The three flavors of F2P

Another post about the F2P business model, yay! (I blame TAGN for this one)

One development that has happened somewhat recently is the split definitions of what ‘F2P’ really is. It’s a different take on the “what is an MMO” question, only I don’t think the lines are as blurred here. Below is an attempt to identify the different models, and pass some thoughts on each.

The most basic IMO is the demo model. The MMO in question is free until a certain point, and in order to pass that point (be it a level cap, content cap, or power cap) you have to pay. If paying means buying a box or subbing and getting basically everything, the demo aspect is even more clear. If paying means getting pushed into a cash shop, that’s a bit murky and likely falls into the third model described below.

The next category is one that so far has only workout OUTSIDE of the MMO genre, and I think is the best F2P model; the fluff and extra convenience model. The base game is free, and spending money gets you fluff like champion skins or extra convenience like character slots. The base game, that is free, isn’t affected negatively by the shop, nor are game systems designed around reminding you of the shop or pointing out what you don’t have access to because you haven’t bought it yet.

The third is the ‘classic’ F2P model, where the free part is basically an infomercial to get you into the shop, and only through spending money in the shop do you get the ‘real’ game, be that full access to content or the removal of barriers put up by the devs.

The first model I don’t have issue with if the after-demo part is a box or a sub. In those cases using the term “F2P” is more about using the current buzz word (instead of saying demo) for PR than really using that model.

The second model is the hardest to pull off, because you’re game has to be so good that people WANT to give you money for it. Riot is able to do this with LoL because the base, free game is amazing, so spending money on skins, which are also usually of amazing quality, feels more like supporting something you like rather than being pushed to hand out some cash. Path of Exile also uses this model successfully, again because PoE the base game is pretty great at what it is (a better version of Diablo than current Diablo), and the stuff in the shop is fun/cute for the price.

WoW also somewhat falls into this category because of stuff like the sparkle pony, though of course the sub fee muddles the waters. I do think WoW would still be profitable if it was fully free and Blizzard emulated LoL and sold lots of different skins for mounts, weapons, armor, etc, but I suspect they make more money double-dipping, at least for now.

The third, ‘classic’ F2P model has been discussed to death. It’s the minor leagues, the math-tax scam show from developers who can’t make a good-enough product to stand on its own merits. As I’ve said many times before, this is the model that is the ticking time bomb, and eventually (already?) most people will smarten up and the money will stop trickling in.

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
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21 Responses to The three flavors of F2P

  1. wartzilla says:

    Planetside 2 follows the second model as well.

    • SynCaine says:

      You can buy guns in PS2; which have different stats and effect the game. How does that fit into the second, fluff/convenience, model?

  2. sid6.7 says:

    I was reading Bartle’s essay linked from Tobold’s blog and came across this gem. I think it nails why so many people have strong feelings for or against F2P.

    “The switch from subscription to free-to-play is bad for achievers. It doesn’t matter how much you try to persuade them otherwise, any payment for any gameplay-affecting item or service is pay-to-win. [..] Only purely cosmetic items are not seen as pay-to-win (and even some of those are unacceptable if they give the impression you’ve achieved something you haven’t). Pay-to-win attracts socialisers but puts off achievers (except cheating achievers). Achievers are the core audience for MMOs; they’ve long been abandoning them for single-player games. When an MMO is designed around a revenue model rather than around fun, it doesn’t have a long-term future.”

  3. sid6.7 says:

    Of your three models, which best describes this situation. The base game is “free” but I can buy unlocks — such as additional spells. While I can only one group of spells at a time, I want to buy many of them so that I have maximum flexibility in setting myself up to win my next encounter (whether it be PvP or PvE).

    So, for example, maybe I start with Fireball for free. It’s a good spell, I can play and win with it, but if I want Cone of Cold — I need to buy it. In other words, if I want to evolve from Fire magic to Ice magic, it costs me money. But Ice isn’t necessarily better than Fire, it’s just different.

    Personally, I am more likely to swallow that type of F2P than anything else. The reason is choice and that I get something tangible (well as tangible as virtual assets get, LOL) for my money. The design itself also isn’t trying to manipulate me by making Ice more desirable than Fire.

    • sid6.7 says:

      BTW – what I am describing here is what I think of as similar to the Magic: The Gathering model.

      • SynCaine says:

        Not really, MtG is pure P2W; the rarer the card the better it generally is, and they make sure that as soon as people have ‘everything’, they add a new layer or change the rules to get you into the ‘cash shop’ again.

