People of F2P MMOs


First, can we stop linking to that 2011 LotRO announcement of how great it’s doing? Please link to the 2013 “still doing great” announcement. Same goes for DDO. Last I heard, Turbine was releasing a response to in-game protests about bending people over in DDO. Game is obviously still doing awesome thanks to F2P, right?

Next, has anyone ever called F2P ‘fans’ lazy gamers? What does that even mean? People too lazy to put in a credit card number to subscribe? People too lazy to get a job in real life to afford $15 a month?

What MMO players that don’t pay are, in the best case, are cattle. They are (hopefully) content for those who do pay, and in exchange those who are paying the bills get to enjoy a better experience thanks to the free-loaders. How often that’s the case I’ll leave up to you to decide.

Bringing up Wal-Mart is appropriate when talking F2P. There is a reason People of Walmart exists, while People of Macy’s or People of Whole Foods does not. People of F2P MMOs is a thing that should exist.

Walmart is in part successful because they have mastered logistics, keeping their costs down. If you want to call reskinning wings and reselling them to people in a F2P MMO ‘logistics’, the comparison continues to work. The other factor in Walmart’s favor is being so big that they can bend laws to suit them, which is very Zynga-like. The key difference being laws caught up to Zynga and destroyed them, while Walmart has enough lobbying power to prevent that.

The core of what Mike at Massively is saying is correct however; MMOs turn to F2P for financial reasons. The ‘why it works’ part is where the disconnect happens. MMOs that turn F2P don’t magically get better content-wise. DDO/LotRO are still the same flawed MMOs that failed as sub games, but now ‘enhanced’ with a cash shop that pesters you continuously to try and sells you content, items, fluff, and power. So why do these games sorta-work (again, looking for that 2013 announcement of still doing awesome) as F2P when they failed as subscription games? Because of the People of F2P.

Tricking someone into giving you a buck is easier than keeping them around full-time for 15, especially when you target that particular brand of player with flash over substance. The other major change is you don’t need people to stick around in the F2P model; the cattle are plentiful and you are only hoping to skin a few bucks off them before they leave. That’s basically the opposite of being successful as a sub MMO; as a sub you not only have to be good enough to attract initial attention, you only succeed if you prove that you are worth it long-term. As we have seen over the years, most developers don’t have the talent to pull that off. Selling a sparkle-pony is easy, providing lasting, worthwhile content is not.

That the MMO genre is currently in a major rut and F2P is popular is not a coincidence. Hopefully we get out of it ‘soon’.

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
This entry was posted in DDO, Lord of the Rings Online, MMO design, Rant, RMT. Bookmark the permalink.

38 Responses to People of F2P MMOs

  1. Jenks says:

    Like I said over there, blaming developers or publishers for F2P would be like blaming cable television networks for reality television. Honey Booboo, shows about repo men, 500 scripted shows about people making cakes and cupcakes, etc all exist because the vast majority of people who watch cable television are retarded. The vast majority of people who play current MMOs are retarded. Who can blame those who are making money off these people?

    He tries to end the piece with nonsense about having a conversation with the other side – what conversation would I possibly want to have with those people? Those rats are the reason that virtual worlds have been distilled into pellet dispensers, and there’s not even a maze to get there. Walk from one pack of question marks to the next, get your purple pellets and feel good about yourself. If you aren’t repulsed by how condescending that is after playing it for 5 minutes, then there’s no conversation to be had because our differences are irreconcilable.

  2. Syn, sometimes you are so wrong it’s painful to read your posts. Which is a shame, because you can be an insightful writer.

    There’s an obvious commercial failure condition for MMOs: they shut down. We used to think that MMOs would run perpetually, but we’ve seen enough high-profile MMOs close their doors that few believe that fairy tale anymore. A free-to-play game doesn’t magically get to keep running because it’s free-to-play, it keeps running because it makes enough money to justify keeping it open. If a “failed” subscription MMO transitions to free-to-play and keeps running, especially if it keeps running for many years like DDO and LotRO (for example), then you can’t say they are commercially “failed” games.

    Look, everyone reading your blog gets that you don’t like the business model. That’s fine. I could find an army of people who don’t like the subscription model as well. But, to continually dredge up the same ignorance of business in every post on the topic is just tiring to read. And, now you’re getting personally insulting, which is even more tiresome.

    Where’s the LotRO/DDO press releases about things doing fine? Same place the press releases about Gemstone IV doing fine, nowhere. Because a game can do just fine (like a text game charging $15/month and having an avid fanbase) without broadcasting it to the world on a regular basis. And, even if they did give numbers, I’m sure you’d scoff and say that obviously WoW is the superior game because bigger numbers. As for the DDO protest… OH NOES! Players get their undies in a bunch about beta changes! That never happens in a subscription game. *cough* To put it in context, the number of times that particular change would have affected me in the 3 years I’ve played DDO: twice; and there’s plenty of other gameplay that doesn’t rely on that change.

    As an avid MMO fan I enjoy free-to-play because, as I’ve said before, it gives me more control. The developers don’t hold my characters hostage if I don’t cough up the monthly tribute. Not to say there aren’t some really sleazy and/or abusive developers out there. But, I could not pay Turbine another red cent and still have access to a ton of content I enjoy until they decide to close down the game. WoW, on the other hand, has my characters hidden securely away from me. So, guess which game I’m going to spend more time in.

    As a developer, I’ve made peace that you’ll probably never play a game I’ll work on, because after having seen the profit difference on the back-end and the scale, I’m unlikely to work on a subscription-based game. There’s just so little funding for subscription games, and the companies that have the funding to do a subscription-based game aren’t really interested in pushing boundaries like i want to.

    So, anyway, here’s my plea as a lurker who still has your blog in my RSS: move on. Talk about other stuff. Hell, talk about how Darkfall is the bestest PvP game ever (hahaha), because at least there you have some authority. But, accept that your readers understand you don’t like free-to-play, and I promise not to mock you too hard when sometime in the future you finally accept that free-to-play may not be the devil.

