Tobold's Blog
Friday, November 22, 2013
Why it pays to be generous

Green Armadillo is discussing the paradox of generosity: "An odd quirk of the non-subscription business model is that generosity can make paying for the product less attractive. The more stuff you give away for free, the less stuff you have left to sell people." Now I am pretty sure that many people think this is true, and there are even developers who design games based on this assumption. But me, I am not convinced. I don't think that "less stuff you have left to sell people" exists, because you aren't selling physical goods; there is no upper limit to the amount of virtual stuff you can sell to people. For example World of Warcraft has an achievement called We're Going to Need More Saddles, which you get for collecting 150 mounts: Does that suggest to you that there is an upper limit for the demand for mounts? You can always sell more.

In my opinion the danger of making an unsuccessful Free2Play game is much more on the side of you being not generous enough. If I play a new game, and from the first minute I play I constantly get pestered by the game to spend money on it, and the game visibly is trying to make my experience as a free player as uncomfortable as possible, I simply stop playing. It isn't as if there weren't enough other games out there, of any genre.

But if a game lets me enjoy the gameplay for free for a while, so I grow to like the game and get attached to it, I'm far more willing to open my wallet. Even for things I don't strictly need. I spent $100 on Card Hunter not because I needed to, but because I loved the game and wanted to support it. I spent money on Marvel Puzzle Quest after thoroughly enjoying it, and liking the prospect of having a larger space for more different heroes. The game didn't force me to spend money, it even offers all this for free if you prefer grinding. But once I like a game, I'm more willing to pay for comfort.

I am also totally okay with the old "pay before you play" concept. I still buy a lot of games on Steam or in app stores like that, just based on announcements or reviews. But I believe that once you decide that your game should be Free2Play, it has to be actually free to play to some reasonable extent. You can't pretend your game is free and then shove a paywall in the players face right at the start. You need to be generous to engage players with your game. There is always enough stuff left to sell people, because people will buy the most useless virtual crap if they love a game.

It's a personality thing, isn't it? I buy very little for myself in real life and almost never anything expensive. I just don't feel the need to do so. The same attitude follows me into MMOs, where not only do I not buy very much if anything, either from cash shops or in-game merchants but I use barely a fraction of the stuff I get given for free.

Over nine years of playing EQ2, for example, I've been provided for free with a huge amount of anniversary gifts, expansion pre-order benefits, special event rewards and LoN card game items. The huge majority remain unclaimed. Ditto GW2, where almost every Achievement and other freebie I've ever acquired sits unused in my bank vault.

It's quite hard for developers to sell things to people like me, who are both easily satisfied and also positively enjoy "making do". At the other extreme I know a few people in EQ2 who positively, absolutely *must* buy everything they ever see. Companies would make more out of me via a subscription by far than they will ever make selling items or services - I happily pay for subs to games I don't even play. Conversely some of those really big spenders might never play a game at all if they had to subscribe, yet they will spend fortunes in the cash shop.

Best to be nominally F2P but also have both a subscription and a cash shop, I'd say. That way you at least have a chance of getting some money out of everyone.
I prefer the hybrid model as well, but only if the subscription model actually gives you everything. I have played a few F2P + Sub games that try to nickel and dime the Sub players.
"I prefer the hybrid model as well, but only if the subscription model actually gives you everything. I have played a few F2P + Sub games that try to nickel and dime the Sub players."

Why should the subscription model give you everything? I have a subscription to a gym in my town, but that doesn't come with unlimited personal training sessions, protein bars, and massages. I'm glad it doesn't, because I don't buy any of those things there, and if the subscription did come with those things, it'd be 800 dollars a month instead of 40. Now if you're referring to really annoying nickel-and-dime type stuff, like charging subscription payer for extra hot bars, then yeah, that would be ridiculous. But offering luxuries in the cash shop isn't really nickel-and-diming, it's offering a top-tier option.
One of the things that City of Heroes did well with their Sub vs Free model, is that your sub came with an allowance of game store currency. (And the longer you subbed, the larger your allowance.)

If you were a subscriber who had to have everything you could spend extra money to get it right now. But, you could also choose to save up a couple of month's allowance (assuming you didn't have enough saved already) and get everything eventually -- without spending a dime more than your subscription.

Personally, I felt this was a really fair way to handle everything. Most of the game everyone could enjoy, while some things were exclusive to subscribers, while others everyone had to pay for.

The folks at Paragon Studios were very conscientious of their subscribers, and treated us (on the hole) very -- very -- well. It's a shame their modestly profitable MMO was cancelled by NCSoft.
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