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Reader Comments (22)

Posted: Dec 6th 2009 12:19PM Pingles said

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Free Realms is going through a similar rethinking of the Free model.

It was originally free to play several "classes" all the way to endgame with several "premium" classes that you could not even try out.

They have now (patch out yet?) switched to ALL classes are playable to level 5 but go premium only 5+.

I played Free Realms for several months and then subscribed. I would never have subscribed if it had the restriction they are moving to.

But I guess the old model had too much free content...

Posted: Dec 6th 2009 5:15PM (Unverified) said

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Crap, seriously? I just updated my game intending to get back into Free Realms and haven't even gotten around to playing again (the queue was full every time I tried). Oh well, I did need to delete something to make room for Allods Online. Thanks for saving me time with this tripe, Pingles.
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Posted: Dec 6th 2009 12:45PM (Unverified) said

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There does seem to be a recent trend for F2P games to make changes that scale back the free content to regain profitability, and I predict a massive backlash from the player bases of those games. We are seeing the backlash already. Players have a very low tolerance level when it comes to the kind of changes that end up costing them more $$ especially with the incredible high number of games active on the scene right now. I know most players concentrate on just a small number of games at any one time so they may be unaware of how crowded the market is right now, but it is huge. There are tons of really good games - many of them F2P - and the player is kind of forced into being wise with their gaming budget both monetarily and timewise. There is only so much time in a day to devote to gaming and players want to invest that in a game or two or three that is worthy of their effort. It's understandable that these MMOs want to attract a large playerbase, but when they change things up or trick the players into a sub then they are going about things the wrong way.

The F2P's as well as the Subscription games should err on the side of giving away too much content instead of the current trend of scaling it back, or what they will see if their players start leaving en mass, leaving them with zero dollars instead of what they currently have. It is a fine line indeed, but I really think the key is to make more things accessable to the free/casual players - not less.

Posted: Dec 6th 2009 6:15PM Tom L said

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What the writer is missing is that those that play for free were never going to be paying customers in the first place, but they do enhance the experience for paying players by being a part of the community as well as act as free advertising for the game. They are not a cost other than in terms of bandwidth. If paying players get bandwidth priority then there really is no problem with them. There are more ways to extract value than just charging a credit card.

What's important in the F2P model is to give players who won't pay up front for a game to try it and become paying customers at whatever level of play they are comfortable with. It is a fine line to walk with any game, but that's what being an entrepreneur is... one who balances risk vs. the arbitrage opportunity by providing a good/service.

DDO's model is the closest thing I've seen to a properly functioning ala carte model for a game. Personally, I think they're too generous in their handing out of points for In-game rewards for any new game thinking of adopting this model. DDO is 3 years old, so much of the development costs have been recouped, presumably. A new game, or newer game (like the WAR example), may have to scale back the amount of F2P content up front.

Regardless, that's for the game publishers to figure out and tune as they move their game forward in time. If WAR went F2P like DDO, I would d/l and try it out in a second. If I liked it, I would certainly spend $20 to $30 on it to get some content and perks.

Ta,

Posted: Dec 6th 2009 1:05PM DevilSei said

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Honestly, Battlefield Heroes is the best example of what not to do. I uninstalled the game twice. Once during beta, and a second time because my friend wanted to try it so I tagged along. Safe to say we didn't play more than two days.

Hell, I hope the game does come to an end, before their "bright" ideas spread to other MMOs, and I'm hoping the same towards Free Realms. Was bad enough that one of the "free" classes they gave you needed the item shop just to progress. Hell, they should change the name now, because the game was supposed to be F2P all the way through. It ain't so free now.

Posted: Dec 6th 2009 2:01PM (Unverified) said

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Most of the comments you always seem so player centric. You hear the same arguments from pirates who believe they should get a game "free" in order to try it out. It has cost the industry millions and I really only see subscription and F2P as the ticket for success for gaming companies.

I watched my kid play Battlefield Heros and I wasn't impressed. I can see why it didn't do well (How I wish they would bring Battlefield Vietnam back with the UI of Battlefield 2142!).

Second Life is basically a F2P model that does very well...and that is with the greatest lag in the known uniform and no real game model. EVE is another variation - where if you have the mining skills, you can earn enough to play for free (PLEX). Both are great systems. WoW, while not free, has managed to find a way to squeeze crazy money out of players without major protest (server and faction changes).

