Tobold's Blog
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.
Anarchy Online is free for the version without the expansions and is a good game. Second Life is free if you don't buy land. Guild Wars is free after you have bought the game (no monthly cost). I've played 2 of the 3 and still play Guild Wars regular, I don't see it a problem as long as its done properly.
In Guild Wars' case I think it helps a *LOT* that everything is instanced.. since you don't _have_ to group with the annoying people, they disappear as soon as you go outside towns..

Because they're there.. oh yes, they're definitely present. And probably that the no monthly fees plays a part in that. But with the great 'filter out' sections that are the Ascension and THK, you see a lot less of them near the endgame ;)
You mean there are even *more* immature players outside of WoW??? ;)

To take your argument further, guilded players (those in long-running guilds at least) tend to be more mature, partly because of the extra time and energy "cost" they invest in the other players.
If immature players who use free trials were limited to a special server then I don't think it would be a good advertising tool.

However, I do see a special server being set up with a age requirement. MMOG players are getting older on average and I hear a lot of complaining about 1337 speak and immature behavior.
Not to mention the abuse of the global chat channel...I mean the global LFG channel.

I ran into a lvl 15 or so character the other day who wanted help with a quest I was doing on a lvl 20 Alt. To help him out I attempted to open a trade window to give him some potions, but I couldn't trade with him because he was on a trial account.

I know it's possible to level a toon to 60 inside 10 days. I wonder whether anyone's ever been insane enough to attempt that on a trial account.
Planetside is also free up to a certain level if you want to check out something a little different.
I am pretty sure there is a level cap of 20 for the trial version. There is also a cap on how much money you can carry.
I like having an option of trying a game before I pay for the CDs and month of access time. Very few games would I buy out-right these days without giving it a spin first. On the other hand, I don't know that I'd invest in a completely free game either. I would be worried that content updates, patches and expansions wouldn't be possible without the direct revenue stream of paid services.

I purchased 2 copies of GW niether of which are being played and won't be played again unless my other MMO options all blow up. It was fun for a few days but not my thing, nor my son's.

I think the problem with trial accounts is more troublesome when the world is player modified and persistent. For games like WOW, ignore is just a few steps to implement for stupid people, and inactive accounts dont leave trash behind in the world.

What you've described was a small issue for The Sims Online where you could mistakingly choose a seemingly populated area in which to build, only to find out later that most of the properties were actually abandoned or inactive.

Paying a monthly fee is no promise that a game will survive but I like the odds better, and the growing popularity of online games means you're going to find idiots everywhere - free or not.
That seems to be an "elite" opinion. Not everyone has the chance to pay for any game on the internet, especially those who lives in other countries besides US or Big countries. You would have to notice that thanks to inactive players other players can grow up without having to disturb an active player.
Those "Troll" ppl to tends to bother another player (what you call "inmature players") are unavoidable. Seems to me that word you use is inapropiate because games are really made for those "inmature people".
Obviously they have nothing to lose, but why should you pay attention?
This was a really elite (and elite almost offensive for others) article...
I love Travian precisely because it is FREE.

I did end up buying the Travian plus package, because I became quickly addicted.

I have never played an on-line War or Roleplaying game that I HAD to pay for.

The inactives are vital to the sucess of us who took the time to read the starter manuals for the game.

I LOVE the idea of raiding people who were too lazy to keep playing or decided the game wasn't for them without having to resort to raiding someone who is in the game to win it.

Punish the lazy and have fun with the dedicated. My kind of game.
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