Rise Of The Free-To-Play Era: Good or Bad?
By Kei Beneza (dividelife) & Vincent Haoson, OnRPG Journalists
After seeing big titles like Dungeons & Dragons Online (DDO), Star Trek Online (STO), and Lord of The Rings Online (LOTRO) drop their fees, I couldn’t help but feel the sudden change of pace regarding MMO subscriptions. Is it just me, or are MMOs going free-to-play? Though premium games like World of Warcraft and WarHammer have tons of subscribers, it still doesn’t change the fact that 14 bucks a month after buying the client and expansions isn’t that cheap of a deal. While some people see free-to-play gaming as a way for dying MMOs to “survive”, others see it an ingenious method for good MMOs to increase their popularity. Of course, dismissing F2P players isn’t charming. Let’s face it! Nothing beats seeing the big “FREE TO PLAY” sign next to a game’s title.
The Price for a “Decent” Crowd (?)
After seeing the latest news about World of Warcraft potentially going F2P, I couldn’t help but jump for joy as I MAY soon be able to play one of my favorite MMOs without worrying about monthly fees. Anyway, although this news served as a blessing for some, there are other players who still don’t agree with this sudden change of pace, deeming the removal of subscription fees as irrelevant and stupid. To find truth on this matter, I interviewed a fellow player regarding Blizzard’s potential decision. According to her, the 14-buck rate is more than reasonable, as you are not only given a good experience of premium gameplay, but a decent crowd as well. Although I may strongly disagree with her claims regarding F2P players being scrubs and kill-stealers, I couldn’t help but listen, as she seemed utterly convinced regarding the matter.
The reaction is just a manifestation of the already mounting disdain of P2P players to their F2P counterparts. While I agree that there are a lot of free to play players who are scrubs and kill-stealers, that doesn’t change the fact that there are scrubs and kill-stealers in all MMOs, even in the P2P side. In fact, considering the difference between F2P and P2P scrubs and kills-stealers, the P2P players are the more irritating of the bunch because they’re wasting your valuable time for their entertainment and they’re also wasting your money for the subscription time that’s lost while they gank your ass. However, considering that F2Ps are well, free, the only thing you’d complain when these people start their fun is the time lost.
Need To Go To This Dungeon *Flashes Wallet
Another gripe on F2P gameplay is the presence of FEES in features such as character customization and dungeon keys. Free to play games also rely on micro transactions to earn money. For Mabinogi, it’s the cards for rebirth and customization; for Pox Nora, extra cards and avatars. Who knows? Maybe we’ll even get charged to use cool races like Undead, Dranei, and Bloodelves soon. Yes, players also fear this type of treatment, especially since now you’re forced to pay for something you’ve used for the last (I don’t know) eight years?
To be honest, playing a game for free can only get you so far. Soon, you will have to resort to micro transactions to further optimize your character. The best example would have to be Mabinogi’s rebirth system, which is essential for your character to progress further. You can always play and enjoy Mabinogi for free, trust me when I say that you WILL have to pay to play competitively.
The other thing I find hard to swallow in this scenario is that there’s a higher possibility that you’d have to pay more to maintain you character. Let’s say if the certain race or job class you’ve been using prior the F2P change falls into the “premium” category of the game. The usual scenario here is that you’d have to pay a fee to “unlock” the race or class and under the P2P umbrella, this would’ve been covered by the monthly subscription for the game. However, companies could ask for a bigger fee for “unlocking” said game feature. And if worse comes to worst, they’d even ask for a monthly fee to keep the game feature “unlocked”. Now if you add it all up it may turn out that you’ve paid more in the F2P system compared to the P2P system.
However, I’m just presenting the worst scenario possible. I don’t think companies would go this far just to earn a buck. They’d be killing the game if that happens and I don’t think any company wants that, or not yet anyway.
Pushing Companies to be more creative
The one good thing that may come out with the F2P and P2P switch is that it pushes companies to be creative in the updates for their game. With the content that can be used as possible “money earners” if the game was released as F2P in the first place already out, they’d have to think of new things or game features that would grab the players attention.
This battle of creativity would also mean that established F2P games or even those who are just joining the MMO arena would really need to push their games to new heights. With exceptional P2P games coming into the F2P arena, it ups the ante for F2Ps to provide top notch quality in their games. The threat of losing their player base is all too real for F2P games to ignore, and however you look at it, it’s us players who will win in the end with companies finally releasing F2P games that have something more than the usual MMO rehash we often get these days.
