What’s So Great About Free-2-Play?

South Korean Flag

South Korea. That part of Asia you have never heard of.

Those darn South Koreans, they get all the luck. First Blizzard gives every Korean with an active sub to World of Warcraft a free copy of Starcraft 2 and now Funcom are releasing Age of Conan with a free-2-play model over there. Top it all off with having the fastest Internet connection speeds in the worlds and you’ve got a country that most geeks would mistake for the afterlife. If it wasn’t for the fact that I have an uncanny ability to accidentally spout off-the-cuff racial slurs at inconvenient moments (my wife’s used to it) combined with their national sport being Tae Kwon Do, I’d be applying for permanent residency as we speak (I’m also afraid of getting nuked by my neighbouring country but that’s a risk I’d be willing to take for the sake of 100Mbit download speeds).

Still, my excitement over the AoC F2P news has somewhat diminished over the past few hours and since then I’ve been starting to ponder the F2P subscription model a bit more. I always used to like the idea of being free of the shackles of a monthly subscription but since I’m still currently subscribed to Age of Conan and yet haven’t logged in in a couple of weeks it put me in the interesting position of wondering how much I honestly care about it all and whether or not F2P would truly have any affect on my gameplay habits. Would F2P suddenly renew my interest in Conan? No, it wouldn’t and, in fact, it might put me off a little.

The downsides of the F2P model are clear enough and you only need to look at the ruckus Allods Online stirred up with their insane pricing schemes to realise that F2P doesn’t necessarily mean a better deal for the gamer. Indeed it could actually end up with the player paying more just to access the content they would’ve had from a flat subscription and there’s always that old chestnut of the slippery-slope argument (what if they devs start introducing uber armour, weapons and spells on the cash shop just to make more money?) to throw in F2P supporter’s faces.

I suppose I find something comforting and reliable about the good old subscription model and personally I admire the elegance of EVE Online’s simple subscription system. You pay a monthly fee, play as much as you want, don’t have to worry about any “extra value items” being sold to players and get every single expansion for free. All in all, seems like a pretty great deal to me and excellent value for money.

And I suppose value for money is one of cores behind the F2P argument, flexibility in payment (i.e. paying only for what you want to use) being the other. Yes, it is kinda unfair that someone who only plays a handful of hours a week has to fork over the same cash as someone who plays 6 hours a day and yes, it does penalise those players who can’t, or choose not to, experience some of the content. However, at the end of the day, there should still be enough content, play time and enjoyment available to contend you and, if there isn’t, then the logical conclusion is that it’s probably not worth playing at all.

Each of us has our own value for money scale in our head and so it’s impossible to give a unanimous thumbs up or down to any one payment system in particular. Still, all I can say is that if $10-$15 a month is too much for someone to pay to play a MMO then that particular game probably doesn’t hold very much value to them at all and it’s highly unlikely that it going F2P would truly change that fact (beyond sparking their interest from all hype that such an announcement creates).

Maybe one day we’ll see some ‘better’ or fairer payment models being introduced but until then I think I’m happy sticking with the simplicity of the monthly subscription model and prefer it the over F2P one. Ultimately we all end up parting with our cash one way or another and it’s just boils down to what we think is worth it.

So nah nah Koreans! AoC going F2P is one less thing I have to be jealous about.

-Gordon

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17 Comments

  1. Longasc says:

    The point of F2P is never that people play for free.

    But that those who play a lot can and probably will (have to?) pay a lot more than they would pay for a sub.

    Of course there is STO, which I am still playing, which has a sub AND and item store. Those game companies only want my best – apparently my money. ;)

  2. Colerejuste says:

    I’ve heard F2P is a preferred model in that part of the world. Case in point is Battle of the Immortals. I’ve had occasion to play it, up to level 54 so far. I’ve dropped US$20 on it so far to get some extra bag space, though I’ve got plenty of ZEN points left over for other stuff down the line.

    Apparently the BoI that westerners play is quite different from the BoI that the Chinese play (going out on a limb to imply that BoI is originally a Chinese game, and what I play is a Westernised port), and that their market research suggests that F2P is a preferred model over subscription.

  3. Stabs says:

    I like F2P for the flexibility. If I feel like playing DDO in an evening I can, all my characters are available and there’s tons of content I can do. If I feel like playing WoW or EQ2 I’ll need to resub. Since I already have too many MMO subs going I can’t justify another one.

  4. I enjoy F2P for the flexibility too, it’s nice not feeling like I have to log in for a certain of hours every month to get my money’s worth. On the other hand, when games are F2P I find it that much harder to motivate myself to play it, it’s always “Meh, it’ll always be there!” and I’ll put it off for another day. :P

    • Gordon says:

      I find I can only focus on one or two MMOs at a time and I’m happy to spend $20-30 a month on subscriptions for them. I suppose it would be nice to know that I could just dip into a game one weekend if I wanted to but I don’t often have that urge. What appeals to me more is free play time for returning players so I can check out old games and see if I like them before handing over the money.

  5. dunwich says:

    f2p = crap… nothing more to say…

  6. Bhagpuss says:

    Free to Play is just an annoyingly inaccurate buzzword that we are currently stuck with. “Free to Download” might be nearer the mark.

    While I like the “All you can eat” subscription model in theory, in practice the”pay as you go” model now coming into vogue has clear advantages for a non-hardcore player. Firstly, you can always play some of the game for free, meaning you can keep a lot of MMOs on the go at once (I currently have around two dozen on my desktop that I am at least semi-actively paying attention to).

    Secondly, when you become particularly enamoured of one or other of these, rather than laying out a monthly fee and feeling obligated to get your money’s worth by playing it largely exclusively for 30 days, you can just buy some additional content that may take you a session or two.

    If I was planning on playing just one MMO, then obviously I would prefer to subscribe and have access to everythng at a fixed price. But I have never played that way. I’ve always had as many MMOs on the go as I could manage to get access to. And since I don’t have money to burn, I really can’t justify paying to subscribe to more than one at a time. Consequently, the current trend towards a “pay as you go” payment model suits me very nicely.

    • Gordon says:

      I’d probably be happy to see MMOs having a pay-per-hour model as it would suit me perfectly. Unfortunately though it would probably turn me into a cynic who thinks that every grind mechanic is just in the game to keep me playing longer and paying more :P

      • Tesh says:

        Well, that’s arguably why they really are there under a sub model. :P

        • nugget says:

          Well PWE’s F2P games are all incredibly grindy, so it can’t just be the subs.

          IMO on some level grind can be pleasant. Yes, there, I said it. *shame*

          Am currently playing around with a PWE MMO based on the Romance of the Three Kingdoms (Heroes of Three Kingdoms MMO), and honestly… in terms of gameplay, so far it’s nothing but rats and fedex.

          And you know what? Right now I’m finding it a soothing break from all the White Mantle killing I’ve been doing. Totally, wonderfully mindless. Press the lever 10 times, get a cookie. Press it another 10 times, get a chocolate chip cookie. Press it 250,000,000 times and get a glorious golden mcnugget… WOOT!

          Grind… it can be relaxing.

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