Tobold's Blog
Friday, January 23, 2015
Recognizing the traps

A commenter this week said he was "burned by ArcheAge" and asked "How how much time and resource do you waste on a Free2Play game before you realise its Pay2Win?". My answer to that question is that this depends very much on your familiarity with Free2Play concepts. Whatever semantics you want to use, but Free2Play games definitively do want to seduce / trick / trap you into spending more than you intended. If you can avoid those traps, you can actually get more game for less money than in a Buy2Own business model. If you fall into those traps, you can get burned.

My recommendation would be to download a large number of "free" games on whatever mobile platform you have, phone or tablet, Apple or Android. As the games are not very elaborate or deep, you can easily play several of them in sequence. And you'll quickly learn how the same traps to incite you to spend money appear over and over in different guises. You can also learn a lot of those tricks by just watching some relevant YouTube videos like this one.

Once you are trained to recognize the traps, it becomes a matter of routine to avoid them. And you'll easily be able to recognize the same traps in more elaborate PC or console games.

P.S. While the Elder Scrolls Online is not going "free" to play, it will make the subscription optional from March 17th on. "Optional subscription" means that subscribers get virtual items and services that non-subscribers don't get automatically. So there will be a shop for virtual items and services, designed in a way that somebody might consider continuing to pay a subscription to get them. Which means ESO will have the same sort of seduction / tricks / traps as a Free2Play game. Buyers beware!

I find it best to find a game with a very stark division between pay players and free players. Pay 20 bucks a time or two and live the good life, pay nothing and be a second class citizen. Find one of those, pay a pittance, and you're golden.

It's the ones where it's more gradual that you have to watch out for. Pay a little to make life a little bit better. Then a little more. Then some more. Then you've paid a lot of money without really getting all the improvements you really want. But you can't just drop the game because you've already spent a lot of money in it, so you spend even more to make it good enough to keep going. Then you're stuck.
True, but overcomplicated.

A non-pay-to-win free-to-play is a perpetuum mobile. You don't have to actually examine its internal mechanics to know for sure that it can't work.

Why? Because if a game wouldn't be pay-to-win, then the free players would be all useless and kicked. Since the remaining players would be all paying, the game would be a subscription one. The game company keeps free players for the purpose of using them as cannon fodder.

My answer to that question is that this depends very much on your familiarity with Free2Play concepts.

Except that this is the very mechanism that F2P adopters count on - the unfamiliarity of the bussiness model. Just like the phsychological tricks/traps that the developers of certain F2P games employ, the players only finds out about them -after- they are inside the game.

AFAIK there is no law requiring upfront and informed disclosure by F2P developers on how their implementation of the F2P model will work, and this needs to change.

Subscriptions are straight-up and the consumer -knows- upfront what they are getting for their money, but it's not so clear-cut or upfront with the F2P model - and I would ask whether anyone can provide a reasonable argument on why there should not be open disclosure on what the hidden costs might/will be with any F2P game.

Also, the one thing that irks me to no end about the F2P debate, is that this all started around how the time-rich players held a -huge- advantage over those players who equated their non-playing time(the time is money crowd) with being able to pay to spend less time in the game world. Isn't it interesting that this notion has effectively been proven false? As players who spend money in games with item shops or other F2P offerings -also spend just as much time inside/playing the games as subscription gamers do.
Isn't it interesting that this notion has effectively been proven false?

Where is your proof? Where are your data? You just stating "it is proven" doesn't make it so. I see absolutely no evidence of your claim that suddenly the time-poor people spend as much time in a game.

Time-rich players in World of Warcraft still
1) Pay a lot less money per hour spent in the game and are effectively subsidized by the time-poor.
2) Get a lot of exclusive content and the best rewards in the game.

In a Free2Play game the time-rich can often get the same stuff by grinding that the time-poor bought in the shop. So the rich still subsidize the poor. The only change is that the rich now get equal or better rewards for having paid more.
Look at the number of subscribers in ANY F2P game - It's only logical that the time-rich would not be able to stick around if a certain percentage of money-rich players weren't indirectly subsidizing their playtime(by keeping the lights on), and if World of Tanks is an accurate indicator of this(with its publicly available stats), then the number of matches being played indicates that even if there is a small subset of players actively paying real money, that they also are spending a near equal amount of time playing the game as their non-paying counterparts/opponents.
Huh? Completely false logic! How would number of matches played give you any indication of the time spent in game? The small number of players that pay probably just play a fraction of the time of those who for example grind the "gold ammo" in World of Tanks.
In 2012 WoT had over 20 million registered users, with a company reported 25-30% payment ratio. That's around ~6 million players actively paying to play the game. Between the concurrent user stats, number of matches played and other stats for 2012, it becomes obviously clear that the paying customers arent just paying to log in for a few games here and there.
None of that is even the remotest indication that the paying customers aren't playing less than the non-paying ones. It is because you can speed up your progress with money in World of Tanks that the people who have less time to play can spend their way to keeping up with the time-rich players.
I don't agree with Gevlon's logic at @2. Just because free players are kept because they might turn into whales doesn't make them all useless. Some can be good enough to play well without paying.

I don't approve of FTP in general, but it's hardly as black as Gevlon paints it.
Even in a not pay-to-win game, free players provide revenue by 1) the chance that some portion will decide to become pay players, 2) spreading word to more potential players through social media, 3) populating the world in a way that improves the pay players' experiences (keeping queues low, higher volume economy, that sort of thing).

Free players generate only a fraction of the revenue pay players do, sure, but on average it's nonzero. Not useless.
I might be a little oversensitive. I struggle to play GW2 because I feel as though the the cash-shop is demanding money from me and the cash/item rate seems high. On the other hand I am fine with SW:TOR.
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