Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Free to play. It's not out to ruin your life.

There's been a lot of talk at Massively, both behind the scenes and out front, about the free-to-play business model. I've avoided weighing in until now because I just couldn't decide. Which makes me late to the discussion, but I'm okay with that. ;-)

I'm so torn on this, because on one hand the bickering over semantics annoys me to no end, as does the fact that so many people are just outraged that for-profit companies are out to make a buck. Hi, of course they want your money. That's sort of why they exist. It doesn't make them evil, it makes them like every other business in the world.

The constant back and forth is what interests me. Too many players take "free-to-play" at face value, which is fair to a point. They expect to be able to play for free. But you've got to use common sense. No business is going to fork over the whole store at no charge just because the devs think you look like a nice guy. They still aim to make a profit, so it's sort of a "You can play for free. And you can play even MORE for a few bucks."

The other part of this is that these companies are constantly testing to see what the market will bear. Again, this is good old common sense. I know little to nothing about the inner workings of F2P games, but I imagine that no company can afford to stagnante and continue offering the same tired uber sword of buttkickery for $3 in the cash shop. Eventually every player will have one and you cash flow stops. You can't keep up that way.

Better to keep trying new things and seeing how the market reacts. Different price points, different items, different incentives, different forms of earning income. You can send out surveys and study your customer base all you want, but sometimes putting it into practice is the only way to know for sure. Sometimes it works, sometimes it does not. Look at Allods. Look at the DDO Offer Wall. Those things... didn't work out so well. On the other hand, look at the infamous Sparklepony. A year ago, would you have considered $25 a reasonable price for a cash shop item? WoW gambled on what the market would bear, and it not only worked out well for them, it caught on elsewhere.

It's just the nature of the game -- these companies want to keep you spending. It's how they continue to exist. But the games are not unavailable if you don't want to spend, so I really fail to see why people are so insulted when they bump up against an in-game store, or when devs add new or different items and price points to the store to see what sticks.

For what it's worth, I continue to think that Turbine has the most outstanding business model out there. I know there are people that don't like some of the F2P restrictions, but I view their a la carte options as pure genius. Want to pay a flat monthly sub and move on with your life? You can do that. Want to play free and maybe pick up a few items from the DDO/LotRO store now and then? You can do that too. Want to play without ever spending a penny? No problem. (And yes, you can do that. There are a hundred guides out there on playing completely free. I wrote one.)

Anyway, I generally think the F2P business model is a good one. Bicker over semantics and call it whatever you want, but if I'm playing and I've not paid any money and I can do so as long as I like, then I am playing for free. Free. to. Play. The end.

1 comment:

  1. I'm just positively anxious to see some great ways to built upon and utilize current trends. There's so many cool possibilities to go with micro-transactions, from a gameplay sense.

    I really like the idea of creating a game and having it built with the marketing idea of: "Give them what they want, and they'll want more". Depending how you market or sell a product, you really can give them an entire product for free, and consumers will happily pay for more. It's like saying, "Here is the entire shoe. It will do everything a shoe is supposed to do, and it looks pretty good. Now, we also sell different insoles, different treads, different shoelaces, etc...."

    And, that's not just limited to a fluff vs. game-altering mentality. It does both, but it doesn't say, "Here's the whole game, but some parts are really too hard to do anything unless you pay for the extras to overcome them." It also doesn't say, "Here's the whole game, but if you want to do epic questlines, or other premium parts of the whole game, you have to pay."

    I think someone could(and will) build an MMO like that someday. RoM comes close, but even it still utilizes some in-game features to make you feel you are being pressured into the cash-shop. If I want to be pressured into the cash-shop, I'd rather it be the cash shop that does it, and not the game.