Free To Play Means More People
Let’s face it, it IS called MASSIVELY MULTIPLAYER, and subscription fees only limit the games’ population. This is perhaps the best part about free to play games. No matter how old or passé a game is, you will always have people to play with. Some even beat the number of some premium games’ most populated servers. MMOs are a genre based on player-to-player interaction, and the free to play concept exercises this form of interactivity well. It gets kind of sad when you’re leveling by yourself.
The only setback having more players inside a game is the quality of the players you meet. You have to admit that not everyone on the net, especially in MMOs are sensible or even know netiquette. I’ve personally played a game that was forced to IP block a country on one of their servers just because majority of the players from that country were unruly and rude. So if you really look into it, it all boils down to statistics.
Also, there’s a possibility that open hostilities may crop out between ex-P2P players and those who entered the game after F2P was enacted. You can’t really rule out that there’s an air of superiority for those who actually paid for their game time and those who just started playing for free. It’s just human nature really and it will run its course whether we ignore it or not.
“It’s Not Over YET!” Says the P2P Player
According to some, subscriptions are also similar to a fraternal hazing. It wouldn’t be easy for you to leave your group if you know you worked hard for your position (in this case, you paid for it). Some guilds think that it will be hard to get decent and devoted guildies once a game goes free to play. Maybe it’s because they are not pressured to get their money’s worth, but if the game is THAT GOOD, then I don’t see why they should worry about it. There are tons of free to play MMOs out there with healthy and reputable guilds. I honestly believe that the whole non-devoted-free-to-play guildie is just stereotypical nonsense.
I have to agree that there’s no real difference between a P2P or F2P guildie in terms of loyalty. I’ve had the opportunity to be with F2P players who are more devoted to their guilds than to their real life families while I’ve been with P2P players (in WoW actually) who don’t really care much about their guilds. It all boils down to luck really, and the guild leader’s capability of filtering who joins in the guild or not.
The Fear of Trying
Now let’s focus on the other side of the spectrum, namely the ones on the trial end. As you may know, F2P games get a lot of exposure because they are able to let gamers experience the good points of the game without having to worry about trial periods or spending for something they potentially won’t like. Yes… it makes a big difference when you’re FREE to linger around, make parties and experience the game without being limited to a 10 or 30-day trial. Somehow it pays to not rush consumers into buying your product. Let them build and establish their love for the game before prompting them to pay for it.
While this may hurt a lot of gamers out there, let’s accept the fact that there are a lot of cheapskates out there compared to those who are willing to spend for their games. Blame it on the ugly global economic situation or whatever, but looking at the company’s side, it’d be better for them to let players play the game for free. If a game is good enough, it’s highly possible that the game goes viral which can really save the company from paying more in their marketing. When this happens, the game would earn a certain amount of respect (if it didn’t already prior F2P, in reference for games who jumped into the F2P wagon) within the gamer community that they’re bound to provide the best quality of service for players to enjoy. So in the end players still get to win significantly.
Will It Do More Good Than Bad?
Absolutely! As both P2P and F2P user, I would say that they weren’t wrong when they went F2P. Not only does it let the game get more exposure, it also allows newbie players to partly experience the game without hassle. On the business side, going free to play could also mean acquiring new players. And these new players? Well, they just might be those who are potentially prone to splurging $15 to as much as $150 on permanent items or added services in free to play games once they have grown to love the game. The best thing about it is that game had the chance to sell itself as a good game without having the newbie player cough up $40 for installer packages, then additional 14 bucks a month for the subscription. Subscription is better off optional than mandatory, as not all gamers are able to use the full extent of the game’s features in free to play.
It would do well for a lot of P2P games to jump into F2P. There are a lot of decent P2P games who don’t get to enjoy having a lot of players because players would need pay first before entering. To loyalists, this may seem to be an act of selling out for profit but that’s the bitter pill they have to swallow considering the other alternative, the death of the MMO they learned to love. Business is business after all, and MMOs are businesses, for a business to survive there are times when they have to compromise a principle or two for it to live.
The Free To Play Era
Actually I was quite surprised after seeing a lot of P2P games go free to play. Now gamers are able to play their favorite games while paying ONLY for the features they think are essential. Isn’t it a lot more fun this way? Looking at the consumers’ side, now you can PLAY games instead of simply trying them. Mandatory subscription hinders a lot of things. Since not everyone can afford the monthly rates, players are forced to join private servers. I’m sure the whole private server gig won’t make sense after the actual game goes free to play. For those game developers out there… you want to know what MASSIVELY MULTIPLAYER is? F2P is the way to go.