Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
 
Free2Play barbarians

Age of Conan is going Free2Play with a not-so-unusual "hybrid" business model in which you can choose whether you want to just play for free, or pay for things in the item shop, or become a "premium" subscriber. The most remarkable bit about this news is how very unremarkable announcements like this have become. The usual reaction is "What? They were *still* subscription based?". Right now the only game which actually would surprise people if it went Free2Play is World of Warcraft.
Comments:
It looks like Everquest 2 EXT model.
It was about time :)
 
There's something I never understood about this.
Let's assume you have 100k subscribers. They pay $15 the month.

Now let's assume you go F2P. How many new players will you need to earn more money?
Well, it depends on how much the average player pays per month. Let's assume 20% of the players pay $15, the rest doesn't pay anything.
That would mean that you would need 500k people that regularily play?
(I know, simplified assumtion).

But that's absurd. So, it seems as if the majority of the players actually use the item shops to spend $15 or even more! But what's the reason for F2P then? Why would I play a F2P game if it costs as much as a sub-based game? It's worse gameplay/immersion and equally expensive. And free trials are common in sub-based games, too.
 
The money is made by people with poor impulse control and plenty of disposable wealth having access to the cash shop.

In DDO one cleric spent $200 in a month just on mana potions healing random pugs.

Also these things are usually pitched so that if you are already paying $15/month you'll need to continue paying to enjoy the game the way you are accustomed to. Raiding and keep sieges are both behind the paywall (except the newbie raids).
 
Stabs pretty much nailed it. F2P games make a ton more money from the same subscriber base just for the simple fact one player with bad impulse control (Which there are A LOT) could techinically pay for 4+ subs on his own. Just like the dumb little games for iPhone/Android that people go and buy for $1-5 a pop and end up spending $20-30 at the end of the month.

I know in Atlantica Online I once spent $40 without even thinking about it, getting a few item boxes to try an get a Heavenly Steed.

The good F2P item shops have items players want or actually use on the fly, without making the player feel he HAS to buy to be successful. Potions while soloing/grouping is almost always a successful sell. Respec items, costumes, mounts are also all very popular and sell well to even casual players. None of the items are 'needed', but all have some draw.
 
See it from my point of view..I started playing World of warcraft.After that I bought almost all "famous" MMO that came after that.Lotro, Warhammer, Conan, Aion and now Rift.

All of them I played 1 month and then I went back to wow.In some point I got bored with wow I always wanted to try again those game to see how they changed and if they became better but I couldn't afford more subscriptions.

After Lotro became free I immediatly installed it again and played it.Now I am playing lotro and I pay monthly subscription to enjoy the vip member priviledges because the game became better than the start.

Guess what?After read about conan I already pick out of the box the game cd and start install it.If the game is now good and make me wanna play it I maybe pay a monthly subscription.

With so many MMO around is not easy to pay so many subs
 
See it from my point of view..I started playing World of warcraft.After that I bought almost all "famous" MMO that came after that.Lotro, Warhammer, Conan, Aion and now Rift.

All of them I played 1 month and then I went back to wow.In some point I got bored with wow I always wanted to try again those game to see how they changed and if they became better but I couldn't afford more subscriptions.

After Lotro became free I immediatly installed it again and played it.Now I am playing lotro and I pay monthly subscription to enjoy the vip member priviledges because the game became better than the start.

Guess what?After read about conan I already pick out of the box the game cd and start install it.If the game is now good and make me wanna play it I maybe pay a monthly subscription.

With so many MMO around is not easy to pay so many subs
 
"But what's the reason for F2P then?"

Because there's no recurring fee. The schedule is nicer; you can jump back in and play at whim instead of paying a cover charge for a month that you might only play for a few days. Simply, it's more flexible.

...but yeah, it's a potential pitfall for those with poor self control.
 
