Game talkF2P vs subs

 Posted by (Visited 16615 times)  Game talk  Tagged with:
Jan 112012
 

One of the comments on my recent posts accused me of being naive about marketing. That was a first for me. :)

A lot of commenters believe that free to play business models are fundamentally less ethical than other business models, that they are by nature predatory. So I thought I would offer up some simple facts.

The typical F2P player does indeed play for 100% free. It is not a nickel-and-dime model, as some commenters think. The vast majority of players in an F2P model never pay anything at all.

F2P players never end up paying $60 for a game they then find they dislike, as happens in the packaged goods world. In packaged goods, there are a lot of marketing practices designed to make you pick up and pay for something you do not want, often in large lump sums. (In grocery stores, it’s making you move more slowly on the expensive aisles, by doing things like having smaller, bumpy tiles on the floor; in games, it is things like touched-up screenshots).

As a consequence, free to play is more democratic — more people can try a game, and this has opened up gaming to a huge audience that had never been in the hobby before.

That said, people playing for free are subsidized by those who pay — often quite a lot. These people only pay because they really want to, by and large, though of course, like any business, there are many tricks used in order to get people to convert to payers. But overall, a single-digit percentage of users are paying enough so that the average across all users including the free ones works out at something that is profitable.

Those who pay tons are termed “whales,” which is a term borrowed from Vegas, and this is where people start to grow uncomfortable. But the fact is that whales existed in subscription and retail models too. They were the people who ran 10 to 30 subscription-based accounts — a phenomenon far more common than most players realize. They are also the people who buy the collector’s edition of the game, all the novels, the figurines, the hint books, and fly to the convention every year.

It probably freaks all of us out that there are people who pay thousands of dollars a month for a game, until we realize that we probably all have hobbies where we would spend thousands of dollars, if we only could. Those who can afford it are very lucky… and if I could spend thousands of dollars a month on my hobbies (more musical instruments! more travel to exotic places! more books!) I have to admit I probably would.

Whales exist independently of the business model,  and what free-to-play does is allow them to spend more on their hobby. Thus the free to play business model ends up monetizing core fans better while actually giving access to more players at the free-to-cheap end. Players whose price sensitivity was on the order of $5 instead of $15 get to play and pay what they want to pay, whereas in a subscription model, they were simply left at the door.

So in that sense, free to play is simply a more efficient means of getting the revenue. But in terms of a per-head revenue figure, it is dramatically worse than  subscription model. The net effect of this is to make free-to-play businesses operate like retail stores, using as many tactics as they can to improve margins and maximize revenue. (I have often though that managing inventory for a grocery store would be the best possible training for running a social game in live operation).

Sub-based games and retail-based games also had their own library of tricks and tactics. I’ve never been contacted by a subscription based game saying “hey, we noticed you haven’t actually logged on this month, so we went ahead and skipped billing you,” just like I wouldn’t expect a local gym to pass up dinging my credit card every month even though I don’t go. Where sub games charged people for not playing, and retail games priced lousy games at the same price as good ones, free-to-play games charge you on the basis of upsells.

This works by making the base experience noticeably less attractive than the upsold experience: not very different from the gap between coach and business class on a plane, or between good and bad seat prices at a concert. But since a free-to-play player makes the purchase decision one purchase at a time, the base experience has to be good enough for them to consider paying at all. The moment the operator is perceived as overly grasping, the player can simply walk away or refuse to pay. That means you re-convert customers at every upsell, which is an inherent safety valve against abusive practices. Only happy customers are willing to pull out their wallets.

There are cases where this valve doesn’t work — most people cite games such as ZT Online, which basically function like a casino. This drives people to keep playing using tactics that many find troublesome — myself included. But we’ve had an active debate going on for years whether MMOs by their very nature were headed down that slippery slope, and I believe that the fact that the discussion is ever-present is healthy for the industry. I would be far more worried if people took it for granted as standard operating procedure.

Game fans are also troubled by the injection of money into an equation that they are used to seeing depend largely on skill, particularly in competitive arenas. This is not a new debate — we have seen it in everything from sleeker swimsuit fabrics for competitive swimmers, to horse breeders with dough getting access to the right bloodlines, to salaries for Major League Baseball teams. It is not a new debate, and it happened just as much with the other business models as well, albeit in a more underground fashion.

People get creeped out by the science behind marketing. It’s a lot more pervasive than people think, and an educated consumer should definitely learn about it all and learn to recognize it. But there’s nothing happening here that isn’t already happening at your local market. If anything, expect that over time the science will be applied more and more to games regardless of business model. Social-game-style metrics are increasingly in use in console games, for example.

In the end, my message is this:

Free to play is not evil, it’s just different. If you’re freaked out by seeing business practices nakedly, realize that what’s changed is that you can see them. And to my mind, that’s actually better for you than blissful ignorance.

  41 Responses to “F2P vs subs”

  1. “The vast majority of players in an F2P model never pay anything at all.”

