Quote of the Day – F2P Insight

…acting like some sort of free-to-play evangelist who’s trying his best to convert the unwashed masses is exactly the sort of smarmy, duplicitous behavior that has earned free-to-play the bad reputation that it carries today and that it will carry into the future.

-Jef Reahard, The fallacy of ‘F2P insight’ in the MMO market

To a certain extent, the F2P ship has sailed.  You have to be special snowflake, premium, and deemed worthy by a big enough following or you have to be free.   That is the dividing line in the MMORPG space, with scant few left on the monthly subscription side of the fence.  The market is too crowded in our favored niche, so for many games it is go to the cash shop or go home.  So it is a necessary evil, if evil it be.

Which isn’t to say that F2P doesn’t deserve some of the reputation it has acquired.  As “Facebook game” has come to mean “spammy piece of shit” to a lot of people, “F2P MMORPG” ends up sounding a lot like, “Cash shop focused, lockbox hyping, hucksterism.”  So I get when Jef looks at the MMORPG world and comes up with gems like:

Cash shop “convenience” items are the equivalent of buying a mop and some Ajax from the guy who purposefully crapped on your kitchen floor so you’d need to buy the mop and the Ajax.

I can see where he is coming from.

And yes, you can make a parallel argument about subscription based MMOs.

The point is that, as much as some people want to insist that the business model is a separate and distinct thing from the game, in the MMORPG sphere it seems clear to me that the business model drives the game.  If you have a subscription model, you come up with things to keep people subscribed.  They may be horrible, grindy, ill-conceived things, but you can see the hand of the business model in the design.

And if you have a cash shop driven business model, you need to get people to use the cash shop if you want to get paid… and then you offer up a subscription in order to bypass some of the more onerous hurdles designed to send you to the online store while continuing to wave lock boxes in your newly subscribed customer’s face.

13 thoughts on “Quote of the Day – F2P Insight

  1. carson63000

    A lot of people do indeed like to retort that a subscription business model incentivizes developers to add timesinks, gated content, etc., to keep you subscribed rather than just tearing through everything and leaving. Saw a few such comments on Jef’s article.

    But you know what else a subscription business model incentivizes developers to do? Make a fun game that you really want to keep playing, and thus paying for.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. SynCaine

    “They may be horrible, grindy, ill-conceived things, but you can see the hand of the business model in the design.”

    If they do the above, they lose people, not retain them. They retain people by providing content that keeps people logging in. Some of that content might be more valleys than peaks, but if it truly is horribly grindy stuff most don’t enjoy, it won’t work to retain people.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. NetherLands

    Thanks for pointing out that sub games are (of course) also designed with their payment model in mind, in all the zealotry that this subject (for some reason) attracts people tend to forget that, too.

    Going by e.g. the reasons people give on why they stopped subscribing to WoD (and, on the flipside, why MoP Holdouts are common enough to e.g. get shorter queues on Heroics than WoD Levelling Dungeons, at least on the EU realms I play on), many miss the ‘active’ feel of daily rewards/quests – which is precisely what people described as ‘tricks to keep us subbed’ when they raged over the Daily-deluge at the start of MoP (though that one had deeper problems like e.g. double-dip gating mechanics).

    Any game wants you to spend money on it, some are just more straightforward, some allow for á la carte (does asking for payment for the most expensive to develop parts like Raiding really bother me? not really, as I have no interest in it or the types that play it yet sub games force me to pay for it anyway), and some have such small player bases that Devs and players are so much in sync that probably any payment model would work but a sub is just more stable (especially with discount schemes to get you to subscribe for longer periods than you probably should, as ‘vote with your wallet’ aka ‘going on strike’ is about the only tool a player has).

    That all being said, claims by quintessential bitter vets that ‘F2P is dead’
    http://syncaine.com/2013/08/21/shocking-news-f2p-is-dead/
    have been proved wrong, just as ‘subs will never work again’.

