Tobold's Blog
Sunday, April 29, 2012
 
On the suitability of Free2Play for different games

Imagine a fantasy game in which you have a hero who is exploring single-player dungeons, and finds decorative items there. The purpose of the game would be to build the most beautiful city. It isn't hard to see how a Free2Play business model would work for this game: Buy decorative items to further make your city more beautiful, or buy access to new single-player dungeons. Somebody spending a lot of money would have a prettier city, but except for possible jealousy that would not have any negative effect on other players. It is a model we recognize from the real world: Somebody willing to spend more money on a car will drive a nicer car than we, but that doesn't affect our driving pleasure all that much.

Imagine a fantasy game in which you have a hero who is exploring single-player dungeons, and earns levels and gear there. Then there is a PvP arena, where players duel random other players, with the purpose of the game being to win the most battles. Make this game Free2Play, and you immediately run into problems: Selling either gear directly, or selling access to new dungeons with "must have" gear inside both will lead to players who spend more money being more likely to win against others than those who spend less or nothing. Although for the individual player on his own the business model might appear similar (buy stuff and access to dungeons), the effect is a very different one: What player A buys hurts player B. The business model is likely to be perceived as being unfair.

It gets more complicated if you have a game with many different possible purposes and ways to play: A MMORPG. If you think of dungeons in terms of "server firsts" and steps towards showing how your raiding guild is better than the other raiding guilds on the server, buying access to a dungeon seems unfair. But if you see dungeons just as content to be consumed for entertainment, buying access to more entertainment seems fair.

It seems to me that the monthly subscription business model for MMORPGs is ailing, and only viable for a small handful of top games. When people see a game they don't consider to be a top contender, let's say TERA, having a monthly subscription, they immediately start speculating how long it will be before the game switches to Free2Play. And then of course it is likely that a game which switches business models will have a less well-designed Free2Play model than one which took the business model into consideration right from the start. There are competitive games like League of Legends or World of Tanks which have been designed for Free2Play and which are generally considered as mostly fair. It is possible to design a virtual shop in which items are both desirable and not hurting the game. But there is still work to do in developing this further.

Comments:
Personally my favourite free to play model is that of Star Trek Online. In that game they let you buy Cryptic Points that let you purchase various rewards. While Star Trek allows you to purchase some items of power which to be honest they shouldn't have, they added a second currency that allows people to buy the Cryptic points with a grindable daily reward.

This means no player has exclusiveness to certain items which is probably the most concerning thing about many cash shops.

I would however run the use the various skin's model that League of Legends uses as my grindable reward though. Attach it to armor types that you can unlock or to different mount skins.
 
I'm not sure the car analogy is the right one. You mentioned "driving pleasure" but that's definitely not true. A $40K BMW will certainly give you more driving pleasure than a $15K Toyota Yaris but they both get you to the same destination, in other words provide similar levels of utility. Is that what you actually meant?
 
I meant your Yaris will give you the same driving pleasure whether the car next to you is another Yaris or a BMW.
 
What player A buys hurts player B. The business model is likely to be perceived as being unfair.

This is why you hide it. Look at the example you mention: World of Tanks. The obfuscation the game uses makes it impossible to know if your opponent is shooting you with gold shells or not. It's "hidden pay to win", and it seems to be working fine.

Star Trek Online is a very crappy example of F2P. The continued "lock box lotteries" pretty much indicate that the game is not self-sustaining: which is no surprise, as the cash shop sells nothing useful. Additionnaly they made a major mistake with the price of the respec tokens (in STO a respec is 4 euros). Respec = try different things = remain to play the game. I've dumped one character due to this, and the second one will follow as soon as I run out of the "free respecs" I got during leveling.
 
Lotro is doing fine as a Free2Play game and it didn't start with this model..the reason is that it doesn't have PVP..ok it has the monster play, but this is mostly a side game and doesn't have the competition of top MMO games.

For me, ANY game that focus 90% on PVE can be a Fre2Play game and seel good things to players. A player that will spend much on the store, not only doesn't affect my gameplay, but if it happens to group together for a dungeon he will be more useful :P
 
Helistar, you are so right about Star Trek Online being a total fail of a F2P game. All Cryptic games suffer from the same problem there.

* Outrageously high prices for things from the cash shop.

* Very little interesting stuff in there.

* Respecs outraougesly overpriced.

All of that combines to explain why they are such a failure of a company.

F2P is a lot harder than people think. There is more to it than just figuring out a few perks, giving them arbitrary dollar values, and calling it done.

At Frogdice, we've been doing F2P for 16 years. In that time, we've made some mistakes and done some dumb things occasionally, and learned from them. But mostly we've made good decisions and our players have rewarded us for it with their loyalty.

Part of it is our general philosophy about F2P:

"Make your game fun enough that people will play it long enough, and eventually they'll spend money."

You don't have to trick people. You don't have to use crippleware tactics. Make a good game and then make your buyable things cool enough that they are worth the money.

Everything else will take care of itself in the long run.

-Michael Hartman
@frogdiceinc
http://www.frogdice.com
 
It may seem that pay to win would be an obviously daft business model but it's worked pretty well for Magic: The Gathering.

I've been playing a lot of Magic: The Gathering: Tactics recently and while I know that the rich and good players will beat me it's immensely satisfying to beat quite a lot of people with a deck that's more or less all commons.
 
I think collectible card games were always as much about unlocking new and interesting tactics, as well as pretty (or amusing) collectible artwork which held value in itself, as P2W.

You can always sell or swap any excess cards, for example.
 
Pay to win is a business model that is used for *everything else in the world*, I don't know why people think games should be different. In all sorts of hobby and sports competitions, people use money to get an edge: better shoes, better clubs, better bikes, better fishing rods.

Is it just that video games used to be the domain of the young, and young people typically have less money, and thus fight back against attempts to introduce it?
 
Tobold,

When F2P was still in its early stages of adoption, we were told that roughly 5% of players of a given game actually spent real money supporting a game. Isnt it safe to assume, from all financial indications, from say a game like WoT, that the 5% number was indeed low?

You ascertain that only triple A titles can sustain the subscription model in todays market, so considering the success of the F2P model, isnt it safe to assume that any title could be successful under either revenue generation model based merely on how it was designed from the ground up?
 
Imagine a fantasy game in which you have a hero who is exploring single-player dungeons, and earns levels and gear there. Then there is a PvP arena, where players duel random other players, with the purpose of the game being to win the most battles. Make this game Free2Play, and you immediately run into problems: Selling either gear directly, or selling access to new dungeons with "must have" gear inside both will lead to players who spend more money being more likely to win against others than those who spend less or nothing

Let me modify this for you to get it right:

Imagine a fantasy game in which you have a hero who is exploring single-player dungeons, and earns levels, gear and GEMS there. Then there is a PvP arena, where players duel random other players, with the purpose of the game being to win the most battles. Make this game Free2Play, and you balance the time spend and money spend.

Basically there is the rule that if you drop the premium currency as part of free to play mechanics then you are ok to sell power items.

That rule is key to Bigpoints success btw.
 
"Pay to win is a business model that is used for *everything else in the world*, I don't know why people think games should be different"

How would you P2W in chess? That's why games are different. Because you win by following the rules, that's the whole point.

The reason P2W works at all for MMOs is that they aren't purely games.
 
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