    The details of this depend on the time span you’re observing at any point. In my experience, if you look at a single month then yes, vast majority of the players do not pay any money. However, if you look at things over the player lifetime, the situation changes quite dramatically, where if someone keeps playing your game, the player is likely to eventually give you money.

    So – create your F2P model in a manner where it makes sense for a player to invest money regardless of the player has been playing for 5 minutes of for 2 years, and make a game that retains players like crazy. You’ll eventually make money on most of the players.

    An additional significant way to look at F2P data is to split your players to cohorts based on money spending, and look at the time spending contribution of those cohorts. In my experience money and time spending correlate highly, which should in most cases result to a situation where most of the time spent in your game at any time is by paying players. Hence the vast majority don’t pay rule only applies if you look at the player based by the number of signups, which is a total vanity metric in my view. Aside from user acquisition costs, for online games the costs caused by players come from the time spending and if in your case time and money correlate, F2P is quite profitable.

  2. I certainly didn’t mean t imply that it was not profitable! But yes, I was counting all touches of the product.

    F2P has a high number of trials with relatively low conversion off the first session, precisely because trialing is usually so easy. The barrier to entry for trials and the conversion are correlated — low thresholds mean more people try who didn’t care very much, and who therefore bounce; more friction means that getting into the game is more of a commitment, so people tend to convert better.

    I know you know this, just explaining for other people’s benefit. :)

    Overall, of course, what you’re saying overall is that people who care pay, and people who stick tend to care, and people who care tend to stick, so work on making people care!

  3. For starters, I don’t think you’re naive about marketing. After all, you are in social gaming industry. =)

    “Game fans are also troubled by the injection of money into an equation that they are used to seeing depend largely on skill, particularly in competitive arenas. This is not a new debate — we have seen it in everything from sleeker swimsuit fabrics for competitive swimmers, to horse breeders with dough getting access to the right bloodlines, to salaries for Major League Baseball teams. It is not a new debate, and it happened just as much with the other business models as well, albeit in a more underground fashion.”

    I think this is accepting and normalizing the behavior. I know it isn’t a new debate, but I am saddened that the behavior has washed up on the shores that I love: Video Games. ( I know that “Well they’ve been doing it in the East for decades! See?!” Yea, I got it. )

    “People get creeped out by the science behind marketing. It’s a lot more pervasive than people think, and an educated consume should definitely learn about it all and learn to recognize it. But there’s nothing happening here that isn’t already happening at your local market. If anything, expect that over time the science will be applied more and more to games regardless of business model. Social-game-style metrics are increasingly in use in console games, for example.”

    I’ve always been disgusted by the machinations behind marketing and I realize that it is everywhere… But again, I think you are normalizing it by saying, “See!? They all do it too! It’s everywhere!” I reject it and I find it even more abhorrent in the “naked-in-your-face” mode of f2p. It is like knowing that a tape worm is in someones stomach. That’s gross. F2P is like removing the tape worm and wiggling it in my face. That takes it up a notch.

    A wise person once said that “It isn’t a game. It’s a service.” I view subscription fees as membership fees. If I don’t like the service, I don’t pay the fee. How about community? The community all pays the same for the same service. To me, that feels like equality. There are no “gold members” there are no “Whales”. Everyone is equally important. If I care enough about the service and the community, I will happily pay more. etc.

    I’m not blissfully ignorant; I’m very much switched on to it. For example, this post has a lot of marketing style to it by only focusing on the fantastic, unique, merits of f2p. (Half of which are pushed out of the argument by giving a free trial) I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree. I haven’t been upsold. =)

  4. Well I’m glad I gave you a new experience. :P

    I really wondered how you would respond to that and it seems like you went with a much more positive and productive response than most people tend to.

    Perhaps some of the ambivalence comes from players who experienced a more predatory company using the free to play model, after which they generalized that experience to all free to play games.

    Do you have an opinion on opt out trial to sub models? Some games have a system where by you sign up for the trial and they ask for a credit card. Then they have some text explaining that after the trial ends they will start charging you and you have to opt out of the system. I know that the internet is flooded with people posting on yahoo answers asking why such and such company charged their credit card. The company doesn’t make it obvious that the system is opt out and persons who have never run into an opt out system before don’t think to check since much of the text on the page is irrelevant.

  5. I think the point of capturing all of the space underneath the demand curve can’t be stressed enough (meaning, everyone who would pay more than a particular price but can’t, and everyone who would pay less but can’t).

    The demand curve illustrates why you have that long, low area that represents people who feel your game isn’t worth ten cents, but are still your customer because free is still free. I always feel the sentiment about approaching them is subtly wrong: usually the goal is stated as “more conversions” and such, using terms far too parallel to trying to sell them the $60 boxed game they don’t want either. The principle’s the same whether the buy is 10 cents or 60 bucks, and, there is a better way.