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  4. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @NetherLands – In hindsight I should have made the title “Business Model Insights” since that was sort of the point, though I am not sure I had a point in mind when I grabbed that quote. Because when I look at games, I see how the business model drives them and look in wide-eyed amazement at people who claim that games and business models are completely separate. That argument tends come from people who are proponents of F2P, that we shouldn’t assume a game is a cash shop hell of lock boxes and popup ads just because it has gone F2P. But people will persist in seeing what they want to see. I see intrusion and manipulation of a kind that puts me off. Others see an opportunity to pay as they want and support a game as much or as little as they want. Still others see free as a hard mode option, with “winning” for free by not paying their goal.

    My own behavior and the games I play generally backs up my own view of the world.

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  5. tsuhelm

    Cash shop “convenience” items are the equivalent of buying a mop and some Ajax from the guy who purposefully crapped on your kitchen floor so you’d need to buy the mop and the Ajax.
    But when that guy offered you a free ‘house’ to play in you suspected he may creep in occasionally and crap on the floor…

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  6. anon

    “(…) while continuing to wave lock boxes in your newly subscribed customer’s face”, because people that have already given you money are the ones most likely to continue to do so, nevermind that by spamming them you may be driving them away.

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  7. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @anon – Indeed, there is a fine line between selling to your installed base, with whom you have a relationship, and being a goddam pain in the ass.

    My favorite example, which isn’t gaming related but which gets the same point across, is Pettags.com, a company from which I bought three pet name tags back in 2009. They screwed the order up, but made it good, so no problem there. However, from a week after that order through until today, they have sent me 4 to 7 email messages a week, no more than one a day but sometimes it is one every damn day, about their current specials on pet name tags. I estimate I have gotten close to 1,500 email messages from them over the last six years despite having attempted to stop the flow on several occasions. (I am convinced that their removal increases their email output.)

    Their actions seem literally insane. How often do people need to buy name tags for their pets? Not often enough to warrant updates on nearly a daily basis.

    They have turned me from an indifferent but not dissatisfied customer to an evangelist of hate who will not only never give them another nickel but who actively warns anybody with a pet to avoid their site.

    I have long since blacklisted their domain for my inbox, but I get a weekly summary of spam messages and they are always on the list, every week, without fail. This week I was encouraged, among other things, to celebrate spring, the coming of summer, and the end of school with specials on name tags for my pets.

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  8. bhagpuss

    You still have Ajax in the U.S.? My grandmother used to use that in the 1960s. I had no idea it was still in production.

    On the substantive issue, I would contend, as I have many times before, that, while it may be true that “the business model drives the game”, whether it follows that the business model drives your gameplay depends entirely on you. I would be willing to swear on oath that for most MMOs that I have played there has largely been no meaningful difference to how I play or what I do in game based on the payment model. Where there has been a meaningful difference it has largely been a positive one – the restrictions on inventory space demanded by some F2P models have actively improved my enjoyment of several games by forcing me to give up the worst of my pack-rat tendencies and focus on what is needful. I still prefer the tweaked EQ2 “Silver” F2P model from about 6 months into EQ2X to any payment model SOE/Daybreak has used before or since, largely for that reason.

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  9. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Bhagpuss – Yes, I would concur, the world doesn’t necessarily change when a game goes F2P. Aside from nagging me every few minutes by popping up an alert to “Go Gold!” the 1-50 leveling path in EQII, as an example, was unchanged.

    But what content do you get later? If the cash shop pays the bills, do you get another meaningful zone or chain of content, or do you get some prestige housing available for purchase? Do you get a new raid or some awful player dungeon creation tool that is a thinly disguised attempt to sell people little things to put in their lairs? (And so bad and exploited to such a degree that they later have to turn off any aspect of usefulness.)

    Not that the distraction is always bad. I wish Turbine had been more distracted with cash shop items so they would have left their class system alone. Instead they traded much of what made LOTRO classes different, if a bit quirky, for the WoW 2004 class spec system.

    But in the end, the game needs income to stay afloat. If you have to depend on subscriptions, then you have to keep people engaged with the content and thus subscribed. If you depend on the cash shop, that is by necessity where focus must end up, as it is better to get people buying crazy mounts and special houses than it is to give them more content to play, as that would likely bring in no income for the effort.