You are right when you say that it's a fine line at what is acceptable. Players will flee in mass (as shown my SWG) Gaming has to change with the technology just like music did. With the right game, F2P will work and it will save some games that do not have the subscription base like WoW.

Gaming companies will need to be more creative such as offer games with player created content - only charging for the player created content and not the players. Have ways to make money, like in Second Life, etc. Airlines do it successfully. There are those that can pay outrageous fees to fly with leg room. This creates a model where others can fly for only a few hundred dollars cross country. Without those few willing to splurge, cheap airfares would be an economic impossibility. Companies will have to think outside of the WoW created box.

Posted: Dec 6th 2009 3:48PM Minofan said

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I think the most important line of the article is:

"And the community is up in arms about it… or at least the part of the community that wasn’t paying any money and that gives a damn about being competitive."

I have been & currently am a patron of some of the games featured in this discussion, and this is kind of the sticking point when it comes to my efforts to see both side - it always seems to be the most negative & least contributing element of the community who forecast every pricetag higher than free as The End Of The Game.

Until there is some kind of counter argument beyond "make the whole game free and just sell items that are only superficially different, can also be earned in game and don't give any advantage whatsoever" - which appears to be the universal free-player manifesto in my experience - then developers can and should try pretty much whatever they like.

Posted: Dec 6th 2009 4:00PM jmerriex said

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I'm a producer for GamersFirst, I am not writing this in an official capacity but I did want to comment on this article. While free players are not contributing to revenue they ARE contributing to the community. What that means is without the free players, you have no game. So considering them a "cost" is a bad idea.

Also you must realize that there will always be a VERY small percentage who pays a lot, a moderate percentage who pays a little and a small percentage who will never pay. If you remove your focus on those who will never pay, you can spend all of your time on free players (who immediately become potential paying customers). The truth of the matter is in Free2Play games, free players are the most important players. This is where most Free2Play game companies make mistakes.

In attempting to get players to convert companies try to change or create core gameplay that requires the average person to shell out money. That is a sure way to kill a game. This includes (but is not limited to) selling overpowered items, reducing the potential game time of free members, creating a low level "gating" system where you must pay to continue leveling, barring new content to paying players only, etc.

If you look at profit positive Free2Play games they often don't handle players this way. Sword of the New World (pictured in the article but not named) for example has major patches come out every quarter with tons of new content for everyone. Sword's biggest revenue generation comes from "random" boxes that award players costumes or "time vs money" items.

"Time vs Money" items are things that allow the paying player to do something faster than a free player. This is hands down one of the best ways to go because people who have the time won't feel the need to pay and those that don't will be grateful for a way to advance at the same pace as their friends.

In the case of Sword, we look at how long it should take to advance as a free player before doing anything. This ensures that when we give paying players an advantage it isn't at the cost of the free players. If a free player should be able to do something in 10 days a paid player can do it in 8 without any issues. If we allowed the paid player to do it in 5 that would cause major issues from our free players - which would be highly justified.

The catch here is being sure that you are not creating a system where advancing would take so long as a free player that they would feel slighted. Researching other games help a lot. I play a lot of LotRO and WoW. If something takes 10 days in WoW then it is likely OK for it to take 10 days in Sword for free players.

You also have to be smart about pricing. In War Rock all of our items cost less than $10 for 30 Days. We've found that offering items for more than that actually lowers revenue because players feel that the game it too expensive. The average cost of items for War Rock is about $5. This is a great thing because player feel it is reasonable to spend $8-14 on premium and then about $5 additional buying items.

If however we push our prices closer to some of our competitors we'd lose a lot of money. ARPPU (or Average Revenue per Paying User) is a very important thing. We usually look to subscription based games to determine the right ARPPU for our titles. In general an ARPPU above $25 in our experience is when players (North American, this number is very different for our European friends) feel the game is too expensive. Players are happiest paying around $15-20 a month which is where we try to keep our ARPPU for our games.

Regardless, at the end of the day both sides (players and developers) have to agree on 2 things:

1. Players play our games to have fun and not to be dejected to second class citizens and...
2. Companies are here to make money.

This tends to be the place where players and companies diverge and it is the place where trust, money and games are lost. Once those things are clear it becomes easier to negotiate the balance issues. If players feel a newly released item is unfair, they let the company know, it's up to the company then to respond fairly.

