Is Free To Play worth the money?

There’s been a lively discussion around the blogosphere over the last day or so, around the topic of Free To Play games and their value for money.

Sounds like an oxymoron? Not really. After all, Free To Play games still have to make money somewhere – and that’s where the trouble starts:

  • Klepsacovic muses on F2P in three parts, in a blog post that had me really struggling to stick to our new “no quotes” policy. He’s got some superb lines as well as some very interesting thoughts on F2P, immersion, and player reactions to it all:

    Read “Free To Play” »

  • Rohan dissects the way that players often believe Free To Play games monetise, versus the way they actually do – it’s not about many players paying little, it’s about letting a few pay a lot:

    Read “A Disconnect on F2P” »

  • And Tobold gets very annoyed at players who complain about purchases in F2P games buying advantages, arguing that “fluff” purchases are equivalent to begging for donations:

    Read “Financing Games With Free2Play” »

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Dear Developers: WATCH OUT!

WARNING! WARNING! Yes, today we’ve got a number of warnings – for game developers, of potentially disastrous potholes in their roadmaps.

I don’t know if game developers read MMO blogs. From a market research point of view, the big devs would be mad not to. But I certainly hope some of them are reading today, as a number of insightful bloggers appear to have gotten together to highlight just some of the things that could go very, very wrong in their plans.

From the eternal spectre of unfair F2P, to “emergent mechanics” that break your game, to accidentally supporting and encouraging prejudice and discrimination – it’s a pretty scary list:

  • Pewter writes a really interesting article looking at the unspoken assumptions often built into character and game mechanic designs, and how they can end up supporting unsavory points of view“Obviously, sometimes NPCs are there to be emotional stimuli, or to impart information to a player; but recognising the way in which taught design principles can systemize the presentation of gender, race, disability, religion and sexuality in game is a first, and positive step.”
  • Jester tells the story of how some emergent behaviour in EVE let one player “break the game”, and why he believes CCP are still fixing the symptom, not the cause“It’s a glorious demonstration of EVE emergent game play, and yet another example of the lengths that EVE players will go to to avoid EVE’s sub-par PvE. “
  • The Ancient Gaming Noob sounds a general alarm bell about the shifting future of Free To Play – an alarm bell for MMO players and developers alike, IMO“The simple days of the implied social contract that came with the subscription model appear to be fading as companies look for further ways to monetize their games.”
  • Stubborn points out one way that The Secret World has utterly trumped WoW for him, despite WoW’s budget – by giving him actually relatable NPCs“Other than humor, and the very occasional moment of sadness, WoW did little with literally thousands of questgivers, and TSW has already hooked me with the 30 or 40 I’ve met.”
  • And Syp rounds off with a look at one area I’d agree many MMO developers are failing in – body language for their characters – the comments are very worth reading, too – “Whether players realize it or not, one of the reasons we have difficulty connecting and empathizing with the NPCs and events is how limited and stilted the body language is that we witness.”

I’d really not want to be an MMO developer. Film is a horrendous medium to work in because of the sheer number of things that can go wrong – but it’s nothing compared to the landscape of FAIL that can await an MMO.

What pitfalls do you see in MMO gaming’s future?

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Bloggers On The State Of WoW, TSW, and SWTOR

We’re in the middle of a changing of the guard in MMORPGs – one of the busiest periods in years. And in a time like that, it’s good to stop and take stock of where we are.

This weekend, several bloggers have been doing just that – stopping and looking at the progress of their favourite games, new and old. Will The Secret World weather the storm? What will WoW Cataclysm’s legacy be? And how will SWTOR’s new direction fare?

  • Cynwise looks at the Gnomebliteration quest in Cataclysm, and finds that it seems to represent the failings of the expansion as a whole“Opportunities to create more fun weren’t capitalized upon. Instead of Gnomebliteration as a daily, we got Tol Barad and the Molten Front. There were a lot of almost-rights, of things which were just a bit off, of things which didn’t quite flow enough to be fun.”
  • Morynne takes a look over the strengths and weaknesses of Cataclsym, from levelling content to raids” Doing the same quest lines the same way for any more than 2 characters became cumbersome, and really pushed a lot of people away from working toward leveling alts.”
  • Unsubject considers what happened to put The Secret World apparently in danger of a rapid transition to Free – *”Then there’s the issue that TSW may have been too different. Players say that they want innovation, want new things, but the titles that sell the most often end up being iterations on the familiar. “
  • And Kadomi wonders just what EA are thinking with SWTOR’s Free To Play model that doesn’t charge for the most acclaimed parts of the game” I am sorry, but the disconnect between actual players and publisher seems vast. Can they even see the other side? I have not once heard that SWTOR operations are what keeps people subscribed to the game.”

What do you think of the state of play in MMOs right now?

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Is Free-To-Play “Inevitable”?

Electronic Arts’ Chief Operations Officer said yesterday that he believes a move to free-to-play, for all games, is inevitable.

Pretty bold and startling stuff, particularly coming from someone that senior in the industry.

Bloggers have been reacting to both that statement and Arena.net’s comments about Free To Play in the last couple of days – so, does the blogosphere agree that F2P is the only Way 2 Go?