    • SynCaine says:

      Going to address this by paragraph.

      1) You imply that the only choice an MMO has is shut down or go F2P, but that’s simply not true. A game can stay sub, go to a skeleton crew (like Turbine has done), and keep the game online to collect the pennies it makes. Let’s not confuse the misguided lure of F2P (get rich!) with the actual result (get a bump, go back to pre-transition or lower results).

      2) You of all people should know LotRO/DDO are not doing ‘fine’. They are skeletons right now. I’ve had more than one friend get professionally burned by Turbine because management actually bought into the initial surge for DDO/LotRO and thought they really had something.Then reality set in and the pink slips went flying. WB and a license are what’s keeping Turbine floating right now, so to use them as an example of F2P ‘working’ is ludicrous.

      The recent DDO issue is not just another “players don’t like a beta change”, its the F2P model being forced so far down peoples throats that they finally wake up and say enough. Turbine didn’t make the change to better DDO, they did it because its a money grab. When has that happened in a sub MMO? The EVE protests were the exact same thing; F2P-influenced money grabs. What’s been going on in EVE since? How’s that working out for CCP? Again, Turbine lacks the talent to do what CCP does, but if they had it, would they be doing what they are doing with DDO?

      3) I’d much rather pay $15 a few times (assuming I jumped from one MMO to another) than deal with what’s happened to DDO/LotRO/EQ2. The sub issue is cheaply solved, there is no solution for F2P-influenced game changes and cash-shop spam. Also things aren’t as rosy as you paint them in F2P land here. How many titles have time-based purchases like what SW:TOR does? How many do what EQ2 does with items when you unsub? The very fact that you have to jump through so many hoops and hope you figured out the latest F2P scheme just to play ‘normally’ is a deal-breaker for me. Take my $15, let me play as intended.

      DF is the best PvP MMO not called EVE right now. What more is there to say? It’s not a tough competition, but there it is.

      As for ‘accepting’ F2P, I’ll see you in the next successful MMO. Just remember to pay your $15.

      • Asmiroth says:

        So you would consider Darkfall a success then?

        I consider Neverwinter a success because it set out and met what it expected to do. It’s wasn’t a F2P convert.

        I don’t know enough about Darkfall to make that judgment. But from the frequency of your posts on the matter, either every F2P game is amazeballs but doing it wrong or Darkfall is so great no one is talking about it.

        I really liked your DF posts. They provided a view into a genre that doesn’t get enough visibility. I like the different viewset and it’s the reason I follow this blog.

        Brian is maybe taking a roundabout way to say it but you’re arguing a point that the industry disagrees with. Rather than say why they’re wrong, continue showing why subs are better.

      • Syn, I think you’re more inferring than I’m implying. The reality is that game companies are businesses, and if money spent isn’t making enough of a return then that money will stop being spent. If LotRO/DDO are failures as sub games, as you keep repeating, they would be shut down if nothing changed. You might think the right answer is to to apply design to improve the game while keeping the business model, but there’s a concept of “chasing bad money with good” that applies to games, too. It’s especially tricky with licensed games like these two are, because the license holder wants a return. “Hey, mind being patient while we try to figure out the secret sauce to make these games successful as subscription games?” probably doesn’t go over very well. “Let us change the business model and increase revenues 400%” is a lot more appealing to someone who wants to get paid, as most license holders do. (The foolishness of licensing a setting for an MMO is a separate discussion, and possibly something you and I would be in violent agreement on.)

        I can’t speak for LotRO, but I know DDO is doing fine from the perspective of someone in the game. Are the servers still as hopping as they were just after the free-to-play transition? No, but likewise WoW probably doesn’t have as many players now as they did when “Mists of Panderia” came out. I still see plenty of LFGs and chatter on the public zone chats. I don’t have access to the numbers so I don’t know the financial health. Obviously there are still enough resources to go along to keep developing content. Did the increased revenues last as long as they hoped? Maybe not, maybe they did have to lay off some people to balance the sheets; sucks, but as I said, this is a business. And, even mighty Blizzard laid off people last year, a scant six months before the latest expansion dropped. Or, is it just a brand name and Activision keeping Blizzard going in your analysis as well?

        As for business model preferences, let me give you a metaphor to explain my preferences. Let’s say playing an MMO is like vacation house. Paying a subscription is like renting. You keep paying your rent, and everything is fine. You miss a payment, and you get thrown out. But, the landlord is kind, he’ll put your stuff in storage and as soon as you get enough money you can move back in… assuming you keep paying rent. A good free to play model is like buying the house. I buy it, I own it as much as the law allows. Maybe I need to keep paying if I want to upgrade my appliances, or if I want a fresh coat of paint, but at the end of the day I don’t have to keep coughing up cash to keep staying there on a month-to-month basis. Perhaps in some places, they let you rent as well if you prefer. At the end of the day, I prefer to buy and own my access rather than paying rent.

        “As for ‘accepting’ F2P, I’ll see you in the next successful MMO. Just remember to pay your $15.”

        I don’t think they’ve said that EQNext is going to go with subscriptions. ;)

        • One last comment: the DDO protest is absolutely people whining about a beta change. These were the same people who swore that the world was coming to an end during the beta of the most recent expansion because they were re-doing the character advancement system. The expansion hit, the character advancement system changed, and most people realize now that the new system is, indeed, an improvement even if it changed a lot of things.

          DDO isn’t a new game, and the free-to-play model has already been front and center in the game for years now. The only people the reincarnation changes affects are people who have been playing for a very long time; the only time you reincarnate is after you get to level 20, which was originally the maximum level of the game. So, if this is “the F2P model being forced so far down peoples throats” then the people complaining are the ones who have learned to suppress their gag reflex long ago in order to keep playing as long as they have.

