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Free 2 Play Here 2 Stay

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Behold my leet Paint skills

Good old Peter (Moore, EA’s COO). He is making ripples on the internet by predicting that within 5-10 years the majority of games will be distributed for free and then supported with an in-game store. Try as I might I really cannot see Pete’s vision. Make no mistake, this model is working wonders in the MMO sphere. However there are specific reasons for this. The subscription model in MMOs can be likened to a dvd rental service such as Blockbuster. You rent a dvd and you pay for the privilege to watch the movie but the minute you stop paying the entirety of the movie is unavaliable to you, no matter how much money you previously invested in the service.

This is not the case with the free to play (F2P) model. You get the barebones version of the game for free and then you spend money to access the parts of the game you are interested in. This concept in and of itself sounds very consumer friendly but the idea of ‘owning’ what you buy is the biggest pull of the F2P model. Once you buy the content it’s yours to enjoy ad infinitum. The main reason I feel Peter Moore is off the mark is that with current non-subscription games this crucial advantage is lost. When purchasing games with no subscription attached consumers already have unlimited access to all the content after that initial investment. The game does not ask them to fork out 50€ again in a couple of months time so they can continue playing.

The concept of ‘buying’ an MMO versus ‘renting’ it is what drew me back to Lord of the Rings Online. Full disclosure here: I played the game way before the free to play launch but truth be told I didn’t spend a dime on it. You see, I won the game in a Eurogamer competition, played through the first free month and was basically done with it. It was an interesting game, but I was already subscribed to World of Warcraft and having two MMOs syphoning my money was not something I looked kindly to. At the time WoW won out. Conversely, since LotRO went F2P, I have spent over 100€ in the LotRO store in the past year. On top of that I purchased all the expansions (bar Riders of Rohan). It’s gone to become the constant in my gaming life. I do not play it frequently but I do play it regularly. It’s also the only MMO in which I became an active member of a guild not comprised solely of real life friends. Knowing that I do not have to pay money for the privilege of keeping in touch with guildies in-game made all the difference to me.

Not enough can be said about Turbine’s influence on the current MMO scene. They were pioneers of the free to play model in the western world. The clever way in which they implemented F2P in LotRO transformed the game from a struggling and relatively niche MMO into one of the heavyweights of the genre. Their user friendly model drew in droves of new and lapsed players while the huge increase in revenue attracted the interest of other MMO publishers/developers. However LotRO was not conceived as a F2P game when it was being created and it will be interesting to see how a game developed from the ground up with this kind of business model in mind turns out*.

It will also be interesting to observe how Turbine’s chosen model for F2P will age. Time and time again you see VIP players on the Turbine forums question the viability of sticking with their subscriptions when they could feasibly buy all the content they need with their amassed TPs. As time passes this conundrum will become more relevant to old time subscribers and it is something Turbine has to contend with sooner or later. Then again it could well be the case that Turbine does indeed foresee a future where all VIPs have transitioned to Premium, making all subscriptions obsolete. Turbine reckon that (in the MMO space) F2P might be the only sustainable option and, while it’s hard to envisage a near future where games such as WoW or even Rift shift to F2P, their insight regarding this topic feel closer to the mark than Peter’s ramblings.

*Guild Wars followed a very different F2P model and only leveraged the advantages of an in-game store post launch.

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3 thoughts on “Free 2 Play Here 2 Stay

  1. I have a different opinion on the LOTRO F2P fiasco. I started playing LOTRO during the last few betas. I bought copies of the game for my wife and I, then bought Moria, and whatever the expansion was after Moria. It WAS an awesome game, with a great community. As is known by most LOTRO players, Turbine lied and said that LOTRO would never go F2P. Sadly that changed when they went for a money grab rather then crafting the vision of Tolkien.

    I was greatly turned off by many of the changes they made to the game after F2P. Slowly I started to play less and less. Also the community got much worse right after F2P, and that hurt the fun that I was having.

    I was one of the people that realized that what I was getting for my sub didn’t seem worth the money. So I tried the F2P model. When I saw just how much Turbine decided to take away from me I stopped playing. I payed for 3 game boxes for 2 players, and I paid 2 subs for about 3 years. For that I lost vast portions of the game, and would have to bought them again if I wanted to play in them.

    If this is the model that we have to expect for future games then I might need to find a different hobby. I hope that the Guild Wars model will be the one that other game companies use rather then the LOTRO model.

  2. I am sorry to hear how F2P affected you negatively. It is true that lowering the barrier to entry can bring in all sort of players, and in a game which had a relatively small but loyal community such an influx of players was felt even more. Change is inevitable and it’s not always pleasant to those who experience it. I do hope that you realize though that switching to F2P possibly saved LotRO. There is a good chance that, had Turbine not switched its games to the new model, they would have gone out of business by now.
    One thing I cannot understand. You said you quit playing after you stopped your subscription and ‘ …saw just how much Turbine decided to take away from me…’. I don’t get this for the simple fact that, had there been no free to play available you would have been left with much less. In fact you would have ZERO access to your characters, your items, your guild etc etc. Surely the fact that you stopped paying but still had the option to play parts of the game is an improvement.

    1. Then the loyal “few” customers that bought into their game from day 1 should have gotten to keep the zones that they paid for. Those customers should never have had to rebuy most of the game to if they stopped paying the Sub. I guess I am just spoiled by Guild Wars.

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