2 days of the month in the game.

    Then if someone ends up playing a lot, it only caps at 15 bucks for the month. You would never have to ‘cancel’ your sub- just don’t log in anymore if you wish to stop paying.

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