Tuesday, July 11, 2006
Why games shouldn't be free
I'm still playing Travian, a free, browser-based game. After having built up my production, I finally built a handful of troops and explored the combat system. And found that I have two options: suicidal or boring. The suicidal option is to attack another active player, who will then retaliate, starting a war which will cost both of us so many resources, that even the eventual winner will have fallen far behind the other players in the region. The boring option is the one everybody is taking, attacking one of the many inactive players.
You see, Travian is free. So you don't need to think whether you want to try it, you just do. But as the game is relatively slow after you used up your initial stack of resources, many people simply get bored and don't come back. So the map is littered with inactive villages in very early stages of development, no defense, no crannies, just sitting there and waiting to be raided. So everybody just sends his troops to "farm" those inactive villages, with the only risk being that you arrive after somebody else already plundered the spot.
The other problem of Travian is that because it is free, you just need a couple of other e-mail addresses to set up several villages instead of just one. Then you use the secondary villages to send goods to your primary village. That is considered cheating, and there are special "multihunters" around trying to catch players who do that, but that sort of cheating is so easy that it is hard to prevent.
It is pretty obvious that problems like these wouldn't exist if Travian had a monthly fee. Inactive players would stop paying and their villages get deleted. Cheating with multiple villages would be expensive, and thus less widespread.
In most MMORPGs inactive players or multiple accounts are less of a problem. But even there I noticed that the game being free, or having a free trial, tends to attract a lot of younger, immature players, often behaving badly, as they have nothing to lose. So I wonder if having free games is a good idea at all. Maybe instead of having free trials or free games with "premium" services that cost money, online games should have free trial servers separated from the servers for people who pay.