          I’m not saying I agree with that particular change, but to say this protest is a sign that free-to-play is a terrible model just doesn’t fit.

        • SynCaine says:

          That owning/renting analogy was terrible, because who owns a vacation home? Rent and you get some variety on vacation, rather than being that family who only takes one vacation a year and its to Disneyland because its ‘safe’.

          You keep bringing up DDO/LotRO switching to F2P because Turbine likes money, as if to suggest that under the sub model Turbine was a charity. Yes, they sold investors on F2P being a 400% increase, what they forgot to mention was that after said one-time pop, you go back down, only this time around those left playing aren’t all paying, and to keep those who are paying, you have to dig the annoyance hole deeper and deeper. I’m sure the owners of D&D and LotR will be thrilled by the use of their IP once Turbine is forced into the realm of absurdity just to squeeze out an extra buck.

          F2P is a timebomb. Eventually players are going to all come around to the fact that the model only works if enough ‘whales’ get hooked. Zynga was blatant about it and burned fast. Others are burning slower, but how many times is a whale going to get hooked before they realize the trap and stop biting? And once you stop being a whale in one title, what are the odds you will jump to the next one and go nuts again?

        • SynCaine says:

          About DDO: Sure it fits. Who is left playing DDO? The randoms who jumped in at the F2P switch? Nope, most of them have left because DDO is still DDO.

          The ones who are left are the ones who enjoy DDO for what it is, and Turbine is forced, thanks to F2P, to make changes to annoy them into spending more. That’s how F2P works. You can’t keep the shop open with +1 daggers if everyone already has that, they won’t buy more. At some point, you are forced to add a +2 dagger. And by the time the +150 dagger is around, how many of your core players are going to look at that and say “yea, let me pay again just to keep doing what I want to do”?

          This change, adding NOTHING to the gameplay or enjoyment of DDO, is simply an arm twist to hopefully get a few more people to shell out a few more bucks.

        • Syn, you seemed to have grasped my point about vacation homes without realizing it. Some people do own vacation homes. Others, like you, prefer to rent. For the people who prefer to own the home, it is worth it to own rather than rent because that’s what they want. Just because someone chooses to buy when you choose to rent doesn’t mean they’re dumb, rather that they have different priorities. These other people are other markets you can attract.

          You keep acting like the exact same thing doesn’t happen in the subscription business model. The goal of the subscription model is to keep you subscribing for as long as possible, preferably with multiple accounts. You think Blizzard adds reputation grinds to every expansion because that’s the height of tremendously fun gameplay? No, it’s horrifically grindy gameplay. Add in an artificial limit on “daily quests” and you pad out your content for months. You think CCP added time-based skill training because it was fair? No, they added it because it would keep people subscribing longer. Just like the exact same mechanic keeps people coming back to build one more item in free-to-play social or mobile games.

          As for people leaving the game after it goes free-to-play, well duh. Guess what, they do it in subscription games, too. Raph Koster pointed this out years ago. Free-to-play doesn’t mean you magically get to retain players. What it does is get more people in the door after you drop the “cover charge”. Yeah, some people are going to leave but that’s normal and expected, not a flaw in the business model.

          Anyway, I’ve gone on long enough. I hope you heed my advice and stick to your strengths by writing more insightful stuff rather than something like this post. You’re a good writer, you don’t need to stoop to this level of banality.

        • …and feel free to fix that rogue HTML anchor tag I forgot to close.

    • Rynnik says:

      Brian, I typically wouldn’t take the time to bother, but I really wanted to reply to your post as I am surprised by the amount of disappointment I felt on reading your response to this post in Syncaine’s blog. I am not in the game industry – I probably couldn’t be farther from it with what I do for a living, but your perspective is so painfully ‘in group’ that it is nearly insulting to read. I fully understand you believe what you say; however, to insinuate that it is a ‘tired dredging up of business ignorance’ to provide an outside perspective on transparently poor business practices within the gaming industry is just poor taste.

      Maybe you are tired of the topic, and maybe Syn is losing the ‘F2P champion game designer’ audience with the way he looks at and discusses these issues, but it is a lot better than the ‘official’ perspective displayed anytime I have loaded up a free to play game and was berated by the overt advertisement schemes within the core of the entertainment medium I was choosing to consume. I get it. It is a sales pitch. You are doing a good one in your response here I guess. But I just wanted to tell you that I come here and mull over what Syncaine says based on a desire to think about these topics without you in the industry trying to cram your ads down my throat like you do with your products, your official posts, and the other mechanisms you use to spread the word. And then I click on comments and get the party lines together with a sense of disappointment that Syn would dare to bring up this tired old topic and not even in support of it!?!?

      Get used to reading about ‘the F2P debacle’ Brian, because I am quite certain (as a consumer, a gamer, and a very non-business oriented person) the discussion isn’t going away anytime soon, and I don’t have the experience, time or inclination to try and convince you that this is the case (although I may swing by and throw an ‘I told you so’ your way later) so I am perfectly content to watch from the outside over the next years hedging my bets. And I also apologize in advance if the move away from F2P business models impacts you personally due to investment in it, but that is business ups and downs for you (hopefully the primer sells well right?).

      As an additional aside, I also hope you elaborate in the future on what you consider to be the bestest PvP game ever (I bet it isn’t an MMO right?). Or even about what you consider to the the industry expanding, boundary pushing impacts, that F2P titles have been making (sorry I must of missed them while playing those ACTUALLY paradigm breaking games called EVE Online and Darkfall Unholy Wars).

      Do you have a blog Brian? I’ll read it, but I will definitely refrain from being ‘long sufferingly tired at you appeals’ when you tell me about the benefits of F2P and how the decline in that business model just doesn’t make business sense and can’t really be happening.

      • Rynnik, yes, my perspective is “in group” because I am in that group. I’ve written proposals for MMOs that use both subscription and free-to-play business models over the past decade. I know which ones have any chance to get funding (hint: not the subscription ones). The reason why I’m here posting instead of just silently removing Syn from my RSS reader is because I do have that perspective in addition to being an avid MMO player.

