“Free to Play” MMOs and Expectations

There’s a conversation that’s happened a few times in my social group lately regarding MMO business models. One person dislikes everything but the subscription model, which has also been me in the past, and a couple of us are far more open to other business models now than we used to be.

Now, following the conversation with my coworker, the one that prefers the sub model, I get it. It’s the presumption that something considered free to play should have basic functions like trading or grouping without the need to spend additional money. My brother and I start playing something, we’re like “hey you should come join us, it’s free to play so you don’t have to buy it” then when he gets there his ability to do normal activities, usually of the economic variety, is severely limited. Guild Wars 2 is a recent example. I already owned the base game and my brother acquired it a week or so after we started. My coworker was busy and had other more important priorities financially and had a rather poor experience as a result. Specifically the inability to fully use the in-game market and to send us things he had that we needed.

I’m aware that this isn’t fully about monetization of a game. A lot of this is also designed to curb RMT. It works out well for monetization though, because it encourages people to spend money. I mean, all you’d need to do to unlock those features is buy an expansion right?

I had a similar experience with SWTOR. I played it with my oldest child, I think. I wanted to use some custom lightsaber crystals so I paid for their premium or whatever. He saw this, wanted it too, and couldn’t understand why he wasn’t allowed to do it. It occured to me then, the already reluctant premium member that I would have to bankroll multiple subs to continue and I simply wasn’t willing to do it then. I was already frustrated with how pushy SWTOR was so I just cancelled and moved on. Again, I was expecting something to be “free” to play and that’s just not how the world works.

Some time after that I played FFXIV for a little over a year. All of us did. I’ll admit, the idea of just paying a sub and having all the things not being held over my head was very refreshing at the time. It eventually occurred to me, though, that it wasn’t any different from was SWTOR was asking. Why was I willing to pay 15+/month for XIV and not SWTOR? If I had just accepted that payment for SWTOR then I wouldn’t have had the negative experience that I had.

I began to admit then that maybe my perception was the difference. I came around to the idea that money has to come from somewhere and that if I’m not willing some then I’m not going to have the experience I’d like. I became, well, more likely to spend money on both premium statuses and cash shop items. By no means am I one of the unfortunately named “whales” but I accepted that playing games costs money.

This is the other point that kept coming up. Even with mandatory subscription games being far and few between, there are plenty of mandatory optional subs out there. Even in a sub only game the features that people negatively associate with free to play and buy to play are going to be present. WoW and XIV, both in the mandatory category, have cash shops in addition to the sub. Yeah, XIV isn’t that pushy with it, I didn’t realize it existed for quite some time and it’s mostly mounts, cosmetics, and story skips.

The cash shops, the lockboxes, that stuff isn’t going anywhere. Investors aren’t fond of investing in businesses that could be making more money and choose not to. Unfortunately the subscription model creates a barrier of entry that people are less willing to cross. Maybe calling the current “free to play” setup “free to try” would lower the barrier of entry and create more accurate expectations.

Or maybe I’m crazy, but I’ve rambled on enough for today I think. Y’all take care.

2 thoughts on ““Free to Play” MMOs and Expectations

  1. For me, any forced aspect and “pushiness” makes me react more negatively towards a game with that model. SWTOR was a case in point. I didn’t have much buy-in to the franchise and just wanted to play to try it out, but all the repeated reminders and limitations where effectively paying a monthly sub is the only way to have a tolerable baseline experience… well, it wasn’t for me. I just wasn’t convinced yet that I wanted to buy in at that baseline.

    In contrast, A Tale in the Desert also has a very limited period for free play – 24 hours of online time – but the first time I tried it, I was ready to commit to a monthly sub for the new experience and so I accepted the mandatory sub aspect of it. (But this didn’t work out again years later when I considered if I wanted to come back for another Telling and decided I didn’t have the time to commit to play it at a level where a monthly sub would be worth it.)

    I’ve become a lot more whale-like in games that don’t use this model. I rather get a functional game for free and then after I’ve bought in and love it, then spend $50-$100+ on overpriced cosmetic bling or expansions.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think I subbed to SWTOR for one month. The subbed experience itself was pretty good, but being the only one in the immediate social group that’s subbed is… weird.

      I’m actually only immediately aware of two subs I’ve had since XIV, Trove and Secret World Legends both got 1-2 months, but those are optional subs.

      I’ve moved into this territory now where if I find myself playing it consistently over a week or two, I’ll go ahead and do a sub if there is one, but it’s not a commitment either. If I don’t play for a few days I’ll go ahead and stop the next scheduled payment.

      I can agree though, I played Guild Wars 2 a while back and ended up picking up the expansions for it. Elite Dangerous has had a sale going on recently and I’ve probably dropped around $20-30 on cosmetics in the last week. I think I spent around $10 on Maplestory 2 a few weeks back.

      I guess it’s an odd disposable income thing. I don’t mind paying $5-10 for whatever I’m currently playing, especially if it’s F2P to begin with. I’m a lot less liberal with buy to play games like GW2 or Elite, but Elite is at least something I’ve come back to time and again over the years. Those are the ones I don’t mind putting some money into.

      One of the biggest points though is that I play almost everything with my brother and I’m the one with the better and more consistent income. There are exceptions, but I’m usually buying for two if the game isn’t free, which has made me a lot more picky about trying things free/solo before suggesting them.

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