I have been a staunch supporter of F2P ever since Turbine brought it to the masses by successfully adopting the model for Dungeons and Dragons Online (and later on Lord of the Rings Online). In a couple of years variations on this model have become the norm in the industry and few MMOs have held on to their forced monthly subscriptions. However it seems that F2P has become a dirty word within the gaming circle. A lot of gamers (or possibly a vocal minority) invade social media and forums (or is it fora?) to express their disgust at a game being or turning F2P. The freshest example is PopCap’s Plant VS Zombies 2: It’s About Time. Everyone grabbed their torches and pitchforks and went after EA who was unceremoniously re-branded the Devil’s Spawn (a title it had lost briefly for scrapping the online pass scheme).
Why all the angst then? I can think of a few reasons which I will briefly discuss here. Firstly some people just do not like the model. They prefer paying a sum up front (or a monthly fee) and have everything available to them all the time. Others are diffident of the model and fear that its implementation short changes the player. Players may start the game with lots of free stuff and find out that they are forced to fork out money to realistically proceed after a certain point. It is easy to see how this is a valid point – finding out that you have to pay 10€ to continue playing after you invest 20 hours in a game means that you either have to pay up or abandon the game, therefore trivializing the time invested to get to that point. Still others may see the monetized components of the model as being game breaking bonuses granted to those who can afford them – the dreaded pay to win. Absolutely no one wants to lose to the rich kids.
However I do believe that the biggest problem lies in the term coined by the industry itself to describe this model – free to play. This wording makes players feel they are being ripped off when the game, which purports itself to be free to play, starts asking for money to make content available to them. How is this free when I clearly need to pay to make any meaningful progress? In short the biggest problem of F2P is that the term itself is a marketing nightmare. In their zeal to sell the product to consumers tired of paying monthly subscriptions for multiple games the publishers have unwittingly alienated their target audience with a name that gives false hope and make the consumers feel entitled. The fact that mobile gaming, with its own flavor of F2P, also became very popular in recent years, made it that much harder to explain what the ‘F’ in ‘F2P’ actually stands for.
What would be better than this misnomer then? ‘Free to pay’ comes to mind. You can pay if you like what you are playing. You do not have to but it would be nice if you did. And we get to keep the F2P abbreviation!
I still maintain that F2P can benefit both the player and the developer if done right. It’s a business which is still trying to find its feet. However it is indeed a business which is solely aimed at making a profit. Publishers are there to court our wallet. People need to be payed for the time they invested creating the games we play. As long as I am being adequately entertained I have no problem rewarding them with a purchase despite it being ‘free’.