        Two things: I’m not a PR person, so I’m not here to be touchy-feely. Also, Syn is a PvPer, so if I simply came here to mollycoddle him he’d lose all respect for me. So, yeah, my comment wasn’t full of diplomatic wording.

        Anyway, free-to-play isn’t going away. I will bet you a year’s salary that MMOs as a genre will go away before the free-to-play business model goes away and is replaced by subscriptions as we recognize them today. Mobile games (and social games before them) have shown that the free-to-play business model is way too profitable to ignore. Time to stop whining about why free-to-play sucks, and start looking at how it can be done well.

        As for Syn’s posting, I wouldn’t mind him talking about free-to-play if he had any actual substance to the post. I mean, comparing free-to-play fans with morbidly obese people who shop at Walmart? Really? This is not intelligent discussion, this is dumb yucks from someone who I know can post much more insightful stuff.

        Finally, yeah, I do have a blog: click on my name on this comment. I have almost 9 years of posts, and if you dig you’ll see I’ve talked about the free-to-play business model before it took hold in mainstream MMOs. You might also see I’m critical of the business model done poorly; shows why I play DDO but not LotRO anymore. I’m not a mindless free-to-play model supporter; I recognize the flaws and argue it can be done right.

        As for my favorite PvP game, well… go read my blog a bit and maybe you’ll figure that out. I am rather biased. ;)

        • Rynnik says:

          Cool, much better! :-P

          I appreciate the straight shooting style – reading your first post left me with a perception of a appeal to pathetic righteousness and general whining about getting picked on. Now that isn’t a fair perception (what is amirite?) but it was enough to jolt me out of my typical blog comment reading routine of chuckles and moving on with my life and led me to comment. So you may feel like a proper approach can and should be taken to reach ol’ thick skinned Syncaine, but check your first comment again. It was Walmart greeter yucky.

          Anyhow, I work in marketing for one of the few organizations where profit is irrelevant and the end state isn’t to sell a commercial product. My work interest involves evaluating target audiences, looking at the sciences and arts of human influences and applying them in practical environments. That gives you at least a very simplistic rundown of my background and why I can be overcritical of delivery methods to the detriment of the message.

          Lets move beyond my first beef to the debate at large.

          Entertainment is such a funny mistress to run a business around.

          I will butcher your ‘vacation house’ analogy for a minute. I don’t want to own a vacation property designed to get me to upgrade the furniture and appliances or to repaint the walls. The garish (to my tastes) advertisements reminding me how easy it is to call in the renovators and get the flashy new *whatever* will remove any enjoyment I might have gained at spending time there. I don’t care how cheap I ‘bought’ the vacation house for – subjecting myself the the sales pitch is not worth it for me regardless of how good the property is (and I have walked out of too many presentations to understand it is just my personality and there is plenty of market for suckers to support what those timeshare vacation property shills do).

          If I am getting a house, I want a home. I want something designed to my style, that I can enjoy and relax in. Mess with my feng shui in an attempt to sell me something and I will be quite upset – remember I ‘get’ marketing – there isn’t a ‘level’ of it subtle enough that I will be able to ignore it and just do my vacationing thing.

          Enough houses.

          To me entertainment should be art in SOME sense of the word. I don’t have a problem with ‘entertainment artists’ making a buck. Get filthy rich, all good. But they do it on the merits of their art. Whether a book, movie, song, or MMO I have no issue opening my wallet to buy into some bit of art that entertains me. Not all art does, but that is the nature of the world. There are books I have read over and over again since I was old enough to first open them, and very well appreciated and sold authors I have no time for at all.

          Art is a good word for it because there is a generally accepted standard to artistic purity. I don’t want to watch a movie based entirely on character development and cliff hanger ending all designed to make the sequel a box office hit, I don’t want to read a fictional novel that is just a clever product placement scheme, I don’t want to… You see where this is leading in that I don’t want to play an MMO (any game actually) that is designed purely to act as an advertisement vehicle to voluntarily subject myself to a ton of pitches on everything from aesthetics to conveniences. Life is too short, mate.

          While the suits may be looking to fund the projects that go the ‘big hollywood route’ and sell us all a bill of goods we didn’t want in the first place, I can and will continue to look for the ‘art’ in the computer game world where some amazing things have been, are being, will continue to be accomplished in the realm of entertainment art. A guild I run with just had a forum thread about gaming recollections from when we were children and some of the impacts that stuff had on us – stories about real people actually being emotionally moved to tears etc. Something good, something worth my money will GET my money. I am not a cheap skate – waiting staff gives me a really enjoyable time eating out at a restaurant and I will tip way beyond expected levels.

          A good measure would be to look beyond the delivery medium. If MMO games suddenly experienced something where computers were replaced with the next thing – think VCR tapes replaced with DVDs – what games would I want to port over to the new medium? That is the quality of game I want to play – something beyond just that computers can do what is at this point some pretty well established stuff. Ask me that question right now in today’s world/market/whatever relating to MMOs and I might say EVE Online. Wait, aren’t they already working on that at CCP?!? :-/

          Make a game worthy of my money and I would be willing to tip well beyond a subscription cost, no problem, and I would THANK you for the chance to give you my money. It would have to literally be a work of art. Design an advertisement medium and try to make it entertaining enough for me to see art in it? Good luck.

        • Rynnik, a few brief comments because it’s late and I have an early morning meeting.

          This is the problem with public comments. They’re aimed at Syn, but others read them, too. Syn’s a big boy, and we have a mature discussion upthread. You might think I’m rude, but context is everything.

          Your complaints about “advertising” irritating you is a problem with the implementation, not of the business model itself. It’s like saying you don’t like gasoline powered cars because the Ford Pinto had a problem with exploding gas tanks. (From houses to cars, I’m full of metaphors.) You can have a game that requires microcurrency without the game reminding you every few minutes to go buy more microcurrency.