    Instead, these are people who might not feel your game is worth much right now, but as they play it more they’ll likely come to value it more. It’s an opportunity for a more organic sort of marketing, that of aiding the potential customer in gaining a greater appreciation of the product on their own, raising their internal valuation rather than trying to push them into a purchase against that valuation.

    The latter is going to damage the former each time it occurs, meaning each time the consumer regrets or is disappointed by the purchase your more agressive marketing tactics steered them into. This might not be enough to make them quit the game (if you’re lucky), but even if they stay it’s knocking them back down that demand curve, working against the desire to see them climb higher on it.

    Granted, passively waiting for a free player to spontaneously decide to pay isn’t a winning strategy on its own, especially since a player may well be fully satisfied by the free product. Rather, my point is that on the aggregate and in the long term I think you gain more by helping players avoid purchases they don’t really want to make than you do by harvesting the small, short term revenue.

  6. Raph, are you attacking a straw man here? Where are these people who are saying that F2P is evil? Bryan, in your comments, clearly doesn’t like the games and their business model, and that’s fine, he doesn’t have to play them or pay for them, but is he suggesting they be banned or regulated?

    One could make the argument that Whales are addicted to the product and therefore are being exploited – particularly if they should be spending the money that they’re spending on your product on food or rent – (I might have known some Magic: The Gathering players like that, now that I think about it) – but has anyone made that argument, seriously?

  7. Matt, the whole “sign you up for a free month but then you have to cancel to avoid paying” is how every single magazine subscription in the world works too. It’s just a very common pattern. Is it sneaky? Yes, absolutely. But I think we need to be careful about declaring vast swaths of common business practices unethical. My answer on that one would be very dependent on how clearly you were told what was going on.

  8. Jamie, yes, people have indeed been making that argument. The most vehement ones have been over on the Google+ post though.

  9. Overall, agreed, but what I find repugnant (and I imagine you’ll agree, thus pre-emptively diffusing all edge or potential controversy) is that the business model shouldn’t degrade the game design. You see this in subscription games where the mathematics are extremely long on grind if only to keep people clicking around through to the next billing cycle. In free-to-play games, I find that there are inefficient and personally meaningless social signals demanded of me to pass a series of increasingly steep toll-booths, which means two things:

    1) While the signals I generate are extremely meaningful to the proprietor of the game in terms of statistically fractal LTV generation, the best that has been offered me is extremely low friction in spamming everyone and responding to spam with a series of thoughtless clicks in the message center when I open up the game. That’s the state-of-the-art right now. It’s about as social as socialism. (Hey, that’s a quotable quote!)

    2) There’s no clear communication of how much I should have to pay in order to be able to access the majority of the game’s content, in the manner of say, paying, $10, $20, or $60 for a retail game, or even $100 for a retail game plus expansion. I put $60 in, the game sucks that currency right up at the next toll-booth. Zynga games seem to be the more aggressively balanced for this. Right now I’m trying an experiment with Ravenskye City, the less monetarily aggressively but more socially awkward contemporary to Castleville, I put $10 on a 50% off sale (which may have been targeted to me since I had looked at the currency page but exited it the day before). I’m trying to play the game leanly and utilize the currency units only when the only other option would be spamming people (which RC doesn’t even facilitate efficiently, the way the Zynga games do).

    Meanwhile, I’ve never had a problem with the way Triple Town monetizes, having put in maybe $30 over time. It’s got substance, it gives me a theoretically unbound margin of skill, and when I do pay its because the situation offers a significant reward for doing so.

  10. PS Jamie, Massively actually linked the post with the title “Koster talks about the evil of F2P models.” So yeah, the venom is out there…!

  11. The argument was won several years ago but I guess until WoW goes F2P and/or there is world peace the good fight will go on.

    As if the same exact thing doesn’t happen in every single box+sub MMO ever put into production.

    I wonder if it is an absolute fact that the more people who pay the more will play for free and vice versa?

    I like the idea of earning the right to buy items. Kill the mob and it unlocks its stuff for sale in the “divine” currency, as a basic example.

  12. a free-to-play player makes the purchase decision one purchase at a time

    Many publishers (whether or not their game offers non-subscription access to the world) do everything in their power to push this equation to their favor through “bonus” exchange rates. You can spin it as a bonus for paying more (as the marketing dept does) or a penalty for actually paying one purchase a time (as I do), but the reality is that many games offer 2-fold or greater differences in exchange rates of dollars to currency in an attempt to lure players to commit $50-100 in one sitting. That they then take the opportunity to obfuscate pricing now that money has been converted into less-tangible “points” – while not unprecedented in other businesses (MMO or grocery store) – does not foster trust amongst a consumer-base that was used to predictable costs up until the last year or two.

  13. Jamie, I’m not suggesting they be banned or regulated and I’m not suggesting babies should be punched or puppies kicked. I don’t play f2p, as you suggest. However, that does not prevent me from having an opinion and expressing it.