Recently we released an item in War Rock. This item is a pretty powerful Sniper Rifle. Other rifles are better but this one is special. Players clearly let us know they wouldn't want that item to be permanently available. So we adjusted its power (READ: Nerfed) slightly and only use it as a promotional tool and even then it only appears every 3 months or so. This allows us to make some money without seriously damaging gameplay for our players.

Some companies that just entered the Free2Play field have not yet understood balance or completely ignore their player's complaints. That is sad because ultimately those players will just leave.

I am wholly surprised by Turbine's great understanding of Free2Play. They've done a fantastic job at balancing. I do wonder if they are happy with their revenue returns and if they will get more aggressive if they are not happy with revenue (which in my mind would be a mistake).

Anyway those are my thoughts on the matter ;)

Posted: Dec 6th 2009 7:14PM Pingles said

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Fascinating read. On my way to check out Sword of the New World.
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Posted: Dec 10th 2009 2:25AM DiscoJer said

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Neume is being a bit disingenuous.

Sword of the New World, like basically all Free to Play games, are playable without the cash shop until you reach a certain level. Then at the point, you need to spend money to even just level. And since generally speaking, all additional content being added to that game is only high level, you have to pay to see any of it.

In Swords case, Veteran (100) to Expert (110, it's not granular, just one big jump) and beyond, leveling outside the cash shop only areas is extremely slow. Seriously, I played the game for a year, made level 100 in 4 months, at the end of the year I was only 40% to expert. I gave up playing because it became truly apparent that there was no point in playing further. I could never catch up to heavy cash shop users (I used it a little) in terms of xp.

And once you talk about having good equipment, it's $100s.
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Posted: Dec 10th 2009 10:48AM jmerriex said

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Hmm, that's an odd statement. Players do not in fact need to pay to level to Veteran, Expert or the incoming Master status. The item needed can be traded and (true to form) we have plans to add an epic quest line where players can earn these items for free.

As for leveling, Sword is designed to be a hardcore game. Even with XP Manuals we don't intend for players to advance to max level quickly. That said, I can give you literally thousands of examples of players (both Free2Play and Pay2Play) that have leveled their characters from Veteran (level 101) to max Expert (level 119) in 3 months. It is rather common with many changes made to leveling in 3.0.

We've definitely heard these complaints and we have done (and are doing) a lot to make changes. A major update for 2010 we'll be announcing soon will have many more details about planned changes to the leveling process from 1 to Expert.

Finally JeremyR, despite your obvious preexisting vendetta against Sword (http://www.massively.com/2009/07/10/sword-of-the-new-world-celebrates-their-second-anniversary/) a lot has changed so you may want to head back and check out the changes.
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Posted: Dec 6th 2009 4:07PM jpo said

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Well, then make it a $4 or $5 a month subscription along with a cash shop.. I'd go back to a few games for that price. I could play three games for the price I'm paying for one right now.

WAR, Vanguard, Aragon, EQ, and several others would, I'm sure, see their populations grow with that price scale.

Look....the servers and game are running anyway....whether free or not. Why not set a price where more people will play. I don't think anyone has tried this one yet. Why not give it a shot....it might save some jobs.

Posted: Dec 6th 2009 4:13PM jmerriex said

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I think DDO did exactly that.
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Posted: Dec 6th 2009 4:22PM jpo said

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Yeh....kinda. You don't have to pay anything to DDO if you don't want to. If a company just drops the sub price (mandatory cost) and adds a cash shop....that's what I'm suggesting.

Posted: Dec 6th 2009 5:50PM Scuffles said

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It is a triple edged sword, They give too much away no one will pay, they restrict too much and ..... no one will pay .....

Personally I like to use DnD as an example of this, I enjoy that game a lot however every time I think about depositing the game seems to make a point of rubbing my nose in the fact that I'm not currently depositing and that it is going to inconvenience the hell out of me unless I do.... resulting in me ... NOT DEPOSITING.

When it comes to F2P games I shell out cash to games where I'm having fun not games that bully you into it. Of course in its defense DnD isn't really F2P as much as it is "unlimited free trial".

Posted: Dec 6th 2009 6:39PM Graill440 said

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There is no "catch point" or fine line. Any model must meet the three standards below, if they do not then people will not stay long F2P or not.

