Friday, June 29, 2012

The Steamworks: So You Want F2P Games?

Hey Gang,

For the past five years or so, there's been a huge amount of debate and discussion in the gaming community circling F2P, or Free to Play, video games. One of the most popular questions concerning F2P is "How does a company make money off F2P games?" and, by further extension, "What does it mean for a game to go from a fee model to a F2P model?" Today, I'd like to explain why F2P might not be the best option not only for game companies but for gamers themselves.

Let's start by looking at benefits of F2P games; obviously, for the customer, there is (usually) no money involved to utilize the product, which, come on, who doesn't like free stuff? Since people like free stuff, more people will likely check out the product, which is good for gaming companies; more people makes you as a company look like you're doing something right. Well, one might ask why more people a good thing. The more players you have, the more people will likely be on your website; therefore, many other companies will want to pay your company huge loads of cash to advertise on your site.

So, by that description, F2P games shouldn't be a bad thing at all, or at least one would think so.Yet this is not how it always turns out, and it also has an effect on many other MMOs*. With F2P games all around the internet, many people just don't see the sense in paying for a subscription based game; as if it wasn't already semi-challenging for companies to coerce people into playing monthly. Now companies have to deal with talking people into buying a product versus using another one that's completely free. When people see the word free, they're sold; they'll usually take it and at the very least sample it. This competition has caused famous AAA** MMOs such as World of Warcraft, Lord of the Rings Online, and even newer titles such as Star Wars: the Old Republic and Rift to integrate some sort of F2P model (such as free to play areas or free access up to a certain level). A game that I recently had this frustration with is DCUO; over the past few months, they restricted the F2P members to a level cap of 30 because they weren't making the money they thought they were going to with their new model.

I think it's also fair to say that companies with F2P games usually don't care as much about maintaining their games. Many F2P companies don't update their games with new content or fix bugs that annoy the hell out of people for quite some time, and this can be very frustrating. A perfect example of this is the difference between PSN and XBL. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against either, but the quality difference between the two online gaming networks is very noticable; because users pay for Xbox Live, the devs take care of it more and patch the bugs that appear every once in a while. With PSN, not only does the connection often get messed up, but there are a lot of bugs that just never get fixed. Basically, F2P can make for an uncared for game.

Because this new F2P category is slowly devolving the gaming industry (while others may disagree, this is my personal view), I have been forced to dislike the F2P category. Even if this weren't true, most F2P games have awful graphics and are scams of some other game that you need to pay for. However, I don't think F2P has it's place. There's really only a few games that I've seen that have F2P policies that I agree with; one of them is Wizard101. Now this isn't me just cheering for my home team (especially because I don't play anymore anyway); but hear me out. W101 allows zero outside advertisements on their site, meaning you wont be prompted by an outside site to buy a 10 pack of toilet paper when registering an account, so they make no money off of advertising (Note: This isn't saying that they don't advertise, it's saying that they don't accept money from companies wanting to advertise). That aside, I would like to point out that they do false advertise in a way; W101 is not a F2P, however there is an unlimited free trial. That said, W101 makes all their money off members buying in-game currency (Crowns) and member subscriptions, which I find admirable. And the surprising thing is, KingsIsle is soaring right now; their business is growing astoundingly.

I find that allowing people to have an unlimited free trial to an MMO is a great thing; in fact, I'd like to point out that WoW recently installed an unlimited free trial up to level 20. In my opinion, this is a much more honorable move on a gaming company's part than selling their website to the evil of advertisements and making all the best items in the game cost real money. In this scenario, both the customer and the developers truly win; it gives people something free, earns developers money, and allows for more money to be compiled to build newer, better games. In my opinion, unlimited free trials are the way to go. So the next time you're complaining about having to pay your SWTOR subscription or the next time you're complaining about how LOTRO has declined so much since it went F2P, just remember; anything in moderation is a good thing. If everything went F2P, there'd be no amazing games out there.

Peter, The Steamworks


* I say MMOs because that's largely where the issue of F2P versus subscriptions lies. While there are all sorts of F2P games, it seems to be the major battle is being fought over online games.

** There's a lot of talk as to what a AAA game is, so if you're looking for an exact definition, I can't really help you. What I can tell you is that most people would agree that a AAA game is a game with amazing graphics, an enormous map to explore, and top quality story; so basically a really great game. Further details are just personal opinions. To hear more on AAA games, visit this link. Beau Hindman is a writer for Massively, whom I've mentioned before, and his article on AAA games is amazing. I highly recommend reading it.

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