    That is, of course, what worries me about EQ/EQII no longer doing paid expansions. That was income that drove content. They have promised to add that level of content for free now, but how does that pay the bills?

    And yes, the last I checked, Ajax was still on the shelf with the cleansers at the store, right next to the Comet.

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  10. bhagpuss

    EQ2 is still doing paid expansions – as far as I can tell all they have actually done is changed what they are calling them and lowered their expectations on what they are likely to be able to get done with a reduced team to a reasonable level. Rum Cellar costs $15 and that’s the smaller of the two they are doing this year so I am guessing they will be asking at least $30 for the as-yet unnamed Autumn “Campansion” (that Kander does have a way with words). Haven’t heard anything about EQ yet but I bet it will be the same. I wouldn’t bet against some kind of Collector’s or Special Edition at a higher price too.

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  11. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    In a world where they have already distinguished between expansions and campaigns (and effectively adventure packs), saying one is the other starts to sound like playing word games. Basically, you know what I meant.

    By my back of the envelope calculation, if Daybreak sells the same number of each campaigns as they did the more traditional, once a year, expansion, they need to extract $55 per buyer in 2015, based on Feldon saying one third of buyers opted for the $90 CE over the $40 normal expansion and adjusting for the fact that people see “30%” and immediately say, “one third.”

    They are in for $15 at this point, they need another $40, assuming that all the same people who bought the expansion pony up for the campaigns. But I am not sure that is a safe assumption. The “campaigns are cheaper” argument is off-set by their peripheral nature. Expansions feel like a requirement if you’re serious about a game, the DLC mode campaigns… I am not so sure on that.

    But maybe they plan to make up the difference by milking the nostalgia front with whatever this alleged EQII progression server ends up being.

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  12. Brad McQuaid

    The debate over casual gamers vs. hard core gamers, or free to play vs. subscription, or what’s really an MMORPG, etc… it rages on. Why? Because these are real issues relating to where MMOs came from and where they are going. People, regardless of what side they are on, are passionate about online gaming. I’ve certainly thought a lot of about these and other related conundrums, and for now, I’ll say this:

    The MMO gamespace has grown tremendously in 16 years. More than 10 million people have now played MMOs. That’s a lot of people, and their tastes and what they’re looking for in an online game is going to vary, often significantly.

    Some gamers prefer more ‘solo play’ — they want to be online, and part of a virtual world, and to see other people. But grouping and teamwork and community interaction isn’t necessarily what they’re looking for. And while older MMOs targeted more social players, who enjoy grouping, shared experiences, interdependence, etc., many newer games are not being made to accommodate them.

    IMHO, arguing over what MMORPG really means, or asserting one preference is more legitimate than the rest, or even saying things like ‘hey, then go play a single player game’ are really unnecessary. I also see a lot of posts by the peacemakers of the thread, trying to figure out or design a single MMO that could appeal to both of these disagreeing groups. I respect that, but also think it’s really unnecessary, a problem not worth solving and likely unsolvable. I also think the days of trying to develop a massive, super expensive MMO in an attempt to appeal to as many people as possible, the ‘mass market’, is over and can even be harmful to the entire online genre.

    The future I believe are MMOs that have identified and targeted specific audiences. Like with any space that has grown tremendously and become much more diverse, developers need to adapt as well and make great games for these gamers but also be ok with this reality: several diverse yet successful games can co-exist, each with different mechanics and features and content. Likewise, if you make a good game, it doesn’t mean that everyone has to like it.

    Recently, the shift has been to appeal to the more casual, or the more single player oriented MMO gamer. That’s fine and for many it makes sense, business-wise, creatively, etc. But the more social gamer, the player who enjoys playing a role in a team, who wants an MMO to become his home and to play for months, even years… the gamer who embraces the communities that form because of the interdependence seen more often in earlier MMOs…. I can understand their frustration with this shift. But there is a solution.

