Amid the current discussion around whether or not The Elder Scrolls Online should be F2P, jagji reminds us that F2P does not always mean better.
By jagji on February 12, 2014 at 2:10 pm
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That’s right — free-to-play is not better than a sub. Never will be. Never really was. Why? Well, there are a few reasons.
In my opinion, the best F2P games out there currently are RIFT and Lord of the Rings Online. Why is this? Because both games have ways for you to not have to pay a cent — even when buying from the ‘real money’ shops. They both do things a bit differently, so we will start with LOTRO.
LOTRO was one of the first MMOs to change from a subscription model to F2P. And they did it to great success, with the game’s profits doubling in three months. The reason they pulled this off, though, was not simply because the game was now free — it was because they treated their playerbase with respect. How did they do this? With money, my dear friend, with money.
LOTRO‘s way of respecting the players was a fairly simple one. They allowed players to gain Turbine Points (the in-game ‘premium’ currency) without paying for it. They achieved this with achievements! You have a log book which lists things you can do, and how many Turbine Points you can get by doing it. This not only gave players who did not want to spend money a way to use the in game shop, it also pushed people who were on the fence in to doing so (my theory, anyway).
Look at it like this: You want something worth, say, 500 Turbine Points. You have gained 450 points from doing the achievements. This could then go two ways — on the one hand, you might just go and farm the remaining 50. On the other, you might just think “Oh well” and spend the money to get the 50 you need. And this is where the LOTRO developers got it right.
From a developer point of view, F2P is not about the game being free. It’s about encouraging the players to spend money on the game as they play it. And Turbine nailed it.
Fast forward a few years, and RIFT has gone F2P too. Unlike LOTRO, I had played RIFT under a sub, and I recently jumped back in last year to see how things had progressed. I was very happy with the way things were. Like LOTRO, there were ways to gain real money, but it was not as regular as LOTRO. However, not only had the RIFT devs taken a page from LOTRO, they took a page from Guild Wars 2 as well by allowing players to buy parcels of real-world dosh to sell to other players at the auction house for in game money. This is similar to what EVE Online does as well, and it’s a very effective way to do things. RIFT also gives you the expansion as part of the F2P deal, so you do not have to unlock any areas of the game with real money — something LOTRO has not done.
However, these games went F2P years apart, and are by no means the rule. They’re not even the exception to the rule. They exist in their own rules, leaving all other F2P MMOs in the dust.
So, now let’s look at some bad examples of a F2P game — and I will start with the worst one of all: Star Wars: The Old Republic. Now, don’t get me wrong. The game itself is pretty damn good, with hours of gameplay if you play one of every class. But there is one problem the game has — it is way too restrictive. Here, look at this list of what you get for each tier. I would like to point out that this has not been updated for a while, and does not include the restrictions on the new PvP space combat, or the fact that you now get the Hutt Cartel expansion for free if you are ‘preferred’.
As much as I love playing SWTOR, there are things about it that I can’t get over. The first of these is that they have restricted hot bars. As a free player, you get only two. A ‘preferred player’ gets four, and a subscription player gets the full six. This should never, ever have been made a restriction. On top of that, as a subbed player, you can buy even more quick bars. And that’s just the start. The horrid list of restrictions also includes warzones, flashpoints, items you can equip, and more. In the case of SWTOR, you are better off just subscribing if you want to play it, as the F2P restrictions will cost you about six months worth of sub to unlock (my estimate).
It’s simple: The whole point of F2P is to make you spend MORE money. “Oh, I am not subbed, so why should it bother me if I spend tonnes of money on in game items?” you say to yourself. But if that one in-game item costs $25, and a sub for a month costs $15, why would you bother paying for the one item when you can have a month of everything at a cheaper price?
There are games on both sides of the field. EVE Online and WoW are still going strong, and I do not see the sub model going away. In fact, I don’t think it should. A sub means that the devs know how much money they are getting that month. They know how long people are subbed for, and how much money they have to work with. It means they can do things without worrying if it’s going to be in the budgetor not. A F2P model does not provide that certainty. I put it down to this: If you want to support the developers, subscribe to their game. If you just want a another free game, then maybe you should think about why that is.
There is no such thing as free — only the illusion of it. And F2P games do that illusion very well.