Tish, that's the theory, but if a switch is profitable for the industry, it either has to drastically increase number of players or have some players pay really drastically more. Doesn't it ?
 
or have some players pay really drastically more

That's what happens for the reasons mentioned here. Sometimes I found your ingenuity a little too idealistic.
 
Your short post encouraged me to write a rather long response, Tobold :)
 
My understanding of F2P came from a Tobold post or two from a year or two ago that when the first major F2P switch happened (DD?) that revenue went up and the publishers were surprised. (There was a famous Gary Larson cartoon with the huge dinosaur felled by a single arrow with the caption "Maybe we should write that spot down.")

In defense of those of us with poor impulse control: people who never spend any money on games are in a much better position to criticize a player who spends $25 a month on a game than someone who is currently spending $15. It is not written on stone tablets that $15 is the price and $20/month is prodigal. Besides CCP has gotten it to where "most" players have a couple of subscriptions. I can understand the argument that spending $1/month on a game is a waste but I don't see a huge distinction with spending $10,15, or 20 in a store versus 15 in a subscription.

I don't know the answer, but as a business something doesn't feel right with MMO pricing. Many businesses follow the 80/20 rule. 80% of your profits come from your best 20% of your customers. A lot of people drink beer or fly but the frequent flyers fly/drink a lot more than the average person and airlines go out of their way to attract them.

Whereas the subscription MMOs tend to have their most committed customers be less profitable. The enthusiastic customers, for whom WoW is worth more than $15 a month, still spend $15. ($18 if they RAH) They probably are on more so incur more costs.

It may be the best pricing model but I am not sure.
 
Only surprise would be EVE. Still growing, PvP-based, not run by idiots who have moved on.

WoW is prime for F2P. Shrinking (officially now, for a while now in the US/EU), PvE-based, existing cash shop, run by gamer-hating Bobby, and most of the dev team has moved on. Might as well cash in on the ones who are still around being milked and milk them harder pre-Titan. Makes for a nice boost on a quarterly report.
 
@Nils

yes, it seems more profitable to go F2P, at least Turbine's experience with it points to that conclusion

Turbine marked 5 times increase in profits for DDO after going F2P (not players, profits!) and around 3 times for LotRO - so there's your empirical evidence (search Eurogamer.com articles for the actual press releases)

One good thing about F2P is that players are actually recognized as content for other players - i.e. it's OK to have non-paying customers if your game is to be lively and with healthy population - that increases its value to the actually paying customers and provides a flexible try-before-u-buy option to everyone plus a not so much engaging payment scheme for all those who would use the paid services

(While we're on the topic - here's a business idea: a Gamer's Wallet type of service, where you could allocate budgets in real currency to spend in the games you play - thus fore efficiently managing your resources and protecting yourself from impulse spending in games :)?)
 
@Firefox: Turbine reported a one-time increase for DDO. Considering DDO was assumed dead pre-F2P, increasing 5x is nice, but 5x of almost zero is still pretty damn close to zero. Notice they have not followed up and continued to talk about how great DDO is doing? The F2P switch is a nice one-time boost, it generates hype and lots of people check it out. At the end of the day, it's still DDO thought.
 
It's too bad that AoC never really had the chance to be successful after a horrible launch three years ago! So many bugs and glitches in the game made it almost unplayable.
I'm a huge Robert E Howard fan and was looking forward to the game but was disappointed in the product they released.
I've re-subbed a couple of times but finally gave up on the game after maxing out a few characters in both PvE and PvP due to the imbalance issues between classes.
 
IMO older gamers like myself have a sensibility that the subscription model suggests a more quality product, commitment to service, long term outlook, etc.

I don't "trust" free. If it's free, it must be crap or dying, right? Although the amazing array of free apps for my iPhone and iPad are certainly challenging that attitude.

I also don't like the idea of a business living on the backs of "kids" (could be mine) that can't control their spending.

I wonder if there's any evidence that F2P is less popular with more mature gamers.
 
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