    I think f2p is a money grab and I don’t like it. I think it is antithetical to everything I have read about game design ethics and community building. I’m expressing my opinion here on Raph’s site because I’m trying to relate to his opinion and how it jives with everything of his I have read from his days as Dragon and Holocron.

    Personally, I don’t think f2p is a good fit for community building. My opinion and self-education comes from reading everything I could find of Raph’s, Jessica Mulligan’s, and Dr. Richard Bartle. I never see f2p conversations talk about community or deeper issues that seem to be the core of what appear to be the good ol’days. The merits of f2p are upselling, continuous free trial, the meta-game of trying to play it on the cheap, and exciting conversations about demand curves.

    But seriously… what are your thoughts how this meshes with MMOs, Raph? I can understand your fascination with f2p from a metric stand-point. What do you see as the effects this would have on community building? Do you think it is compatible? Do you have examples of games that are released f2p that have built healthy cohesive communities?

    I was a member of LOTRO community before it went f2p and I think the only reason we weathered the storm was because the strength of the community before f2p and measures LOTRO took to preserve the community from trolls and miscreants. But alas, now all my LOTRO e-mail is spam for in store sales instead of lore, events, or patch information. The relationship changed drastically and as you can probably surmise from previous posts, I don’t respond well to marketing spam. =)

    Patrick, I like your quotable quote. Reminds me of Richard Bartle’s article about social games not being social… at all. haha http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/35551/Gamelab_2011_MUD_Creator_Bartle_Current_Social_Games_Are_Not_Fun.php

    In closing, I’m not writing this to be venomous and I don’t hold hate in my heart for anyone involved. I’m a fan of Raph’s. We disagree and I can deal with that. When people disagree it means we’re thinking. That’s a good thing. =)

    In addition, I was talking to friend at work how neat it was to have a discussion with Raph Koster. The Internet has truly shrunk the world. ;)

  14. Raph, its not very clear, as you can tell by seeing how many people complain that they didn’t know. Its not like they put that in big or colored text so it catches the eye. Especially for people who aren’t used to it.
    I feel like its similar to facebook always setting everyone to default when they fiddle with the site. Every time they do that I have to go on there and mention to people that their profiles with personal shit and pictures and all sorts of things are public and none of them realized it.
    Sure you could argue that its the person’s fault for not being aware but companies know damn well that people don’t realize. I am well aware that none of this is illegal, but it is so, so very sketchy.
    Unless you train people to think about this stuff they won’t understand, its not a thought that just occurs to you.
    We have a whole history of institutional practices that are unethical, so just because they are commonly accepted practices doesn’t make it okay.
    In the end ethics and morals are derived from relative assumptions. Assumptions underlie all logical processes. Its sort of an infinite regression type thing.
    I judge companies business practices experientially by saying, a month after this purchase did I feel regret? I find that this judgement tends to flow along static lines. Certain companies games tend to trip the regret detector. And its never a subscription game. Thats not really a solid logical basis though.

    I trained myself so that I do not get sucked in to spending money in free to play. No matter how badly I feel in the moment that I need to do it I don’t. Things I do buy are like the mercenary hero pack in guildwars, where it provides eternal value and lets me do things in the game if I don’t have a group and its just fun. I love guildwars .I love arena net. I never once felt like something I bought from them was a mistake. I’ve also never felt bad about a sub. I suppose since I play games so many hours a day subs could just offer the best deal for me.

    I think that this type of thing is one of those unsolvable dilemmas like religion. There will never be a solid consensus of what is and is not ethical.

  15. Speaking of naievete – not just yours but, it seems, any customer of a modern MMO – what do you think of this, Raph?

    http://www.mmorpg.com/discussion2.cfm/thread/337745/page/1

  16. Amend… kill the mob, loot its non-random stuff, trade it in base currency, or soul bind it for a small divine currency fee at the temple to equip. Trainer NPCs won’t help ya if ya ain’t done skill gate 1.

  17. A good overview Raph.

    A large reason why F2P is becoming the favoured pricing model in the market (by number of titles using it) is that it better allows for competing titles to survive. You mention the sub-whales who might have 10 to 30 accounts, but the majority of MMO players will only sub to one game at a time. Any new sub-based entrant to the market has to dislodge the sub from an existing title (ignoring completely new MMO players) and then convince them to stay. You can’t release a title as good as WoW, you have to release a title that is better than WoW (or insert your favourite sub-MMO if WoW isn’t for you).

    F2P drops that barrier to entry and lets you play the game free, and then it isn’t a waste of space to keep a F2P client you might have kinda liked on the desktop. So a player can have multiple F2P titles on the go with much greater ease (and potentially lower cost) than with sub-based titles.

    Plus most sub-based titles are actually box cost+sub-based titles, making them a lot more expensive than trying out a F2P game.

    That said, I think 2012 is a turning point for the F2P MMO. There are now a lot of different competitors out there and more coming. I believe this year will see a shake out of F2P titles, with those who aren’t able to encourage paying players being shut down or consolidated.

