Are F2P MMOs Just Not Very Good?
“Are F2P MMOs just not very good?” I asked myself this very question the other week when I heard the news that, surprise surprise, SW:TOR was going to ditch it’s subscription model and go free-to-play instead. Of course, everyone and their donkey had predicted this months ago so it didn’t come as much of a shock, aside from perhaps how quickly it happened. I think most of us were expecting it to take a few more months.
And whilst at first this news seemed to simply reinforce the argument that subscription fees are a dated mechanic of the past, it did make me wonder why a few select games like WoW, EVE and RIFT can successfully – and profitably – operate that way yet others can’t. Although there’s more to it than just having hundreds of thousands (or millions) of players (the initial cost of development and on-going license fees are other big considerations, for sure), it does stand to reason that the subscription model just doesn’t work with a dwindling player base. And player bases dwindle because games suck. I mean if they didn’t, these games would still have lots of players, still be using models subscriptions and everyone would be happy.
I can hear you getting ready to pounce in defence of your favourite F2P MMO and rip my larynx out like a rabid hyena in the process. Please don’t.
Because don’t get me wrong, I don’t actually think all F2P games suck. Indeed, it’s a theory I quickly abandoned because there a few examples of, by popular account, excellent MMOs that made the switch (LOTRO, for instance). I do, however, don’t think it’s a complete coincidence that a lot of the recent MMOs are switching so quickly after having receiving pretty lackluster responses from the public. Take SW:TOR. I bought it, I enjoyed it for a month, I got bored. And while I can’t say that it’s a ‘bad’ game, it didn’t have any spectacular gameplay or innovative mechanics to keep me hooked for any reasonable length of time. It’s declining player base would show that most of the world would agree with me too.
Personally, I think Jim Rossignol hit the nail on the head in his article over at Rock, Paper Shotgun when he commented on how people simply don’t want to subscribe to games that they’ve seen – and played – dozens of times before. There’s only so many years one can play similar games for and not mind paying for them but, eventually, the novelty is bound to wear off. And I think that’s exactly what we saw with SW:TOR. It wasn’t a terrible game, it just didn’t offer anyone any reason to stick around and subscribe.
Which is exactly where the subscription model falls flat on it’s face. In a somewhat ironic, yet understandable, twist it seems that people would rather splash out and pay $30-$50 in one month for a game that they are currently playing than $15 each month once they’ve gotten bored, even if they probably end up with a worse off deal over time. No doubt there’s some interesting human psychology behind all that.
I suppose even though I’m an advocate for the subscription model because of it’s simplicity and transparent motivations (I’d much rather see developers work hard to keep me entertained every month than rely on selling me superfluous gimmicks to make a buck), I can appreciate that now the MMO genre is more competitive than ever before, with more choice than ever before, it’s becoming very hard to hold onto huge numbers of players over the long-term. Ultimately, it’s not SW:TOR fault that it couldn’t sustain a subscription model, but rather simply a sign of the times.
And then my entire thought process is halted by a little voice in the back of my head that says, “well it also wasn’t that good either”…