          As for “art” and how games should sell themselves, that’s categorically bullshit. Let me leave you with the example of Lady Gaga. Love her or hate her, she’s sold a ton of music. She wasn’t exactly “born that way”, though. There was a video of her in her pre-Gaga days, brunette hair playing a piano. It’s not bad, but it’s not memorable. But, slip her into a meat dress and have her prance around on stage singing songs with suggestive lyrics, and bam, you have a superstar sensation. While there’s probably more talented singer out there playing coffee shops and eating out of dumpsters because they just don’t have the reach Gaga does. If my time in the game industry has taught me anything, it’s that “if you build it, they will come” is the worst lie you can ever tell a creative person.

          That game you want to support so bad has to come from somewhere. The people making it have to eat. The people writing checks want to have a vague feeling they’ll get their money back with a lot added to it. And, that means that a subscription-based game is a non-starter.

        • Rynnik says:

          Out of the four responses I drew the weak wishywashy straw I see.

          Your comment in no way addresses the core of the issue I have with the model. Saying it is the ‘advertising implementation’ that bugs me is completely missing the point when my contention is that if you set out to create a game designed as an advertising medium you get a game with advertising in it.

          What do you do? Sacrifice yourself to the suits to pitch your game and get it made and say, “thanks but we are leaving out the advertising portion that is what makes the model tick.” Yah, I don’t think so. If they have it locked down the way you say so that sub based games will NOT be funded (you said that right?) then there is no way in hell they are going to leave you to publish your product without mandating that it is chock full of microcurrency access points, easy to upgrade reminders, and ads for the latest sparkly pony. It is your fucking cake so don’t tell me you can have it without eating it – if they really have the industry locked down so that F2P is the only invested in business model then don’t try and tell me that a F2P game can be made without obnoxious schemes to get you spending your cash. It doesn’t make sense.

          Which brings me back to my original problem. Have you ever read any of those novels that come out with computer games once in a while? I have read a couple (to my shame). They weren’t very good, certainly not memorable, and never something worth reading again. Why? Because the book was written after some suit determined the game would sell better with a novel thrown in. The INTENT matters. Set out to put something together for it to sell and it will never be a classic, something worth passing along to your kids. Create an artistic labour of love in any medium, including games, and you will have an audience and if you are brilliant at it you will be rich.

          Your words:
          “Even as a small company, you need to provide a return on investment for your investors. I know from pitching to investors and potential partners that a subscription-based game won’t get investment or funding. So, if you want to make an MMO, you have to make it free-to-play. Or you make it with no budget, and having run an MMO with no budget I know how much those get ignored.

          As a developer, I want to create a great game. I want to create a landmark title that will stand the test of time. I want to create new forms of gameplay that will astound even the most jaded MMO player. That isn’t happening with a proposal with a subscription-based model.”

          I share your passion and hope it never dies in you. But you are deluding yourself to believe that that game will ever be something you can create within a F2P business model concept. The suits beat you. I get it. But that means they beat you mate, you may get investors but you will NEVER get creative license to actually do something remarkable, because that isn’t how suits work. If you accept that subscription won’t work because of the model regardless of the game, please step back and think about my reasoning around why F2P won’t work for anything outside of producing the MMO version of the novel for computer game marketing and for the same set of reasons – the model doesn’t support any sort of design that doesn’t move people towards the cashshop/microtransaction/payment method of choice, you know, the marketing, ads for us uninitiated types.

          Brian we aren’t really having a discussion on who is right here. The debate is around the timeline that I am being proven right in – Lady Gaga versus Bach or something. In a generational time frame of course what I am saying will prove true, but taken within the scope of a business man making a living for his family that is and should be irrelevant to you. What I believe is happening though is that the modern world is massively accelerating timelines on stuff like this and I don’t think you have as much time as you may think you do to be financially viable as a F2P game designer. Suits are ALWAYS behind the eight ball by definition as they are required to follow the market. And the market is only starting to trend towards change, but that change is coming dude.

          So anyhow enjoy being Lady Gaga you sellout – I am going back to listening to some Beethoven now. ;-)

        • Jenks says:

          “Time to stop whining about why free-to-play sucks, and start looking at how it can be done well.”

          It can’t be done well because it runs directly counter to the idea of a fully immersive virtual world. Cash shops are great for the vidya games you’re making and bilking the dummies who play them, but they’re incompatible with virtual worlds.

        • Rynnik: no, you picked the “Brian really should respond to the other posters before bed since I kicked this hornet’s nest” straw. I’m trying to give honest replies, but my time is limited. I simply cannot give a point-by-point rebuttal at this time.

          The big problem I have is that people make all sorts of assumptions about what the free-to-play model requires. You assume that it has to make the game into an advertising medium, when that is not the case. Now, I will agree that this seems to be an effective way to implement the model, but there’s nothing inherent in the model that requires this.

          Yes, a product has to be changed to accommodate a business model; you say you’re in marketing, there’s no way you can argue with this basic statement. Even subscription-based games are changed based on the model; the difference is that the MMO audience has grown to accept these changes as normal rather than disruptive. The audience embraced daily quests and reputation grinds, even though these are pretty blatant attempts to water down the content to make it last longer. People accept the “you have done X/Y daily quests today!” as viable whereas opening a separate window to buy a separate type of currency with real cash is OMG IMMERSION BREAKING! Plus, to do well with a subscription business model means that you have to cater to the widest audience possible, also known as the dreaded lowest common denominator.

          As for being right on a generational level, well, as I said above, “I will bet you a year’s salary that MMOs as a genre will go away before the free-to-play business model goes away and is replaced by subscriptions as we recognize them today.” Maybe free-to-play is a transitional period, but we’re not going back to (monthly) subscriptions no matter how much you’re used to them.