        As for the idea itself, that’s basically the problem; as soon as ice is more useful than fire for even one example, you go from options to P2W.

        • sid6.7 says:

          That’s fair, but I guess what I’m getting at is that P2W is just another flavor of F2P. One that I’m a little more OK with provided that I get something more tangible.

          I’m not entirely OK with it, but I can see the appeal in the same way I see how collectibles have appeal. Hold a gun to my head and ask me to choose a non-sub model and that’s what I would pick.

          Your ‘three models’ don’t seem to be inclusive of P2W as F2P (or maybe I’m just misreading it), so it feels incomplete to me.

        • SynCaine says:

          P2W is in category 3 for me when it comes to MMOs.

        • Rammstein says:

          I played MtG for a long time, and ” the rarer the card the better it generally is” was true at the very start, but quickly wasn’t really true any more.

          “they make sure that as soon as people have ‘everything’, they add a new layer”

          If we made this the definition, then every MMO ever would be P2W.

          If you spent around 500$ on MTG, then you could participate in every new season, trading old cards for new cards to stay in your desired tournament format. At least that’s how it used to be. 500$ seems pretty P2W as a price tag alone, but I’ve spent more than 500$ on WoW by now, despite my ‘quitting’ periods being longer than my periods of actually playing. If you want to say that MTG has strong P2W elements, that would be hard to disagree with, but “pure P2W” is a little much.

        • SynCaine says:

          Did you play MtG:O? Because if not I don’t think you saw how distilled the game was towards P2W, at least during 4th edition and a few years after that.

        • sid6.7 says:

          I started playing again as my kids got older. The thing with MtG is that it is possible to build some pretty strong decks using nothing but commons and uncommons.

          Granted, that’s rare, but the point is that the system allows you some level of choice in your decisions. I can put together one great tourney deck or I could put together several.

          I also think a person’s ability to put together a great deck, particularly inexpensive great decks, is all part of the appeal.

          If you are looking for tournament legal decks in the Standard format, then cards become illegal at a pretty quick pace. But that’s no different than an expansion coming out for an MMO.

          As I said, I’m not particularly a fan, but I think it’s the lesser evil and worthy of a ‘fourth type’ in your list of F2P models.

      • Rammstein says:

        I never played MtG:O..I started playing a few months after the game came out in ’93, and quit around ’98. Apparently MtG:O came out in 2002. I tend to look at the time I played as the “heyday” of MtG, and so somehow as more representative of its truest nature, but I can see how you’d want to judge a game which exists today, by the way in which it exists today.

        • SynCaine says:

          MtG:O is sorta like playing poker online; same game, just increased with the power of the internet, so you pick up on trends a lot faster. What quickly happened in MtG:O is the rarest and best cards had insane values, while the more common and less powerful cards were literally worth nothing. If you wanted to play at a high level, the P2W wall was rather high.

  4. Jimmy says:

    Where would WOT fall into your models? I’ve spent real money on things like camo paints on tanks I like and extra leveling speed when leveling a crappy tank but I don’t use gold ammo on a regular basis. I’ve tried buying their gold tanks, but frankly it’s no fun fighting with a tank that doesn’t improve over time.

    • SynCaine says:

      WoT was firmly P2W when it had gold ammo. It’s less so now, but still in that meh area of F2P due to gold tanks and how the grind is structured at the higher tiers to encourage their use (unless they changed that as well and I missed it).

  5. Jimmy says:

    Off topic:

    Click to access The%20Decline%20of%20MMOs.pdf

    Syn, you might find this interesting. Found it on reddit.

    • SynCaine says:

      I skimmed that early, saw very little of value. Bartle might be one of, if not the most overrated voices in the MMO genre, all because someone else took something he sorta wrote and made an easy-to-follow meme-like set of questions off it.

  6. John says:

    GW2 also falls into the second category. The shop is only for extreme convenience and fluff and there is zero moment where you fell that you must pay to progress further. But ok GW2 need you to buy the box, so I don’t know if it falls into the general “f2p” category.

    Swtor from the other hand is a unique game, since it falls into 2 categories, the first and third one. Only EA could pull this off.

  7. Anti-Stupidity League says:

    So with one of these models you think TESO will use when it goes f2p?

    • Anti-Stupidity League says:


    • Anti-Stupidity League says:

      It seems they’re getting ready to go full f2p sooner than I thought as they’re selling sparkle ponies even before the launch in their cash shop. 6 months? What do you think?

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