  • The Mighty Viking Hamster considers the example of LoTRO’s F2P history as he examines the rationale for F2P games“Time and time again you see VIP players on the Turbine forums question the viability of sticking with their subscriptions when they could feasibly buy all the content they need with their amassed TPs. As time passes this conundrum will become more relevant to old time subscribers and it is something Turbine has to contend with sooner or later. “
  • Ben at Diminishing Returns examines Arena.net’s claim that F2P games are more fun“Few people have the money and interest to subscribe to 5+ different MMOs simultaneously, but if you are playing 5 F2P titles you can jump in to different games on different nights according to what content takes your interest and what your friends are doing.”
  • Keen argues that F2P games are driven by exactly the same non-fun business motives as subscription-based titles“That doesn’t mean the other teams aren’t hard at work coming up with ways to get you into that cash shop or earn money. Business is competitive, and there’s no such thing as a ‘nice business decision’. “
  • And Chris at Level Capped makes a very interesting point I’ve not seen anywhere else – that in F2P games, gamers really do get to vote with their wallets“When the revenue stream for a game comes solely from delivering a well regarded product first, and collecting money second, people have an actual, meaningful voice every time they decide whether or not to buy that expansion, that gun, or that XP boost.”

What do you think? Is F2P inevitable?

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The Compleat Guide To Trying Out Everquest Free-to-Play

I’m occasionally blown away by the detail, care and thoroughness people put into MMO-related blog posts. From Maintankadin, EJ, and other sites’ theorycrafting to enormous treatises on WoW achievements, people can really put their heart into helping others, and that just makes my day.

Today we’ve got another contender in the “truly awesome guides” category, from ECTMMO. With Everquest going Free to Play, they’ve realised a lot of newbies and old-timers will be hitting the servers. So they’ve gone above and beyond, with a truly massive and comprehensive guide to everything you’ll need to know about modern EQ

Where do I find armor? And Claim ITEMS

You’ll want to check out your /claim items. Simply type in /claim and hit enter. You should have several items that you may want to claim on your characterful or several characters. Remember, some items can only be claimed once. These items consist of mounts, house items, clicky items, among other stuff. There are lots of them and you’ll want to make sure you which you want on what character, if you have several. For instance, you wouldn’t want to claim the Scepter of Draconic calling on a caster, it would be best saved for a melee character who doesn’t have the gate ability.

In the Plane of Knowledge (PoK) are vendors that do have some quests for armor, you can find those easy enough near the soul binder. The best thing to get while leveling will be the defiant armor. This armor starts at level 10 and there is an alternate set every 10 levels all the way to level 70. It is crude, simple, rough, ornate, flawed, intricate and elaborate- DEFIANT armor. You can buy this rather cheap in the Bazaar from other players and even find it as drops in the game. There are also defiant weapons too, they come in the same brackets. There are vendors in PoK that sell other bits too, these can help as you level. There is also crafted armor, raid armor, named mobs drop things too, so keep an eye out for named and rares. The cash shop does sell defiant armor, if you’re really wanting to go that route, and perhaps you have an armor bundle in the /claim items.

Did I mention this guide was long? It’s long. It’s 9 complete page-reads on my not-tiny monitor, covering everything from finding your old server to questing and levelling to random cool fluff. It’s not the best-organised thing ever, but if you’re in its target audience you should probably read it from start to finish anyway.

And even more impressively, it actually does a pretty good job of selling the game too. By half-way through, I was seriously considering checking EQ out myself.

So, if you’re coming back to Norrath, or arriving for the first time, or you know someone who is – now you know where to go for all your questions.

Are you planning on returning to EQ, or trying it out for the first time?

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Free to Play – Weal or Woe?

It’s rare that we have such a direct face-off in the MMOSphere as we do today, and I’m rather enjoying it – we’ve got Syl of Raging Monkeys and Nils of, erm, Nils’ Blog, staring each other down with eloquent arguments about Free To Play games, and just how good or bad they are.

Let’s go to Nils first, who believes that the Free to Play / microtransactions model is mostly very bad for MMOs

“Among the things that are ‘exploitative’ about MTs, is that they are always there. Whenever you play. Humans aren’t perfectly rational. We have irrational weaknesses. (And irrational strengths, of course). If you play a game just for two hours a day for one year that makes about 500 hours that year (roughly). Now, if your brain has just a 0.1% chance per hour to spend irrational amounts of money in an compulsive purchase, you have a 39.4% chance to do it at least once during the 500 hours! And that’s just one consumer!

Humans aren’t perfect, aren’t always in control. We are fallible. Just like the communist ideology failed, (among other reasons) because humans aren’t selfless beings, the free markets can fail because humans aren’t always rational agents inside a perfect market. A societal system needs to respect this and turn our weaknesses into strengths, like the market economy originally tried to do. But the wind is blowing the other way. And microtransactions are one manifestation of the problem.”

And then, it’s time to go to Syl, who is passionately arguing that Free To Play / Microtransaction games are actually more social, and arguably more fair

“F2Ps are open to everybody. Unlike a sub-based game that already pre-selects the player base from the beginning and excludes players who might not be able to afford subs, F2Ps actually let everybody partake. In some MMOs this means almost a full access, few extras excluded (such as endgame relevant boosts) that a more casual player might not even care for. In other MMOs, the item shop matters more but either way everyone gets to play the game first and a casual player can still hang out with his more dedicated friends. No money doesn’t mean not your party!

In F2Ps, some players pay for others. Realistically the percentage of players spending any or much money is (currently still) low, compared to the mass of “freeloaders”. Since the game can be played for free by definition, some players will finance a system others benefit from without same contribution. Now that might vex you, if you belong to the big spenders. OR you could look at it this way: Those who have more and/or want to spend more, fund those who will not and/or cannot afford the same. This would be called the principle of solidarity in a social state. You can’t afford to play an MMO? Well, I can and I’m happy to take you along! (This is very European!)”

I’m going to step back on this one – there are such great, well-thought-out arguments here that I think they stand on their own. So, I’m just going to say this – read the posts (if you’re interested in the subject), consider the arguments, and then tell us –

What do you think?

Quotes taken directly from Nils’ and Syl’s posts.

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