          Finally, Bach was the Lady Gaga of his time. ;)

        • Rynnik says:

          No worries, I understand RL and time restrictions. Although you seemed to have plenty of time to chuck out a platitudes about about the bullshit of ‘art’. I have very much enjoyed this exchange so far though, so thanks for continuing to find a few minutes for it.


          Brian said:
          “The big problem I have is that people make all sorts of assumptions about what the free-to-play model requires. You assume that it has to make the game into an advertising medium, when that is not the case. Now, I will agree that this seems to be an effective way to implement the model, but there’s nothing inherent in the model that requires this.”

          Really? Nothing in the model of free to play inherently requires it to be an advertising medium? Did I get that right? So the suits are going to politely listen to you and say, “So people get the product for free, and will enjoy it because we haven’t creatively limited your concept or burdened it with inconveniences we can charge for, and they will play this game without ever being presented with the info on how they can give us dollars? Sounds great!”

          Brian said:
          “Yes, a product has to be changed to accommodate a business model; you say you’re in marketing, there’s no way you can argue with this basic statement.”

          Argument incoming. I did say I did marketing for an organization where profit isn’t an endstate consideration. ;-)

          When your product is art, something without an intrinsic value where the goal is to entertain, changing that product to suit the business model displays a complete lack of integrity. Do you market a book on kindle and just tweak it a bit for a younger audience demographic while the original version sells well to octogenarians as a hardcover?

          Try this poorly thought out exercise (hey I have a rl to get back to :-D). Young Da Vinci is painting the Mona Lisa and the marketing guys get their hands on him before release. They decide to roll out the free to play business model with this one and convince Da Vinci that they will release a small section with the smile in it for free and then show the rest of the painting to those that fork out the cash.

          That enigmatic smile is a killer product. Every art critic and connoisseur is going to eat up this product. But why limit the market to that stuffed-up crowd? By selectively cropping a bit more and getting Da Vinci to augment a touch here and there you give her some really great cleavage. Sex appeal best appeal. Cha-ching.

          Art crowd and testosterone market harnessed successfully, the plan is to publish, until a brilliant young up-and-comer with a glossy new suit suggests a twitter campaign to develop some conspiracy theory about the released portion where a mysterious and unexplained purple splotch (suddenly added in for this purpose of course) exists quietly in a corner. It is a massive success! It goes viral and the entire world is talking about what the purple could possibly signify. Da Vinci is a little worried about what to do with it since it wasn’t his idea but after consultation with the suits, obediently adds in a MLP cantering through the background to fill the required promise.

          That is some fucking art right there. Luckily the product is always going to be influenced by the model and it is just the way of the world, Da Vinci died rich based on the twitter buzz alone.

          Brian said:
          “As for being right on a generational level, well, as I said above, “I will bet you a year’s salary that MMOs as a genre will go away before the free-to-play business model goes away and is replaced by subscriptions as we recognize them today.” Maybe free-to-play is a transitional period, but we’re not going back to (monthly) subscriptions no matter how much you’re used to them.”

          Maybe you are right and a third solution is the best one. I am not married to the subscription model as I said in the new comment thread from today’s post, but I would be way out of my depth to suggest what might work. I will be fine with something as long as it is a payment structure not contingent on subordinating the game to the model.

          “Finally, Bach was the Lady Gaga of his time. ;)”

          I lol’d.

        • Rynnik, thanks as well for the conversation. As I said, my goal is to get some insightful discussion.

          “Although you seemed to have plenty of time to chuck out a platitudes about about the bullshit of ‘art’.”

          It’s not platitudes, it’s experience. I focused on the “art” aspect because it’s a common misconception that people have about game development. As I said in another response, I have literally written a book about business and legal issues in the game industry. Not because I have a passion for business and legal issues, but because I understood that if I wanted to create “Art” (with a capital A) in computer games I had to understand business.

          This is not new, and not some development of today’s hyper-capitalist economy. Shakespeare’s work was the equivalent of the modern low-brow movie. We just consider it a higher caliber of Art centuries later.

          Also consider that da Vinci didn’t sit down and paint the Mona Lisa spontaneously. It was a commissioned portrait, and that means someone was paying for it; if the guy paying for it comes in and says, “I don’t like my wife’s bushy eyebrows, so don’t paint them” then da Vinci either argues at the risk of forfeiting payment or he doesn’t paint the eyebrows.

          We have no idea what elements informed da Vinci’s work, it could have been heavily commercialized just as you fear. Centuries give us the perspective and distance to appreciate the masterful craftsmanship and artistic expression as it hangs in a museum and to completely divorce it from any commercial pressures there might have been. To pretend that capital-A “Art” is never informed by commercial pressure is ignorant of a lot of art history, and certainly not realistic in today’s market.

          Anyway, thanks again for the discussion. I hope you check out my blog and leave some comments there as well.

        • Rynnik says:

          I do agree it is a slippery steep slope between the line where an artist/author/designer can put his or her hand on heart and know the product meets the artistic integrity it was intended to, whether in the medium of the Mona Lisa, or Shakespeare’s ‘B-Movies’ of the time. The result is clear to the artist and as the consumer I get to vote on those products with cash, but I get that the academic debate on that ‘purity’ is pretty much by definition impossible to settle.

          And here we zoom back into reality and look at the selection of F2P titles out on the market. While the hooks to make F2P games into ad laced inconvenience in order to chase dollars are easily defined and understood, I am willing to concede that regardless of the business model a perfect game could be produced and designed from the ground up as F2P despite all of those issues and pulls towards things that create gaming mediocrity. I acknowledge as well that the next Mona Lisa level painting could be done with a medium of peanut butter on velvet. I am not going to waste my time checking out any paintings done that way, or games designed that way though, because the realist in me screams about wasting time on something that just isn’t going to work with the foibles of human design.