1. Is the game in the subs genre for entertainment? (your interest)
2. Is the game working as advertised?
3. is the game fun to play? This includes access to all content at all times.

With those three simple questions devs can create the magic formula that will make them cash, their is no magic word or whatever yuppy sounding term people want to come up with to describe the line between failure and success. If a game answers the above three questions and it is a F2P model then it will rake in some bucks, those that dont use the stores wont care because the game is that good. If the game is a monthly sub model with a store it too will succeed.

But then thats the catch isnt it? A game has to answer those three questions. Nothing out there today does. Monthly sub or F2P, its like an amusing game of hungry hungry hippos, subs roll around like marbles while devs simply scoop you up as fast as they can regardless of the circumstances.

Posted: Dec 6th 2009 6:58PM Graill440 said

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On a side note here is an example of an F2P i tried recently for 1 month. DDO.

My likes? dungeons that scaled, both large and small, hirelings that did pretty well in your party. Wepons and armor that could be purchased in the store, comperable to what a F2P person could get loot wise if lucky, see dislikes on this.

My dislikes of the F2P DDO.

Restricted dungeons for monthly paying customers only, they are not worth a monthly sub in a F2P model, I tried a couple, they simply arent. F2P players, even at level 2 (using the store to get privelaged status or whatever they called it)were restricted in what they could attain even if the store was used. Graphics in DDO are very old, they have tried some upgrades but you can only wax an old car so much to make it look good. Instanced world and scripted adventures are a turn off for me. Some hirelings were not available to certain level characters making some dungeon side quests impossible to complete. Paying community verse the F2P community mentality.

I invested about 40 bucks (1 month) in the store and it did nothing to enhance my gameplay with the restrictions in place. They may have been able to say they have a huge bump in "subs" but like me i am sure many many others also tried the F2P DDO model and simply found the game to old looking and to restrictive.
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Posted: Dec 7th 2009 4:29AM SkuzBukit said

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Well I have to counter what you said there because playing DDO for me has been a great pleasure, whilst you may have had a lacklustre experience I have had quite the opposite.

For me DDO offers the best "Dungeon Crawling" experience in the entire MMO genre, it's downfall being that this is all it does well, it's crafting is pretty much non-existant bar a few minor ugrades to looted weapons & raid-item quests.
Exploration is very limited & there is almost zero "open world" to explore.

I have bought into the lower level expansion packs and each one has offered up new twists & good stories & innovative content, each class brings something to a group & I like that a group is essential for most dungeons once you try the harder difficulties but are doable on solo or normal mode.

Perhaps your experience does not illustrate that DDO is a bad game, just that it is not to your personal tastes, I found it to be a fabulous model as a F2P game & think it will go on from here & get better & better, my hope is that the revenue the new model brings in expands the game & allows Turbine to add the missing D&D classes & races & expand the game beyond just dungeoneering to encapsulate more "side-game" ultimately building it up into a more open world eventually, maybe even updating the graphics engine & models eventually.

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Posted: Dec 7th 2009 10:22AM Daverator said

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I gave DnD a go recently.

Pros:
+I was able to find my level up token before it was required
+They give out store currency in game to get you to use the system
+Dungeons are MUCH more interesting than any other MMO. (Traps, puzzles, alternate paths and scaling difficulty)
+A good mix between clicking and strategic gameplay

Cons:
-Graphics seem horribly dated, to compound it everything is also bland, (Try to imagine the blandness of SWG art, with the power of WoW, low polycount, uninspired models/textures abound)
-Used Car Salesman: The in game store was pushed it seemed every loading screen and even with a popup box if you for instance, wanted to leave a dungeon to go somewhere else with your friend.
-Scenery: I played to level 5-6 and never actually got to see a town other than the first (real) city, while this helps the feeling of an immense city, being some street rat who has never left his own home town hardly feels like an adventurer to me. Most MMOs have the sense to change up your scenery while you are leveling, maybe a few levels in a forest, then a desert, then some snow, but with DDO you are still in the same bland city, just one block over.

Posted: Dec 7th 2009 11:18AM (Unverified) said

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I have a question.. why isnt anybody trying the publicity model, where the money comes from ads?? I mean a LOT of people connected a LOT of time and nobody use that time for advertise.. i wouldnt mind some ads in a FTP game.

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