What’s wrong with Free-to-Play?

The short answer: nothing.

Seriously though, as a person who likes to try out different games and hates have to cancel and resubscribe every time I jump, games without barriers to entry are awesome.  The latest rumble in the Internet is Turbine taking Lord of the Rings Online “free”.  As an observer of the MMO market, it isn’t hard to see why they might do this.  Some reports claim that Dungeons & Dragons Online experienced a 500% or more growth in revenue with their switch.  LotRO has always been a decently performing game, but if the switch gets them more players and more money while also making the game easier to try, well, more power to them.

And before people go off half-cocked calling them money grubbing or greedy, making games costs money.  DDO has had several content expansions since they went “free” and that is entirely due to the influx of money.  If companies don’t keep an eye on the bottom line, they can’t afford to make new stuff, and without new stuff people quit, which just leads to less new stuff.

To be honest, the only issue I have with the current trend of F2P games is that I feel the term is less and less accurate.  Sure, technically all these games are free to play, to a point.  But all of them have velvet ropes for subscription and/or item stores and more.  A better term, in my opinion, would be to call them “Pay What You Want” or “A La Carte” games.  The reason is that, for example, if DDOs 500% revenue growth is true, I doubt it is an even distribution.  Some players probably pay less now than they did when it was a subscription game, some pay nothing at all, while other players may be paying ten or twenty times more that the original subscription.

For me, I say, “Bring ’em on!”  Games with a low barrier for entry get my time and have a better chance of earning my money.  Heck, the game I spent the most on in the last year is Wizard 101 as I play through and buy content as I need it, playing and paying at my own pace.  I’ve been playing Puzzle Pirates for years and I’ve never invested a dime into it… but I’ve traded earned cash for bought cash (Pieces of Eight for Doubloons) that someone else had to buy, so my playing has earned them money.

I see nothing but win in this trend…  Games that are well designed are worth playing no matter the pricing structure.  Games that are blatant cash grabs will (should) have a short life.

4 comments

  1. Tesh says:

    Heartily seconded!

    I’m a huge proponent of buying content, not time. I adore Wizard 101 and DDO for selling content packs, though GW is still my favorite. If more devs realize that’s a good idea, especially if they retain a sub model for those who want it, I call that healthy growth for the industry.

    • Jason says:

      I always forget Guild Wars when I talk about this stuff because their model is just so vastly different that either the subscription or cash store models. That is actually my favorite as well, though I don’t play often. I wish more companies would do what they do.

  2. Scott says:

    Okay so forgive me for not exactly understanding how these games work. Are you saying that you can log in and play without spending a dime. DDO is a free download and everything? Is it like you buy virtual stuff going through the game with real money type of thing like (farmville maybe though I have never played that game). This would be huge for me if there is a quality game out there for free. Im stuck in WOW land and am looking for a way out.

    • Jason says:

      That is exactly how it works. DDO is free to play, though you have to buy content packs after a certain point. Lord of the Rings Online will be like that in the fall. Guild Wars has no monthly fee, but you have to buy the game and any expansions you want to play in (Prophesies, Factions, Nightfall, Eye of the North, but they have editions that collect them all into one box). Wizard 101 works like DDO, but it is definitely a different type of game (at its root it is a collectible card game like Magic The Gathering).

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