          There are certainly subscription based games that have fallen aside due to tricks and crap to chase longer subscription (looking at you Korean grind games) which I would consider to be just as much of a waste of my time and money as a F2P title. I am not saying the subscription model magically lifts games beyond any of that sort of influence. Hell, look at EVE Online as an example. Their marketing influenced game design to encourage multi-account game play, and this pressure for alts was definitely something I was watching carefully. I don’t believe that this pressure in EVE Online was anything other than a suit driven influence on that subscription games design. However, CCP as a company has CCP Fozzie right now working reducing that aspect of their game design. They are cutting back on the hooks to run a second account with off-grid boosting (with plans to remove it entirely from the game) despite it being an issue that left in (as bad game design) would net them more money for their suits. That is the kind of game and company I like to support, something where a MMO is being made into the best realization of the vision that it can be and the suits are kept happy with the product going out without having to worry about the content because their income isn’t dependent on that content beyond “is this game good enough to be maintaining and growing a healthy subscriber base”.

          The greatest detractor from your argument Brian, is how clearly F2P games have gone down the market of sacrifice any and every bit of the game to support the model. It isn’t even something we need to debate the fine lines around, just loading up these titles on the market it is blatant and in your face what the design focus was, and that focus wasn’t, “Lets make the best game we can in the way it will make us the most money”. That is the problem with F2P and if you honestly don’t believe this is a fault of the model (surely there is some correlation at this point no?) then you must be pretty pissed at fellow designers out there as they shoot the concept in the foot and keep following the suits directions to throughout anything that would make a game good in exchange for ways to bilk me out of another 99cent something.

        • Rynnik says:

          Apologies for the typos and spelling at the end especially – I got a little rushed.

    • Jidhari says:

      LOL. Brian, Syn sure got a rise out of you! Is this your inner DDO fanboy coming out or are you drinking the koolaid with all the SOE EQNext cheques coming in for Storybricks?

      On a more serious note, nothing is wrong with being anti F2P or pro F2P for that matter. We are all entitled to our opinions and can expound them ad nauseum (especially when reading a blog is a choice).

      The simple fact is that there has been no evidence yet that F2P is the messiah for long term financial success in the MMO genre. So far we have only had examples of subscription failures going F2P (SWTOR, LOTRO etc). EQNext will probably be the first outright F2P game (is Neverwinter F2P?). Referencing 2011 press releases as proof of F2P success is disingenuous and intellectually lazy at best. It is perfectly reasonable to ask for recent evidence considering the broad stroke statements made by that massively author. NCSoft is still making boatloads from the Lineage series (on par with the B2P GW2 from a recent financial release).Show some hard evidence of F2P MMO success and I would be happy to eat my words.

      BTW, Ask anyone who runs their own business, shutting down is not the only commercial failure condition. When was the last time you heard anyone boasting about earning just enough to keep the lights on? That’s called treading water, not success. And two years without any official announcements on your financial situation is not a good sign.

      Apologies in advance for any bad english. Not my first language.

      • Really? Those are the best insults you could come up with? Calling me an fanboy or pointing out who is paying my company for our expertise? Weaksauce, sir.

        My problem isn’t that Syn hates free-to-play. I said that above, it’s fine for him to hate it. My problem is that he wrote this lame post where he takes up half of it comparing free-to-play fans to morbidly obese people who shop at Wal-Mart. I want Syn’s insight, not dumb jokes.

        As for running a business, yeah, I did that for a decade with a game that tread water. The difference is that a large company like Warner Bros. doesn’t keep games going that are merely treading water. As a public company, they have a fiduciary responsibility to use their capital and maximize return on investment. That means if a game is merely breaking even, then they kill the game and take the money that was spent on the game and put it to better use on a game that has a better return on investment. The fact that Warner Bros. is keeping DDO and LotRO open years after the free-to-play transition means that the business model has been somewhat successful, even if we can’t throw around hard numbers that companies consider trade secrets.

    • Supplantor says:

      Dear Psychochild,
      In my view there are 2 types of companies where games are produced.
      Company 1 makes games and sells them for money.
      Company 2 makes money by selling games.
      While they may seem the same there is a key difference in priority/focus.
      Company 1 focuses on making the best game they can to sell as many as they can.
      Company 2 focuses on making money and games are what they use to do it.

      Its seems to me that in most cases the payment model reflects the priority/focus on the company.
      That is if a game is a subscription game it focuses on building the best game it can to retain players. (company 1)
      On the other hand F2P focuses on getting the players to buy stuff from the store by any means. (company 2)

      And as a gamer it doesn’t matter to me if you are right, and a game could make more money by focusing on making more money than if it focused on making a better game. As a gamer I want better games, not richer games companies.

      If you want preview of where I think F2P is heading go read this article on how to make money via mobile apps.
      This should give you insight on why focusing on making money instead of making the best game possible is bad for gamers.

      • I literally helped write a book about business in the game industry. I know exactly what’s going on in many parts of the industry, I suspect better than most of the people commenting here. That link could have been talking about console games, or casual games, or web games, or social games, or many other types of games that have ever existed. That attitude is not new in the industry. There are always people who will be in it to make a quick buck.

        But, any public game company needs to look out for the bottom line. Even as a small company, you need to provide a return on investment for your investors. I know from pitching to investors and potential partners that a subscription-based game won’t get investment or funding. So, if you want to make an MMO, you have to make it free-to-play. Or you make it with no budget, and having run an MMO with no budget I know how much those get ignored.

        As a developer, I want to create a great game. I want to create a landmark title that will stand the test of time. I want to create new forms of gameplay that will astound even the most jaded MMO player. That isn’t happening with a proposal with a subscription-based model. It has nothing to do with what my attitudes are about making a game, and everything to do with facing the reality of what will let me get the funds to make that amazing game experience I want to create. The sooner we can get past this “free to play means you hate players” garbage the better.

        • SynCaine says:

          To get past the attitude, I’d need you to show me a F2P MMO that doesn’t attempt to screw it’s players.

