Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Categorizing Payment Models

The Old Republic released its vision of Free2Play, and naturally all the forums are in an uproar over it. The big issue is that there is no common definition of F2P, so everyone believes that "true" F2P is something different.

I thought it would be interesting to categorize F2P models. However, I realized that the inverse, categorizing payment models, is actually more illuminating.

First, let's stipulate that all MMOs must be paid for in some fashion. At the end of the day, someone has to hand money over to the devs so that they can eat. One would assume this is obvious, but judging by a lot of the forum rhetoric, it isn't.

Here are the payment models that I can think of:
  1. Box - a large initial payment when the game is first obtained. Not really optional.
  2. Access - a fee must be paid for access to the game for a given time. Not really optional. 
  3. Content - a fee is paid for access to specific pieces of content. Not really optional.
  4. Cosmetic - can purchase items which have no effect on gameplay. Optional.
  5. Convenience - can purchase items which allow players to skip hurdles. Optional.
  6. Power - can purchase items which directly increase a player's power, and cannot be obtained elsewhere. If the item or equivalent can be gained in-game, it's more accurately a convenience item. Kind of optional, playing with or against other players might make it effectively required.
  7. Advertising - the game sells advertising space to other companies
  8. Sponsor - the game is sponsored by an organization for a specific purpose. Example is America's Army.
You can use these categories to describe the payment models used by different games:
  • WoW - Box, Access, Cosmetic (minor)
  • LotRO - Access or Content (have to pick one), Cosmetic, Convenience
  • TSW - Box, Access, Cosmetic
  • GW2 - Box, Cosmetic, Convenience
  • League of Legends - Essentially content with specific champions, Cosmetic, Convenience
And so on.  TOR is proposing Access or [Content (temporary), Convenience, and Power] (have to pick one of the two groupings), and Cosmetic. I think a lot of people are unhappy with the temporary part of Content, and some of the Power items (epic gear licence, ability bars) if you don't subscribe.

Most players who are proponents of F2P seem to feel that the maximum allowable categories are Cosmetic and Convenience. That anything more is excessive. I would say that most games don't think that is enough to support them, and they require at least one more category.

Edit: Spinks reminds me that the method of sale is important as well. Two types here: direct and lottery. Direct is the default way. You pick item X and you buy it. The other way is lottery, where you buy a random item that contains something from the categories above. The method influences the behavior of the player, and adds randomness and rarity to the equation.

There's possibly a third method where you purchase a category above with the intent of selling it to another player. Eve PLEX and so on. One person buys Access, and sells that Access to a second player. Let's call this method "agent".


  1. I would add another sort: lottery, which is where there are lockboxes in the game and you buy keys from the cash shop. There is a different between buying cosmetic gear from a cash shop and buying loads of keys because you hope the thing you want will drop from a chest.

  2. I thought about lottery, but it seems a little orthogonal to my categories. Content, Cosmetic, Convenience, or Power could all be inside a lottery. The lottery is just the method by which the element is sold.

    It is important because it does change behavior. But for example, there is a significant difference between a lottery that can contain Power, versus one which only contains Cosmetic.

    But yeah, it's probably important enough to note.

  3. I don't really get the uproar.

    You get the storylines up through Corellia, which is the meat of TOR. If you asked the devs, I'm sure you'd think that they were giving away the store. Then again, I've only got one L50 and many other characters between L10 through L29, so it'll be potentially a year or more before I get most of them to L50.

  4. The big perception issue is that players do not accept that taking away the "access" category means that it will need to be replaced with something else. Or perhaps they recognize that replacing access will mean that the game will be moving in a direction they would not prefer?

  5. Honestly at this point the term "free to play" almost doesn't mean anything, exactly because of all the variations of that idea that you've listed here. Honestly I think we need new terms for the most popular types of "free to play" because as it stands right now I don't know what it means when I see that in a game summary.

  6. Exactly, Liore. Except rather coming up with new names, I think it's somewhat easier to just describe what you are paying for. I think you get a more accurate comparison that way.

  7. One tactic I see happening is that game developers adjust the game parameters such that items that are apparently 'Convenience' items become essential for the majority of players.

    So you could theoretically defeat the Dragon of Uber-Fire by yourself to get into the next zone or quest-line. But unless you buy some pieces of Uber-Fire-Resist gear you'd need to have the reflexes of a cat to do so.

    Or you could theoretically level Tailoring to max by farming mobs that drop cloth, but you'd need to farm them 24/7 for 12 months if you don't buy packs from the cash-store.

    The trick for the developer is to not make this obvious, while guiding the player in that direction.


  8. I think there is also a motivational vector that ties into this. That is, what the company wants to drive you to do.

    SOE for example, has said that while they are going full free to play, they really want to drive people to subscribe. And so they throw in barriers that are annoying to get around unless you do subscribe.

    Turbine would also like you to subscribe, but they seem even more interested in driving you to their cash shop. They seem to have bet on Turbine Points as being their principle financing method.

    World of Tanks just wants you to buy their cash shop currency. There is no external subscription, though they did open up a "gift shop" where you can buy things directly with your credit card... though not a subscription.

    GW2 has no subscription, and from what I have read about their current Halloween event, cash shop sales are their big goal.

    It sounds like EA is moving along the "get people to subscribe" vector with their plans.