  18. You can’t release a title as good as WoW, you have to release a title that is better than WoW (or insert your favourite sub-MMO if WoW isn’t for you).

    You make a classical mistake here. It’s not “hard” to make a game better than WoW [or your favorite sub-MMO], as most people will assure you: WoW isn’t great. But it’s successfull.

    This both terms are not connected with each other. You can make a successfull game which isn’t good (i.e hype, easy entry level, etc.). You can also make a good or better game than that which is not or less successful.

    The problem “we” (the MMOers) have nowadays is: Most publisher and developers want to make a game more successful than WoW and NOT a game that’s BETTER than WoW. Too make a game as successful (or more successful) than WoW, one needs to cannibalize WoWs fanbase and keep them stay. The only way to do it, would be to make the game even more easier for non-MMOers (that’s what WoW did when it was first released and in the years after that) and at the same time create something for the more demanding players (high level PvP, not some battleground crap or arena).

    And that’s exactly what happened in the past few years: 90% of the new MMOs tried to copy WoW and actually most of them failed. The market stagnates.

    What we (the players) actually need are games focused to certain niches so the players can spread and stay with the game most appealing for their playing style, instead of an MMO which tries to unify them all. Trying to do this, you will have to make compromises. If you make compromises, you sacrify quality vs. higher reach.
    The result: Game may or may not get successful, but it’s “quality” sinks.

  19. If the whales are floating the whole game, then a significant portion of your development resources are going to be tied up in making shiny new things for the whales to spend money on.

    The lead on Star Trek Online, in the wake of its conversion to FTP, made the pronouncement that regular story-based content was “impractical”. Of course it is. They’re not making any direct revenue off it, so they’re demphasising the heart and soul of the game. The cash shop expands, the story episodes become an unwelcome afterthought.

    F2P may not be “evil”, but it can’t be implemented without changing the fundamental nature of the game. You’re going to have first-class and second-class citizens, and the division will be based on their real-world income. Your development efforts will disproportionately benefit the first-class citizens.

    You’re right, nothing new here. Except maybe the fleeting idea that for $10 or $15 a month, you once could visit a place where everybody was literally created equal.

  20. It always blows my mind that people would think that free to play is predatory but a free month of a highly addictive subscription game like World of Warcraft isn’t. *waves*

  21. One thing Raph forgot to mention is the entire RMT phenomenon, where people spend real money to buy in-game assets. This isn’t new either, it happened twenty years ago on MUDs (there wasn’t as much money involved as it is now, but still). It became big business as online games got big, so has been a major issue for ten years+. There are a number of issues with this practice, but let’s just say that most of the classic sub MMOs frown on it, as do most of its players. Blizzard used to be one of its most ardent adversaries, attempting to prevent it in any possible way. And still, it only takes about 2 minutes to actually buy 1000 WoW gold for less than $1. (Blizzard finally buckled down and now embraces RMT in Diablo III, but that’s a different story, let’s just say it takes a real man to admit defeat, even when that defeat has been obvious for years.) So why isn’t it possible to prevent RMT?

    Because the demand is there. This demand stems from the unfilled gaps in the demand curve, and from individually different approaches to gaming. Some people like this part better, others like that part better. MMOs typically attempt to involve you in all of its mechanics, but the fact is, if there is a way to skip some of them, there will be players that do want to skip some parts. That’s not immoral any more than playing Monopoly by house rules. This “skipping” is marketable for rather a big amount of cash, and the providers just look dumb by letting shady slave-labor third parties profit off it.

    In any case, third party RMT is DOWN in most F2P titles compared to sub titles (if anybody knows a study on this, I’d be grateful to know, I’d like to cite it). The provider himself now fills the need more efficiently. So the problem is solved. (Or at least, many of the adjunct problems such as credit card theft, Chinese gold farmers etc. are solved.)

    If you are still a die-hard proponent of the old sub genre, I challenge you to come up with SOME solution to the RMT problem. (There are actually some, but they are even more intrusive than F2P, so are pretty much only applied to MMOs for kids.)

  22. I would think most people who are perturbed by f2p are also not fans of World of Skinnercraft or any of the other derivatives which have taken over the genre.

  23. It always blows my mind that people would think that free to play is predatory but a free month of a highly addictive subscription game like World of Warcraft isn’t. *waves*

    Subscription games don’t have a free month. The price of the “free” month is already included in the retail box.

    If these games offers a really free trial, it’s 7 or 14 days with highly limited content (i.e. level 20 max, only certains areas to access etc.).

  24. “I would think most people who are perturbed by f2p are also not fans of World of Skinnercraft or any of the other derivatives which have taken over the genre.”

    Eoghan, I agree. I see cash shops as an evolution of the skinnerbox.

    “If these games offers a really free trial, it’s 7 or 14 days with highly limited content (i.e. level 20 max, only certains areas to access etc.).”

