Free to Play!? Free to PANIC!!

The community reaction to the news of PSO2 being free to play has been a mixed one. Some are overjoyed by the news, others are, frankly, shitting their pants about it.

I’m not going to just dismiss the whole anti-F2P perspective in just one line though, oh no. This blog entry is about the various myths about Free To Play being a bad thing, as well as presenting why it’s actually a good thing.

P2P Keeps the idiots out.
Oh come on, have you ever been on trade chat in World of Warcraft? You may have heard of that game, it’s somewhat famous. It also has a subscription model. It’s actually somewhat offensive to attribute financial power to intelligence as well, but I’m not even going to enter that minefield.

Hm, yes. That subscription sure kept all those morons out.

Suffice to say, there really is no weight to this myth. Money is not a barrier to idiots, the only barrier to idiots in any MMO is to only play with friends or solo. You can always blacklist the ones that turn up in lobbies.

Free-to-play = Pay-to-win.

I don’t even know where this myth comes from, as I have honestly never played a single MMO which had a so-called “pay-to-win” system involved. However I’m doubtless that some did exist. Despite this, I can’t find any examples of a pay-to-win game and people don’t seem to give me any answers when I ask them.

It largely depends on what you define as “winning”. How do you win an endless random dungeon crawler like the Phantasy Star Online games are? How do you “beat” any MMO for that matter? You’re not competing against other players in PSO2, so I’m not sure how exactly you’re supposed to beat them, either.

Even if you could just buy items from the cash shop, how does this affect you in a game like PSO2? Oh they do a bit more damage than you, so what? This is not a game that depends on precise group mechanics, so you’re not getting kicked for doing crappy DPS. You’re also not penalised in EXP rewarded from monsters if you don’t do as much damage as them, so they’re not levelling faster than you. If anything they’re helping you level faster!

To conclude this section, I’m not convinced that there is actually any way to win in a game like PSO2, so I have no idea how the presence of a cash shop is going to create instant winners.

Free To Play means they’re definitely going to have some kind of Stamina system

My initial thoughts are people were just burned by Final Fantasy 14 or something, but of course that game had a whole truckload of issues aside the stamina system..

There will be no stamina system. Yes, Spiral Knights had one and that was a F2P MMO by Sega. Except it wasn’t made by Sega, it was made by Three Rings and published by Sega of America. Sega of Japan had nothing to do with it and those are the people who are going to be making and running PSO2.

To shatter a potential motivator for a stamina system in the first place, which is to limit a players bandwidth consumption to save money, you need to realise that bandwidth is actually a very small part of the cost of running an MMO. The bulk of the cost goes into paying for staff for support and maintenance, as well as developing new content.

Free-to-play games have terrible support!

So do almost all pay-to-play ones! The only exception I can think of would be World of Warcraft, whose support isn’t so much great in so much as it’s what support for all MMOs should be like. I couldn’t tell you why MMO support tends to be so bad, but whether it’s pay-to-play or not has no direct influence as far as I’ve observed.

A game cannot make profit out of the F2P model.

So why is it that so many games that were pay-to-play going free to play?

To name a few:

  • Age of Conan
  • Aion: The Tower Of Eternity
  • Champions Online
  • City of Heroes
  • DC Universe Online
  • Dungeons And Dragons Online
  • Everquest 2
  • Lord of the Rings Online
  • Phantasy Star Universe
  • Pirates of the Burning Sea.
  • Ragnarok Online
  • Star Trek Online

Naturally not all of these games have the exact same model. Some have  a premium mode subscription model which either lifts restrictions or adds bonuses, some want you to pay one time fees for extra content. They all have things in common though, they all offer the ability to play without paying a subscription. They also all used to demand a subscription to play at all. Many of these games are now actually more successful under the free-to-play model than they were under the subscription based model, the most famous example being Dungeons and Dragons Online.

Another fairly well-known game for being successful despite not charging a fee is Guild Wars by ArenaNet. Now hold on a minute, Guild Wars isn’t a real MMO I hear you say? Yeah, well, neither is PSO or PSU. In fact, Guild Wars is probably the closest thing to the Phantasy Star Online games that there is!
Think about it:

  • They both instance all the combat areas.
  • They both have lobbies in which you can interact with other players and merchants.
  • In both of them you have to form parties in lobbies before setting out on your adventures

Guild Wars has sold over 6 million units in its history. It is unarguably a successful game, so successful that a rather major sequel is in the works. This sequel, incidentally, will also be free to play.

It should be said that there is of course a slight difference between Guild Wars and the Phantasy Stars, in particular PSO2. You needed to pay for the Guild Wars client and will need to pay for the Guild Wars 2 client as well. As you know, PSO2 will be free to download on all platforms. I really do not think this will prove to be a significant difference, however. Players spend obscene amounts of money in the cash shop of Phantasy Star Universe, including some users who admitted to spending 100s of dollars to obtain clothes or weapon upgrades.

To conclude this section: Yes, you can make a profit from a free to play game and many companies do. In fact in the current market, it seems companies are better off doing so.

Why Subscriptions are a Bad Thing That Should Die.

The subscription-model for MMORPGs seems to be dying off and for that I’m glad. The subscription based model has a few glaring flaws with it from a player’s point of view, which I’m going to present in this section.

First off, a subscription at its base level is a commitment. You are saying to a company, “I will play your game for a pre-determined amount of time because I think it’s good enough. ” Trouble is, this commitment can end up locking you in somewhat. You’ve paid for a month, maybe 3 months, you better damn well play it enough to get your money’s worth or you’re gonna soon feel buyer’s remorse.

The subscription is also a method of exclusivity of sorts. When you pay to play an mmo, you may not be able to play another one. This can lead to situations where you’re having to choose between one MMO and the other, essentially meaning you’re paying to play just the one game.  Why do that? Don’t you want to try other MMOs? What if there are two or three that you enjoy? Do you really want to pay subscriptions for all three of them and try to get your moneys worth out of all of them? Free to play doesn’t have this problem.

You need to see it from the company’s point of view as well. You’re trying to get players to try your fantastic new MMO, but they’re already subscribed to others. A lot of others at that. The MMO market is filled to the brim with competition, all vying for those subscriptions. Most players can’t afford to just pay for more than one, so you’re having to convince them that your game is worth cancelling their other subscription for. This is difficult to do when players are invested in their other games, so it’s much easier to get them to try your game if it won’t cost them anything.

Speaking of “trying”, there’s another issue to the subscription model. So you’re interested in this one MMO, huh? Wanna try it? Cough up your credit card details, first. Don’t bring up free trials in MMOs, I know they do them. They’re also usually terrible trials that only allow you to play basic introductory content that gives you no real idea what the game is like. Especially seeing as MMOs nearly always come into their own in their respective endgames, not before.

Say you’re enjoying an MMO and you want friends to try it out! Oh dear, they look at it and are put off by, you guessed it, the subscription. Not a barrier in a F2P.

To conclude, from a player’s point of view subscriptions can lock you into just the one game and make it harder to try new games. From a company’s point of view, the market has become so saturated that players are much more likely to try your game out if it won’t cost them anything.

That’s all for now! Whilst writing this post, some actual details about the cash shop have been announced so now I get to write up about them.