Saturday, May 18, 2013

F2P and Conversation

In some ways, the worst part about Free-2-Play is that it poisons all the conversation around the game.

If you look at forums about a subscription MMO, the vast majority of posts are discussing the game. Oh, they may be complaining about lots of things, but they are at least complaining about game mechanics.

For a F2P game, on the other hand, it seems like every conversation about the game ends up devolving into an argument about the payment model. Is it Pay2Win, is it being too greedy, etc. It just seems so much harder to find a place to talk about the game itself.

The two main F2P MMOs I'm following are Neverwinter and The Old Republic. Discussions on these two games follow the same pattern. Mechanics get discussed for a little bit, then a payment model argument breaks out.

It's getting to the point where I'm looking at the WoW forums fondly. There people are theorycrafting, joking, insulting others, and calling for everyone else to be nerfed. But at least most people aren't constantly whining about the subscription.


  1. Interesting point! I've never thought of it this way, but I do believe you're correct!

  2. "Timesink! Bliz just wants us to do dailies for months to collect their $15."

    Other than that admittedly poor counter-example, I believe you are correct. People can argue that the devs aren't good at balancing things, but you can't really claim they have malicious intentions. At worst, they want you to... play the game more.

    Conversely, a timesink in a F2P is a direct monetization strategy until proven otherwise.

  3. I agree, and it's something that depresses me a lot.

    It's really unfortunate that people just can't get past the monetization. Against my better judgment, I tried to engage in the NW forums for a time, but the people there are WAY too toxic for me. Are there items in the cash shop that are questionably priced? Sure. But not only are they not pressuring you to buy them, and not only are the good things fairly reasonably priced, but the conversion from in-game money to real money works really well.

    I finally got to max level on my Control Wizard earlier. I had a great time playing through the leveling content, and really enjoyed the way the game plays. When I play with my friends on alternate characters, I have a great time. I just wish people would look more at what they enjoy, instead of some kneejerk complaint.

  4. Because in a F2P game the business model IS the game mechanics. You advance not by knowing and using spells or quest patterns but by knowing what to buy and what not to buy in the item shop.

  5. Two theories on this point:

    The subscription model in WoW hasn't changed in any meaningful way since 2004. If Blizzard were to do what SWTOR did and add an entire patch full of new features that cost additional money, you would have your business model conversation on the forums. In fact, didn't we have just this problem when the Sparkle Pony/Cash Cat/etc were announced, and don't we have it now with people arguing that Blizzard isn't doing server merges for the sole purpose of preserving their transfer fee income?

    The subscription model is completely transparent. Yes, there is the unlimited free trial for 20 levels, but it's not like you play the game one way for weeks and then suddenly get hit with a new fee (well, other than expansions) . In a free-to-start non-subscription title, the player discovers what costs money as they go. My best analogy would be if WoW had launched with all its expansions already implemented (including the purchase prices), rather than adding them in over time. I suggest that you WOULD see significant discussion of the sudden paywall of Outland.

  6. It's because the game in WoW is the same for player A and for player B. F2P games offer completely different game experiences, depending on the model and your wallet.

    I really like NW. Theorycrafting points to a pet that more or less requires a cash investment and a respec that needs the same. When you get into an have/have not balance issue, you're going to hear complaints on it.

    People complain about barriers. WoW's barriers are time/mechanics (hence LFD/LFR). F2P's are monetary.


    Quite the timing on this post considering the day Neverwinter is having.

  8. Let me quote a few paragraphs from an excelent post by Wilhelm Arcturus, i feel he sums up the real problem elegantly.

    "The focus on the cash shop is not without impact on your user base. When every email I get from a game is about what is on sale in the cash shop this week, when game events focus heavily on things like selling giant pink cow mounts, when the launcher ad details every currency sale, when the game has to pop up a window every time I log in to tell me what new items are available to buy, when a window pops up to tell me I can buy more daily quest slots, when every dialog has a link to the cash shop, when the game opens up a browser page when I log out to get just one more chance to try and sell me something…

    Well, it takes a toll.

    It creates a different atmosphere. It influences how I look at the company and its game.

    I realize that I am in an economic relationship with the company. I was when it was monthly subscriptions. I am still when it is a cash shop model. But when every interaction I have with the company involves them trying to sell me something, it changes the relationship for me.

    Then, when they start trying to sell me something I actively dislike… even more that giant pink cow mounts… the problem is compounded."

  9. Can I disagree fundamentally with your premise?

    The *whole* point of grind, and the reason it's so prevalent in subs-based games (I don't play WoW, but I do play Rift, and I played LOTRO before that when it was sub-based) is to make people pay more by stretching out the time it takes to reach their goals. That's the point. Everytime someone complains about the grind - and the Rift forums are full of complaints about the Storm Legion grind - they are complaining about the subscription business model.

    The only difference is the level of abstraction: in sub-based games, people complain about how long it takes to get something whilst not thinking about WHY it's taking so long; in F2P games the abstraction is reduced, and people see the bones of the business model more readily.

    So: fundamentally, people playing games under both business models are complaining about the business models; but under one business model we pretend we're not. That's interesing in itself, and says something about the familiarity we all have with the sub-model: hands up who remembers the pay-by-the-hour business model the sub replaced?

    Essentially, we accept grind - a manifetation of a business model - as part of our game, but we don't accept item stores - also a manifestation of a business model - as part of our game.

    Ironically, this is easily seen in the World of Tanks forums: people complain about ammunition bought with real money or tanks bought with real money; but complain about the *grind* at the highest tiers of the game (ie, not about the amount of money they need to spend to avoid the grind) - even though SerB, the games lead designer, has explicitly stated that they make more money from the grind than they ever would from gold tanks, and thus won't ever remove it.

    Dev says: grind = money. Player replies: why must I grind so much?!?! Dev says: what part of 'grind = money' did you not understand?