For the Record: Is free-to-play really the ultimate solution for MMO’s?
Hello everyone, here’s something I’ve been wondering about for a while. The other day, I pointed to Vallter’s new blog, specifically this post and it made me think. We all know Wargaming is a big promoter of the free-to-play game model. But is F2P really the ultimate future of all MMO games? Or are there instances, where subscription model (such as there is in World of Warcraft for example) is better? If you are interested in this issue, go check the arguments Vallter proposes. They are valid, but they are not in my opinion complete. Let me tell you why. F2P has seen some stunning successes over the last year, World of Tanks possibly being the greatest one. Here, we have a game with millions of players (even if we count out the various multiaccounts, people who play once per year and such) running on F2P principles. However, there were also cases (many cases) where F2P went bad. Really bad. The most obvious “mutation” of F2P games is pay to win (P2W), where games sometimes unintentionally, sometimes completely intentionally lure players into playing for success. Some of these games are pretty straightforward (War Thunder has some pay to win elements), some do it hiddenly and are really insidious. But the effect is the same: “free” to play sounds nice, but in real life, there is no such thing as free lunch. The other category of F2P failures are subscription washouts: both Star Trek Online and The Old Republic (both decent MMO’s) started as subscription based and later moved to F2P model. This was a “virtue of necessity”. STO – at some point – had atrocious ground combat and was always kinda small, felt really like a game made by an independent studio. TOR on the other hand had HUGE plans. Hours of spoken dialogues and such. I played both of them shortly (just to try it out), didn’t like it too much, moved on, but whatever I might think of it, the hype around it was enormous and the game was very expensive to produce. Months after the game going live, subscription numbers dropped significantly and it too adopted basically a F2P model. Both of those games have one thing in common: F2P was not their first choice and they adopted it only after they got in trouble of not fulfilling (producer) expectations. One might wonder, whether it really is a “better” model (since both games moved to it), or a last-ditch attempt to get many more players into the game (which in fact happened in TOR case and is NOT a positive thing for older players, I’ll talk about it a bit later). The peculiarities of F2P It’s actually really simple. Free to play is based on the principle that a small portion of players carries the costs of the entire gime, while the majority (estimated 70-80 percent in WoT case) pays nothing and plays for free. On the other hand, subscription model spreads the costs amongst everyone. Thus, F2P relies on huge numbers of players. In order to at least pay for itself, you can’t have a “very small” F2P game (relatively speaking), whereas subscription MMO can survive and linger on with very low numbers (Age of Conan). With that being said, F2P is very bad for MMORPG and other “hardcore” type games. This is what I was writing about with TOR. Compare World of Warcraft and WoT. In WoT, you have 7-10 minute (on average) gaming sessions and (however frustrating 15:0 losses might be), there are practically no consequences for such a loss. You lose some credits and that’s it. If the team is especially bad, such fail battle can last only a few minutes. And you can die early on, returning to garage and going out with some other vehicle. No problem. Under such conditions, you can afford situations, where 10 out of 15 people on your team are complete idiots. That’s the real price for playing for free: everyone can play, which mean everyone does play, even people, who would normally not touch a computer game with a 10 ft. pole. Thus, idiots in the game are not a F2P system error: they are its feature (and disadvantage). That by the way makes all the “teach players to play better” initiatives from forum players completely pointless – even if he wanted to learn, you can’t teach a person who plays two battles per month when there’s nothing on TV anything. Perhaps I called them unfairly “idiots”, when in fact, those people aren’t stupid. They just don’t care – which is completely legitimate in F2P concept. A 40-year old man, who has a tiring job won’t be interested in reading up on penetration tables and such. However, what is a flaw in MMO’s like World of Tanks with short battles is completely fatal in MMORPG games, unless they are ridiculously casual, making them action games and not RPG’s. In the “old days”, World of Warcraft (vanilla and then first expansion) was not a game for everyone. Sure, it became insanely popular, but that was because by the time it was introduced, there was no Facebook or Twitter and it served as a first sort-of social connection web between people (and it served very well). Some players were casual of course, just roaming the vast WoW landscape, “looking for adventure”. Some turned hardcore PvP (not unlike WoT’s unicums, those too had their “elite” unique attitudes). But the majority of progress (obtaining better gear) was done by crawling dungeons (or, in WoW slang, “instances”). Now comes the really different part. However idiotic team you have in WoT, there is always a chance that something will happena and you will “turn the tide”: for example the bigger team having even worse morons, just lining up in front of your guns. I think we all had such a battle, where enemies kept appearing before your hulldown tank destroyer and you keep telling yourself “how can they be so stupid?” – and you win, for example by single-handedly killing 7-8 such “tomatoes”. On the other hand, having an idiot in a level 60 or 70 instance was completely fatal. The entire event (instance) for 5 people sometimes took hours to complete and ONE moron could screw it up completely for four others. Pretty much all the bosses at that point required some sort of special tactics (you had to read up on, otherwise, you had no idea what to expect, unless you did that fight before), took sometimes multiple attempts (each attempt costing not only time, but shitload of money too in equipment repair (equipment got damaged every time you died), making Continue reading →