    The limited content for most trials would equate to toll booths or “Come to the cash shop dear adventurer and buy entrance to the Forest of Woe!” in a f2p game. That reminds me, what does f2p do to the immersion of a game? Hmm… Another dinosaur concept of the past. Out the window, I suppose.

    So far, I haven’t seen how f2p enhances community or immersion, only that it gives a continuous free trial and has cool whales swimming around… Are community and immersion still desirable in game design?

    Please, I’m not asking rhetorical questions. I really would like to know. Anyone?

    I want to believe…

  25. If you are still a die-hard proponent of the old sub genre, I challenge you to come up with SOME solution to the RMT problem. (There are actually some, but they are even more intrusive than F2P, so are pretty much only applied to MMOs for kids.)

    There are actually successful attempts on doing this, but it requires a certain design. But this doesn’t work with all MMO types. Darkfall is a prime example of a game, where RMT is a non-issue. 1 year ago I played it for six months and I haven’t seen a single gold seller or goldseller spam in public chats or whisper. Not a single time in 6 months.

    In other MMOs I’ve seen goldspam even during the public AND closed betas. What does Darkfall makes different?

    Sandbox game
    Means: 80% of the items are easily crafted hence cheap to come by. There are 10 or so different types of bows and pretty early in the game you have access to the mid-tiered ones and most of them also drop regularly from mobs (with low durability, so they break fast. Crafted one lasts longer and a minimal better than droped ones). There is no need to purchase ingame currency for real money in order to buy better equipment. Players will even give you some of the better stuff for free, just because it’s so easy to make them. Hence, no item grind.

    FFA PvP & full loot
    You can be attacked anywhere and killed anywhere (starter areas are protected by towers). With the above in mind (easy to obtain items) it’s also easy to lose them and it’s not a big deal, because the typical player will have 20-30 different kind of armor and weapon sets in his bank. Raph should be pretty familar with it, as it’s pretty much similar to how Ultima Online worked.
    So if you die, you just get a new set and go out. So in worst case you just lost your loot from that run.

    Best of all: People can take self justice into their own hands. See a china farmer or bot? Kill him, loot him, win. This isn’t attractive for gold farmers or botters.

    Open World
    There are no instances. No places for farmers and botters to hide from the rage of the players, hence: no “safe” bot/farming spots. On every spot you can be hunted, killed and looted.

    Economy
    Role of gold is pretty secondary in that game. You need it as a reagent for crafting, buying some basic crafting materials and tools or to purchase casting reagents (casts require reagents). But it’s not required. There are plenty of monsters who drop so many reagents, that when you skill there you will get more than enough of them.

    So after all, with clever design you can take out the demand on purchasing ingame currency with real money. But for the players who “jumped” into MMOs by games like WoW, they are simply unable to understand this concept. When they hear “you can lose your items/equipment”, they automatically connect this to “item/equipment grind lasts 6-12 months (like in WoW) so you lose 6 months of work when you die” and scream: OMG.

    Truth ist, the items you lose in such a game are like: 2 minutes of crafting (for a full set of armor & weapon) and the amount of loot you collected in the time before you got killed (usually less than 30 minutes).

  26. You’re going to have first-class and second-class citizens, and the division will be based on their real-world income.

    As opposed to the division being based on tolerance for grinding? Or real world income combined with not caring or knowing about a game’s EULA/TOS?

    Second class citizens will not pay for the right. F2P keeps them in the game because they don’t have to pay, so they don’t have to care.

    1 million sales of a box+sub MMO nets you 950,000 pissed off cancellations and 50,000 first class citizen subscribers. That’s actually a very successful outcome for an MMO.

    The sub model is problematic because those 50,000 will pay way more than the monthly fee to 3rd parties. The flipside of the price point is the 950K feel it’s way too expensive. F2P keeps those 950k Have-Nots in the world to be a foil for the other’s mad skillz (as well as maybe the occasional gank fodder). That builds community. And maybe some more of them will eventually decide to start to pay and care, buy that sword of uber +9 and how you like me now?

    F2P = Virtuous Cycle. Subs = Player Erosion.

    Zynga is worth the same amount of money as EA. You may have heard of them, they published that great game Archon a few years ago.

  27. Yet in reality RMT is readily available in DFO. And with it everything people like to cry about in F2P. There are the whales that can get the rare stuff easier (you can by valueable items, not just gold of course). There is the alliance that can afford to send all their members into the big war with all the best gear on, while the opposition is basically naked for fear of losing too much stuff. There is the shift from “skill” (usually that implies free time) to “cash”. Etc.