    I won’t debate here and now how many belong to this orphaned group, or to the newer group — that debate is ongoing and can’t be proven in a post on a message board. But I will say the orphaned group aren’t some tiny, virtually extinct, odd-ball bunch of dinosaurs. And while I personally don’t think they should necessarily be bothered by MMOs designed not for longevity but rather micro-transactions and cash shops, these newer designs do fail to meet their gaming needs. I also hope that Pantheon, the game I’m currently working on, won’t be the only MMO that targets a specific demographic’; rather, I hope it will merely be one of the first. The MMO we’re making, while modern and with new ideas and features, is also being built on a foundation that some would call ‘old school’, but that is really what makes an MMO work for players who want to group, who want more of a challenge, and who want to play a game with content that isn’t devoured in weeks or months. And you know what, contrary to hyperbole that FTP revenue models are the only future model for MMOs, we firmly believe that the model should match the playstyle of the players the game is designed for. Subscriptions are not dead by any means — just look at the millions still subscribed to WoW and other games.

    I guess what I’m ultimately trying to communicate is this: it’s good and healthy that MMOs are being built differently, appealing to the large number of players more newly attracted to the genre. There is no ‘one’ way to build or design a massively multiplayer game. And there shouldn’t be. Debate as to whether these newcomers are the only true audience now, or arguing that the ‘old school’ games were better, or more truly an MMO, is really unnecessary and unproductive. There’s nothing to win here, nothing to be proven, nothing that has to be protected, and also no need to declare one style or design somehow, magically, obsolete. Unfortunately, some behind some of the newer games that failed to retain subscribers, many of whom then intelligently switched their revenue model, have also (for whatever reason) proclaimed that their failure to retain gamers is because that gamer no longer exists, that the gamers who want to play long term, involve themselves with the community, and to work together in groups and guilds are gone now, or radically different.

    I have to not only respectfully disagree, but also express some dissatisfaction, because people often listen to these assertions, both gamers and developers, and sometimes even analysts . So while I welcome healthy debate and applaud newer MMOs designs that appeal to perhaps a broader, or at least a newer audience, I do have to stand up for the ‘old school’ — and not just the older players who loved the earlier MMOs, but also the younger players who are enjoying co-op and teamplay in FPS and other types of games and who would love to experience that cooperation with other players in an online, persistent, virtual world. Again, feel free to debate the actual size of this or any other group of online gamers, cite numbers or studies or anecdotal evidence, but don’t pretend they don’t exist or are so tiny that it will never make sense to make MMOs for them again.

    Both types of online gamers (and probably other types as well) are here, are wanting to play MMOs, and it makes sense to create games targeting these groups. Another WoW is unlikely (even Blizzard agrees, having cancelled Titan). And, really, there is no imperative to make an MMO that somehow appeals to everyone — again, the gamespace is just too big. I would encourage developers to make games not just targeting players that have distinct tastes, but also to get to know their audience as well. communicating and interacting with them during development. The result, I sincerely hope, will be more MMOs, smaller yet still profitable, with designs that make their audience happy and satisfied.

    Early on, if you wanted to play an MMO, you didn’t have a lot of choices. Now, while there are many more MMOs, most seem geared towards only one type of MMO gamer. A sizable group has unfortunately been orphaned, and this just doesn’t make sense, creatively or financially. The future should not only be a variety of MMOs to choose from, but also a variety of styles to choose from, allowing players to play games without compromise… enabling gamers to choose an MMO that really entertains them and that has features, mechanics, and yes, revenue models they find both desirable and compatible.

    Anyway, while I’m sure this post will not only fail to stop the debate, probably even re-igniting it to some degree, I also sincerely hope that it makes all MMO gamers at least stop and consider that there may be no right or wrong philosophy, no current and obsolete designs, no better playstyle or inferior playstyle. I also hope it makes publishers and developers stop and think too, and at least consider the idea that the future is about variety, about targeted, specifically designed MMOs. Because, when it comes down to it, it really hurts the entire gamespace and everyone who enjoys MMOs when massive amounts of money are spent trying to create a game that is all things to all people, and then when that objective fails, not only do some gamers feel neglected, but some even end up disinterested and disenchanted with the entire genre. And that’s unfortunate, because quite the opposite is true — while MMOs have been around some 17+ years now, they are still really in their infancy. There is still a lot to learn, especially now that there are so many more people interested in them.

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