Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Free2Play cost structures

Everybody knows that “Free2Play” games aren’t free to play, at least not for everybody. As I spent quite some time this year with various “Free2Play” browser games, I observed some interesting differences in the cost structure for different games.

I already mentioned once the Browser game The Settlers Online, still in beta, having a curious front-loaded cost structure: The first 50 bucks you spend on the game give you a huge and permanent advantage, but after that you are limited to buying temporary advantages at a much lower bang to buck ratio. Thus paying players have a big advantage over non-paying players; but players are discouraged from spending too much, and you don’t have to pay over and over for the same stuff. Other games that work with a similar structure are online games simulating collectible card games: You need to spend a stash of money to get a decent collection to really be able to play, but higher spending suffers from strongly diminishing returns.

A very different model from that are games which have a hidden subscription cost structure: To play the game comfortably, you need to constantly pay. That isn’t necessarily bad, if the monthly fee you derive at is low enough. For example in Shakes & Fidget, a simple Progressquest-like game, a mount that doubles your adventuring speed costs around 1€ for two weeks, which I find quite reasonable. Echo Bazaar is a bit more expensive, about 5€ per month for having twice as many actions as a player who pays nothing.

Far more common are games in which you pay for things which help you mostly in the short term. Thus if you play a lot, you come across lots of moments where paying would give you an advantage. But as long as you don’t play, you aren’t paying for anything. While there is some inherent fairness and logic behind that, the overall effect is often that you end up feeling nickeled-and-dimed. One main problem here is games in which the so-called “micro-“ payments are generally too expensive, and quickly add up to more than one would pay for a much better game.

One particularly interesting case I came across is DDTank, a colorful “Worms”-like multiplayer browser shooting game. A typical purchase in that game would be an energy stone which gives you a chance to upgrade your weapon, costing 1500 “coins”, which can only be purchased for real money. But DDTank is offered by different distributors, and some of them offer 100 coins for $1, while others give you 300 coins for $1. So while I’d say $5 to upgrade your weapon is expensive, $15 for the same action is certainly outrageously overpriced. DDTank is also annoying because all the gear you can get in game disappears after a few days, and you need to spend a lot of money to buy permanent items. So while the game itself is fun enough, the cost structure is driving people away.

The worst game I’ve come across cost-wise is Warstory – Europe in Flames, a browser strategy game. Again gameplay itself isn’t all bad. But the game literally asks you for a payment after every single action you do. You want to move your troops, and the game tells you to either wait 2 hours or pay. You fight, and the game tells you to either wait 1 hour for the troops to rest afterwards or pay. In between frequently advertisements pop up asking you to pay for some special offer. And the game makes it very clear that “winning” is very much a matter of outspending the competition. That all annoyed me so much that I quickly abandoned the game, although I liked their approach to browser strategy gaming much more than the same old “build a city and attack your neighbors” approach everybody else has.

A single-player game on the PC costs anywhere between 5€ and 60€. Many MMORPGs have an initial payment for the box and one free month, followed by usually around 10 to 15 € or $ monthly fee. Browser games are a lot cheaper to make, so I expect to pay less for them than for a big budget PC game or MMORPG. But I do support the general idea that at least some of the players of a Free2Play game should pay something, so that the developers get a salary and the game company can afford to run the game and develop new ones. The tricky thing is to evaluate what you’d end up paying if you play such a Free2Play game in reasonable comfort. Not only does the cost structure make it often far more difficult to see in advance what such games cost; but experience shows that there is a huge range from fairly priced games to complete rip-offs out there. It’s buyers beware, I guess.
One game that I feel have gotten the micro-payment structure right is League of Legends. Without going too much in the mechanics of the game, the game has two currencies: Riot Points(gained by paying money) and Influence Points(accumulated from playing the game)
What you can buy with RP and IP varies: champions(RP and IP), champion skins(only RP), runes that buff your champion(only IP), temporary XP and IP boosts(only RP).
So spending money doesn't give you an ingame advantage(each week a different subset of champions are free to play), but the incentives for buying RP are good and the prices are reasonable.
Doesn't hurt that the game is a lot of fun as well. :)
What's most important for me is that the cost structure is clearly laid-out from the beginning. I don't want to "discover" things that cost money half-way through the game.

Also, I don't like the gamey nature for RMT. If people look in a specific way just because they spent real money, it diminishes my immersion.
Allot of otherwise buy-to-play games have absolutely ruined by going the route of micro-transaction, the longer you play a said so-called F2p game the more money they are garnering from you, more than if you had paid outright for it really. Some of those games you mentioned you wouldn't pay more than a few pounds for on Steam or such yet they expect you to pay out more than a month just to be 'competitive'.

Most recently Battlefield for free, offering guns that are far far superior to any of the standard ones that you can only buy (for around $5 a piece if you want them permanently) and are so overpowered compared to the originals it makes the game completely pointless for anyone not wanting to spend it.
I am happy to pay my (just under) £8 per month subscription for wow as the cost is a known one. I will always steer clear of games that cost nothing to start playing, but then demand money to stay competitive. My days on Haypi Kingdom are numbered since they introduced chests that require coins to open; coins that cost real money.