    What you mean by no RMT is that it may not bother you/be apparent to you. That is perfectly feasible with F2P of course, no reason at all to have anything immersion breaking appear in the game, you could control all of those issues via a web-interface and not even let your client render the door to that dungeon you haven’t paid. If you just want no-immersion-breaking and not-bothering-me-at-every-turn then you’re not against F2P, you’re against BAD F2P (or let’s say, the current predominant F2P salesmodel). It’s similar to regular shops. Used to be (years ago) that as soon as you entered a store, there would be an attendant there to ask you how he could help you. It was just the way it was done. Still being done that way in many countries. Nowadays in the US, though, if you walk into a store, the attendant will notice you but NOT bother you. If you do have a question, they will help you (if they’re good), but otherwise leave you to stroll around in peace. Customers prefer it that way, and the customer gets what he wants in the long run. Or newspaper boys, selling the paper at the corner, yelling out today’s headline. Gone now.

  28. On RMT, there was also a very insightful discussion by Extra Credits about the Diablo III marketplace that would be directly relevant:

    http://extra-credits.net/episodes/the-diablo-iii-marketplace

  29. Microsoft should have made Windows XP “free to play” when they released it. Basically, here you go, download this basic operating system that allows you to run your own games and programs for free, but if you want cool features like DirectX you’ll need to make an account, register your installation, and buy access to it. Really, if you want to ensure your operating system is the defacto standard, you want to have the largest installation base of all operating systems – social and economic inertia will keep your OS popular. However, what Microsoft did instead was release volume liscences for XP Pro that were used by everyone and there brother to pirate the OS and Microsoft turned a blind eye, because hey, it got them their defacto standard for free – no support for the pirates. Had they released Windows XP as “free to play” instead though, they would have at least made some money on the up-sells, rather than no money on the pirated copies. That being the case, I would not be surprised to see Windows 8 released with a free to play version, rather than just the ultra-cheap OEM Starter Edition. Windows 8 is going to have an “app store”, which is again something that they should have had for Windows XP.

    I see “free to play” as really nothing more than just a very effective tool that allows content creators to build a solid user-base by removing the obstacles to entry; Get people to say, “Hey, this is neat/useful” first and they’ll be more inclined to spend their money on it, because you’ve already proven its value.

    Personally, I am through playing the “game box lotto”. If a developer can’t be bothered to offer a free trial for their game, then I am comfortable living with the assumption that the game most likely sucks and isn’t worth my time or money. If you think that is harsh, then why do grocery stores so often have samples of expensive cheeses, deli meats, or other products? It’s because people don’t like playing the, “Am I going to like this food lotto”! :)

    “Free to play” solves the lottery aspect of trying games, while also delivering value for the customer and revenue for the creators. In that regard, it just “makes sense”. But like anything else, it will be abused and, just like always, folks will need to do their research before making any commitments.

  30. >Game fans are also troubled by the injection of money into an equation that they are used to seeing depend largely on skill

    It’s the concept of “fairness” that matters here. Money is not a problem if all it buys you is a cosmetic change. If it buys you a gameplay advantage, then unless it’s structured into the gameplay (as it is in, say, Poker) it’s unfair.

    >This is not a new debate

    So? It’s still a valid debate.

    Plenty of people seem to like to play games for free if the non-monetary price is only that other people get to pay to lord it over them. That’s fine, but it doesn’t help people who value achievement. For those people, fairness is important. There will always be room for games which don’t let people buy success, even if the majority of people who play games are OK with it.

    Also, the debate may be old but I don’t see the Olympics selling a 5 metre head start in the final of the Marathon for $1m any time soon, even though there would be plenty of takers.

    Richard

  31. As opposed to the division being based on tolerance for grinding?

    The peasantry calls that “patience” and regards it as a virtue.

    Yes, I would much rather have skill and the amount of time and effort that one is willing to be invest to be the primary measure of player status than how rich you are in real life.

    You can always tell somebody who’s bought their way in. They’re helpless. They don’t know their character, they don’t know their role, they won’t listen to people who are smarter and more experienced, and the kindest thing you can do for them is stuff them in a bag with some rocks and dump them in the river.

  32. Your points in the post are generally accurate – but from my point of view as a player, F2P simply doesn’t work for me.

    I tend to sample a lot of games, but I inevitably end up playing a few very extensively (80+hrs) and pretty much ditching the rest after a short preview – as with all forms of media, the bulk of games created just aren’t very good.

    For me, the F2P model does not support my patterns of play well at all. It lets me sample, but when it comes time to really dig into a game that I like? It’s much too expensive because my play pattern matches that of a whale, but I’m not willing to put nearly that kind of money in ($60 is about my limit), so as a rule I’m not going to even look at a game where the model is designed to take me for $100 or more if I actually like the game!

    For me the best model is Steam, with its easy access to demos and a wide variety of relatively low price-point games to sort through. I’ll up-sell for a few expansion packs on a game I really like, but that’s about the limit of my willingness to pour money into my gaming habit.

    Additionally, if I’m going to do any kind of competitive or cooperative play? Yeah, not even going to consider a F2P game. I play games to get AWAY from the endless wallet-penis-length comparison that is daily life in a capitalist country, not to find yet another ruler to measure it on, k’thks. I just want to shoot people. Call me old fashioned.