        • Syn, you really interested or do you just want to nitpick? I’ll play some DDO with you if you want. It’s not PvP and the character creation isn’t for the faint of heart, but I still think it’s a really fair system. But, I expect you to give it an honest go with an open mind rather than bringing your assumptions along.

          Drop me an email if you’re serious.

          Or, you can go play Puzzle Pirates on your own. The gameplay is not quite my cup of tea, but it’s probably even more fair than DDO.

        • SynCaine says:

          I’ve played F2P DDO (as well as sub DDO before it), its not worth my time to download. The combat is a horribly washed out compared to Darkfall, many of the instances are gimmick-fests, and at the end of the day, its a poor-mans MMO dungeon simulator without a ‘world’ to give it any meaning.

        • So, you don’t like DDO as a game, but that doesn’t say why the business model is unfair. (And, I disagree with your assessment of the game, but I’m not surprised given it’s pretty obvious what your tastes are in games is. And, the game is a lot better when you have a good, steady group to play with; it’s not a game you can “graze” from very easily.)

          Anyway, what about Puzzle Pirates? I’d love to hear how you think that game “screws its players” because of the free-to-play business model.

          Are you sure you’re not confusing “I don’t like the game” with “I don’t like the business model”?

        • SynCaine says:

          DDO and I have a long history actually. Fresh out of college and dumb, I interviewed at Turbine and told them instances suck. I was interviewing for a DDO position (didn’t get the job, ended up being right).

          I got two boxes at release (still have them), but the utter lack of world was crushing back then, as was the limited amount of content and the speed-run repetition.

          Went back with a 5-man team after the F2P conversion, that failed when we hit the paywall and not everyone was willing to spend a few bucks to pick up X or Y instance. Our few experiences with randoms was also… well, random grouping in a F2P MMO.

          What’s funny about DDO is its the perfect game for F2P, which Turbine luckily stumbled into (compared to LotRO or other ‘real’ worldly MMOs), and yet it still sucks both on content and due to its business model.

          I’m not a minigame fan, so Puzzle Pirates really doesn’t interest me. What little I do know about it, I’m not sure I’d end up calling it an MMO anyway.

          F2P can be done right. LoL does it, but LoL is a MOBA, and Riot has gotten plenty of my money. I’ve yet to see a real MMO do it, because I don’t believe it’s possible. Still waiting for a ‘yes it is, here is how’ post/comment, or example, but as always, I suspect I’ll be left waiting, or given a “CoD is an MMO!” dodge.

        • Eh, I’m not a fan of instancing in general, particularly how WoW did it, but I think DDO does it right. It’s attempting to capture some of the feeling of a pen-and-paper RPG adventure, and it does that fairly well short of being a virtual tabletop instead of an MMO. Going on an adventure with your party feels right in DDO, very much like it does in tabletop D&D. Obviously they’ve made a few compromises to fit the nature of an MMO, but they work. I think this type of game couldn’t do the open world thing like you want, because then it’d feel like the old “waiting in line to open Sharpbeak’s cage” problem that WoW had when it came to adventures.

          I think you’re probably just not the target audience for the game. Being a tabletop RPG fan, having met my significant other in university playing D&D and playing DDO with her these days, I’m almost certainly in the target audience. Anyway, I think you’re still letting your opinion of the game influence your opinion of how well the business model works in the game.

  3. Tierless Time says:

    “Next, has anyone ever called F2P ‘fans’ lazy gamers? What does that even mean? People too lazy to put in a credit card number to subscribe?”

    This made me LOL. (thats better, looks around nervously)

  4. Anonymous says:

    I own 2 vacation homes. Is that a problem? Are you and your henchmen going to say bad things to me?

  5. j3w3l says:

    Nice debate you two have going on here, do you have intermediate party yet to tally the score.

    To be honest I think you are both guilty of generalisations and failed reasoning throughout although you do represent your specific subsets rather well in the argument you present, so much so that I’m wondering if what I’m seeing is just a marvelous parody.

    • I’m waiting for them to hold an argument between capitalism and communism. *waits patiently* :D

    • Well, this is a discussion in blog comments, not a proper debate. If you want more specific and supported positions, I post on this topic regularly on my blog.

      Plus, my goal isn’t to win converts; that’s not likely for most of the people commenting here. I’m trying to raise the level of discourse, such as my discussion with Rynnik above.

  6. Rammstein says:


    “Syn, I think you’re more inferring than I’m implying. The reality is that game companies are businesses, and if money spent isn’t making enough of a return then that money will stop being spent.”

    “If a “failed” subscription MMO transitions to free-to-play and keeps running, especially if it keeps running for many years like DDO and LotRO (for example), then you can’t say they are commercially “failed” games.”

    A successful game is one that makes enough money that the development cost, plus the cost of operations over time, plus enough money over the cost of development cost to justify the initial risk (e.g., 300 million dollars in a very safe investment, 8 years later, would be worth more like 400-500 million dollars. The high degree of risk means that a game has to do much much better than that.) For a game like SW:TOR, with a development cost of over 300 million dollars, that means that SW:TOR would have to make more like a billion or more dollars, in profit, to be considered a success.

    If SW:TOR keeps running for years as a failed free-to-play (freemium hybrid subscription pay2win pay2gamble whatever the hell it is now) monstrosity, then it won’t make billions of dollars, and you bet your ass that I can call it a commercially ‘failed’ game, because that’s exactly what it is. As a business venture, it didn’t pan out. As an artistic creation, it became a parody of itself. As an innovation in the genre, it inspired no copies. It’s a failure. Yes, an MMO shutting down is indeed an obvious failure condition, but often in life the most obvious first approximation doesn’t turn out to be the final, more considered, conclusion. An MMO which shuts down after 10 years, replaced by scores of more evolved successors, and having made a huge lifetime profit, isn’t actually a failure for shutting down. And an MMO which keeps running as a grotesque parody, milking a tiny yearly profit but never justifying its development cost or inspiring others, is indeed a failure.

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