I don't like the 'unknown cost' of f2p games, although I appreciate that the devs need to be paid
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I have no large problem with micro-transactions in games, provided they don't provide a measurable advantage to those who don't spend their money on them.

My favourite free-to-play game is, by far, Guild Wars. After the initial payment to purchase the game there are no more payments. The game doesn't include micro-transactions aside from extra character slots, name changes and bank slots. (None of which are pushed upon you, you start with plenty of character slots and a vast bank which I haven't manage to nearly fill up from over 3 years of playing!)

For the most part, I wouldn't mind paying a subscription for a full game and I'd prefer to do that than play a micro-transaction fuelled MMO.
Deleted a comment by "Fake Tobold". Now that's a new one, he even copied my avatar picture and everything.
I'll second LoL as the one F2P game that I've seen get it 100% correct, and the core value they have is don't sell power/features. Helps that the game itself is a standout in the MOBA genre of course.

But reading this post, it tired me out. So many games that you would have continued playing if not for the cost structure; what a total waste of time ultimately. It's hard enough to find a quality game to invest time in, and F2P now also adds another possible barrier? No thanks.

It's funny that now, one advantage a sub-based or box price game has in the market is a fixed cost; ten years ago that would have sounded so strange.
I was already thinking that this was a little too absurd, even for you *grin* ;)
I recently true the F2P model in Champions Online. It strikes me that their Free to Play is little more than an expanded demo. As a Free to Play member (called Silver) you must use a predetermined template of powers, whereas subscription Gold members can create custom powerless. This wouldn't be too bad except that the number of templates is limited to about 8. But the biggest problem I have is that the templates for free to play are not designed for solo play past level 8-12, depending on the archetype. They lack the CC or self heals custom archetypes have.
@ original post
"Browser games are a lot cheaper to make, so I expect to pay less for them than for a big budget PC game or MMORPG"

This is a wrong assumption to make at both ends.

First---Browser interfaces are about as costly to develop as thin/thick client interfaces. Yes you get "some" benefit via lower support costs due to only about 5-6 browser/platform variations (vs Thick client graphics card stuff). But in reality a software program no matter how it is implemented, cost is driven by complexity of logic NOT on foundational components like interface type.

Net-Net you get no cost benefit due to using Microsoft IE vs your own client except in integration with other IE based content... If you implement a thin browser client you are ONLY shifting work onto your server components so the net cost is the same.

Second--- In reading up on the game industry's hype cycle about "the browser being the next interface" (which by the way sounds real familiar see this (

Great quote from 1995 folks "Sun Microsystems released the first public implementation as Java 1.0 in 1995. It promised "Write Once, Run Anywhere" (WORA), providing no-cost run-times on popular platforms. "

Yeah about that write once stuff 16 YEARS ago... [notice Wow aint running on Java... pst]

Anyhoo, the game industry is only pursuing browser based gaming for 3 reasons (Mobile, Facebook, XBox Live). And they are all looking at it to DRIVE DOWN THEIR COSTS not your price. :)

A quality game needs: Great graphics, Low latency, immediate I/O interupts, smooth motion, etc ... hard to do in a generic browser implementation.

So the bottom line is that you will be paying about the same for a quality game that you have always paid. No matter what the platform/devivery etc. I see in this industry future the same thing that happened to Music. You will see concentration at the top of "bankable" talent and distribution. You will see slow erroding of fringe offerings and you will either have MEGA EARNERS or you will have Indie scraping by earners. So no Middle class game companies I'm afraid (to see the future of this effect you only have to look at how Stardock is doing) [side note would that make farmville etc the equiv of an 80's "Boy Band" - Menudo anyone? :)]

All of these browser based games may be "interesting" but much like all the super thin client hype from 1995 it's all bunk. [just look at Second Life's travails on getting a Browser Viewer going...]

Browser game = Farmville ... have fun with that
I was also going to say something about Free2Play economics and how it's a waste of time... because I think we all want to get paid right? Why do we think that quality people will make quaility entertainment for us for Free? Unless it's a scam?

But, I'm off to invent the future...

I'll leave you with one statement that helps me navigate technology trends.
---- There ain't no such thing as a free lunch.
This comment has been removed by the author.
Note the different results you get when clicking on my name and the fake Tobold one.
Well you know what they say, Tobold. Imitation is the greatest form of flattery. ;) And for my "money," no discussion of Free2Play shenanigans would be complete without at least a passing reference to the absurdity that was Allods Online. I downloaded the game, loved it, and they totally lost me as a customer with their cash shop. I have no problem supporting a good game, but that was rediculous.
I'd agree LoL gets it exactly right. You can play the entire game free, forever. The only thing unavailable to paying customers are the cosmetic skins. LoL has the advantage of being a game that expands horizontally, that is, each addition to the game increases player options, not player power. It has a definite action-figure-collector vibe to it, and I never feel ripped off for spending a couple bucks unlocking a new champion. I stay away from the $14-$18 epic skins, though,
i'm agree with niconorsk !

I also play League of Legens, because is a good game and if u pay you will don't have a lot of aventages :)

Come here ---->

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