    The F2P model may work, and it has its points, but there are customers for whom it is simply ineffective and unattractive. Needless to say, we just disappear as blips in your marketing data, like so much else in the world.

  33. Honestly, one of the reasons this model works so well now is because it accurately reflects the changes in the economy, the enormous income disparities, and the bifurcation of luxury/basic consumer goods in the real world.

    Income imbalance has become so stark that even games, which have traditionally been a very inexpensive ($/hour of entertainment) and egalitarian pursuit, have gradually been pushed to shift from broad ‘middle class’ consumer models to this newer ‘luxury service’ model.

    For now, it works out OK because the developers are willing to use the whales to subsidize the rest of the players – that condition is unlikely to last as development focuses more and more accurately on serving the income producing customers.

    History suggests that at some point games will begin to evolve into the same sorts of ‘exclusive’ clubs and walled gardens that one commonly sees in real life – and for the same reasons:

    To keep the rabble out.

    Let’s just say that you were warned. These situations never remain static – they are going to continue to evolve, and they will always evolve towards the money.

  34. As opposed to the division being based on tolerance for grinding?

    The peasantry calls that “patience” and regards it as a virtue.

    The medical profession calls it Asperger’s syndrome and are looking into ways of treating it ;-)

    You can’t release a title as good as WoW, you have to release a title that is better than WoW (or insert your favourite sub-MMO if WoW isn’t for you).

    You make a classical mistake here. It’s not “hard” to make a game better than WoW [or your favorite sub-MMO], as most people will assure you: WoW isn’t great. But it’s successfull.

    I can’t accept the “WoW isn’t great, but somehow became the most successful Western video game of all time” argument. Subjectively it isn’t a game for me, but I can’t pretend that it doesn’t have its virtues.

    Perhaps I over-generalised when using the word “better”, but when players have had the choice of subscribing to a new, shiny sub-based MMO or staying with WoW, history shows they’ve stuck with WoW en masse. Maybe “stickier” would have been a more accurate term than better, but regardless, no-one has beaten WoW in the sub-based MMO space since it launched in terms of attracting players and retaining them.

  35. There appears to be a lot of confusion, especially on the part of those ‘against’ Free-to-Play, as to what F2P is. One respondent here does clarify that complaints seem mostly to be about bad F2P.

    It is entirely possible to design a F2P game where a player can achieve in a fair manner all gameplay and the status results thereof, without payment, yet permit those who pay to save time.

    So, non-payers spend time, and payers spend some mix of time and money.

    This kind of F2P then seeks to avoid the exchange of money for specific in-game advantage.

  36. [...] Raph Koster pointed out in his recent post on the free to play model, the ongoing process of buying decisions by the free to play players acts as a safety valve to keep [...]

  37. It sickens me to see anyone make blanket statements against “free to play” games. Why do you hate tic-tac-toe, and tag, and text muds? Oh wait, I forgot – only the latest incarnation on Facebook fits that definition.

    We already lost “role playing game” to “must be a grindy combat and loot and levelling up game” rather than any game where you, y’know, play a role. We lost “social game” to the actually anti-social games where you spam your friends with imaginary gifts and requests for assistance and never actually chat. Now we’re going to lose “free to play” to that same genre, as if that’s the only possible kind of game that was, is, or will be free?

    As someone who’s biggest labor of love is a free to play game, social game, and roleplaying game that’s been runnin fully half of my thirty year career, that’d just about complete the total destruction of every descriptive phrase that says what the game is. What’s next, will “user created content game” get redefined to describe some future genre of game where users don’t actually create any content? THAT would be the last straw!

    Free to play games cover a vast range of possibilities. Any time Blue Santa includes a boardgame with the teddybears and toy trucks, that’s a game, and some kid got it free. And by the way, the existing model isn’t so bad as you folks make it out to be. I’ve been running Furcadia that way since 1999 and the community there is pretty happy with it. Someone who wants to spend thousands of dollars a year on their favorite hobby can do so without ruining the fun of those that want to play free or spend 10 bucks a year. All the players get more game development funded than if everybody were charged $15 a month, leaving potential whale money unspent & making for far fewer players overall. And the creators, who like any artist are trying to communicate their vision to the largest possible audience – they get to expose their work to more people overall.

    You also see people spend money giving each other gifts. And I’ve seen a higher percentage of players meeting their husband or wife in the game than any other project I’ve worked on in my whole career. Horrible, horrible consequences of free to play, gifts and weddings and friendships and conversations. We even got to save someone’s life once.

    Don’t stereotype so hard, is what I’m saying. Reality is way more diverse than whatever stereotype you want to buy into.

  38. [...] Raph Koster’s F2P vs. Subs [...]

  39. [...] Koster wrote an article which has been heavily quoted on MMO sites about Free-to-Play and the existence of Whales or [...]

  40. [...] As has been reported elsewhere, the transition to free to play is a mixed bag of positives and negatives.  As Raph Koster said, not evil, but different. [...]

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