The Strange World of Free to Play (F2P) Games

Lately, I’ve been playing City of Heroes, which for those who don’t know it, is a massively multiplayer online persistant world game, often referred to as an MMO, or an MMORPG (for role playing game). Years ago, I started playing the game, when I was bored with whatever other MMO I was playing at the time, and recently, I installed it again and decided to pursue its new play model.

You see, in the old days, the game used to cost $15 a month to play. Now, in order to attract more players, the game has turned into a Free to Play (F2P) game, much like the previous success of Lord of the Rings Online, which went to a F2P model in hopes of avoiding going backrupt. And it succeeded, which has breathed new life into other games that don’t want to go the route of Star Wars Galaxies (which closed shop after not being able to maintain a consistent player base.

The way a F2P model tends to work is that you are allowed access to certain areas, and maybe certain characters, but some parts of the world/universe are off limits or you have to pay a little bit more in order to access those areas or use extra characters. Not really wanting to do the barter thing with every little thing in the game, I subscribed to a VIP membership, which is essentially the same sort of $15 a month I was playing before. This gives me complete access to everything, although I have noticed that every now and then I still buy something that is “extra” in the game.

Which brings up a thing that has kind of bothered me about this model. If I’m someone who is a willing subscriber, I really should be given 100 percent access to everything. Yet, I still feel a bit nickle and dimed in this type of environment. But I appreciate the game, so I have been willing to shell out a bit more money just to contribute to the game I hope to be playing for some time.

Which brings me to how this sort of model doesn’t work. And Blizzard, the makers of World of Warcraft and Diablo 3 comes to mind. World of Warcraft is a pay to play game (P2P), and that’s fine. But the developers (or owners) have become somewhat greedy. They have continued to insert things into the game that they want you to pay for outside of the game. So, even though they’re making a crapload of money for their product, they’re still trying to nickle and dime people beyond the quarters they’re already getting. And don’t get me started on Diablo 3, which is a game that cost me $59.99 to buy (or was it $69.99?), and then they launched the game with all intentions of adding a “pay Blizzard’s greed” auction house, where you will pay real money to buy things in the game.

Years ago, Blizzard was seen as the good guy when it came to games, but lately, I can’t say the same. Diablo 3, for sake of clarification, sucked. It was a crappy game that wasn’t worth the money, the time, or even the energy. The fact that it had the name of two of the greatest games in history as what it was supposed to be a sequel made it even worse. Diablo and Diablo 2 were both great games. They even made the game required to be online at all times, which I suspect had more to do with hoping to get people to feel comfortable with giving money to the auction house model (single players would have never gone online where they’d have to see the auction house every time they signed onto the game) than it was for security or any other stupid reason.

A recent major name in online games is Star Wars: The Old Republic, which I played when it first released and enjoyed it for the first month or so. The game was missing a lot of needed content, so I gave up on it. Now, it’s supposedly going to be going F2P, mainly because they milked every nickle and dime they could get out of the subscription model. I doubt I’ll ever play it again, even though I had fun with it when it first released. The problem with the game was that it was completely on rails the entire time, and an MMO requires a world where you can go anywhere and do anything. That was never part of the very linear model of SWTOR.

Which brings me back to City of Heroes. I enjoy the game and play it a lot. But I fear that there’s this attempt to make all games so-called F2P, when in reality the companies are hoping to rake in dollars through this model. Bioware has announced that Command & Conquer: Generals 2 is going to be released as a F2P game, yet be online all of the time, and there will be no single player game. I suspect it’s going to be a major failure, but that’s just my opinion. I see the reason for such a release is not because that’s the way the market is going but because executives of gaming companies see this as an easy way to separate people from their wallets. Unfortunately, what they don’t realize is that most people who opt into these dynamics are of the older gamer base, and we’re not stupid or as gullible as they’d like us to be. That’s why several versions of this model will fail.

What a lot of these games are forgetting to realize is that what makes people pay to play these games is that they are designed to be fun, not because there’s a free model that they’re attracted to first. That’s why companies like Zynga and anything affiliated with Facebook is struggling these days. People don’t want to be fleeced by companies using them to make money. They want to have fun. And AFTER they have fun, if they perceive that there’s MORE fun to be add by contributing to the company, they will. But holding out a carrot and then giving nothing but expecting everything is going to be the reason why so many of these future properties fail.

And then we’ll start to read all sorts of articles about how no one is buying computer games any more, kind of like the music industry lamenting about how people aren’t buying music. They are buying music; just not from you.

And that’s our lesson for the day. Now, it’s time for me to get back to my superhero Desktop Support Girl, the savior of all broken computer systems in Paragon City.

duaneThe Strange World of Free to Play (F2P) Games

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