Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Is F2P is mandatory now?

MMORPGs are not competitive at fun consumption.

Last week I wrote that MMORPGs must require a lot of time to be played because the basic content of a MMORPG is necessarily cheap and repetitive. This is the advantage of the genre (high profit) but it is also what makes it difficult to create a good game. Developers need to make players play for a long time so that they feel like they invest and don’t just consume because MMORPGs are not competitive at fun consumption.

This is a defining difference between most games and MMORPGs. In most games players only consume; things are instantly fun: for example, a polished shooting of birds. But in a MMORPG players ultimately invest most of the time. They must, because only the investment-experience can help make a MMORPG more fun than a typical story-driven shooter.
This is also the reason why MMORPGs tend to be a hit-or-miss project. If the game –somehow- manages to make players play a lot, this leads to players playing for months and years. But if the game doesn't succeed at making payers play a lot, players will soon find the MMORPG meaningless, superfluous, grind-like, etc.
(This discovery lead to daily quests etc. Even though we all know how many disadvantages those have).

Now, unfortunately, if your game requires a lot of time you automatically end up targeting younger folks (10-28) more than people at the age 29-55. And for younger folks money always is an issue. Back in 2000 there weren't many alternatives. If you wanted to play a fantasy MMORPG you had to pay a subscription. But this has changed dramatically. Nowadays players can choose between many, many free2play fantasy 'MMORPGs'. This poses a particular problem if you dislike f2p games as a developer: if you start with a subscription your game might never ever actually get enough players to become sufficiently popular.

So, is f2p mandatory now?

There are three strategies. The first is to give up and make the game f2p with item shops and lots of ads. We know that we can make some money this way. We also know that this game is not going to make anybody rich. Since most players never pay, you need to ask a lot of money from those few who do. This means that most players will hit a pay-barrier just when they wanted to spend a lot of time playing the game. Consequently they won’t play a lot and never start to enjoy the investment process. They will soon find the game meaningless, grind-like and, of course, unfair and expensive.

The second strategy is a compromise. The game is easy to try, but eventually ends in a subscription. Maybe, in the beginning, you ask for the credit card info but charge only 1€. A resub then costs 5€, and subsequent resubs 10€ - or whatever amount you think you can ask.

The third strategy is this: You ask an unusually high initial price for the game. For example $95. This includes free play for one month. Now, this seems pretty counter-intuitive. But it can actually work if the game is of sufficient high quality. While younger people always have little money, they usually have enough money to pay this price. The question is not one of ability (they already bought a computer..), but of will.

By asking a surprisingly high price your game does look interesting. Just like caviar looks more interesting, not even though, but because it is expensive. Game magazines will have a special look at a game company that shows off so much self-confidence. The risk here is that your game could become known as a scam if its quality is not high enough.

This strategy prevents you from using any kind of apology, like "we didn't expect so many players playing our game" (and all the other non-sense), as players now have the very good argument that the game is expensive enough and should offer superior service.

However, if you think that you do offer a superior product, asking a surprisingly high price will not only increase your revenue, but actually even help you sell more copies. Prices aren't just prices, but also a message.


  1. Nils do you really believe that 15$ a MONTH is that hard to come by even for a 10-year-old? It is the same amount one would spend going on a cinema for christ sake (including pop-corn and/or staying for a coffee/meal b4 or after takes even MORE).

    1. No, as I wrote, it is not a problem of ability, but of will. The typical 10-year old has no reason to start playing a game with a $15 sub, because there are so many free ones out there.

      Therefore, you either have to make it as easy as possible for him to get in your game or you have to tell him how superior your game is.

    2. When I was 10years old I never went by myself to the cinema ! So for me, it was a big investment !

  2. I'd be interested in what effect each of those choices has (if any) on the quality of the community the game attracts and retains. For instance I witnessed the free-to-play conversion of both DDO and LOTRO from within those games. The most distasteful aspect for me wasn't the "hordes of F2P WoW players" ruining grouping or ruining the chat channels, as was oft suggested on the forums and in the games prior to the conversion. It was the rampant elitism of some existing subscribers towards free to play players. The last point you make about price setting really reminded me of this, a game with an unusually high sub price would attract such 'wealth elitists' by the score I suspect.

    Admittedly this is of no real concern to a developer wanting to make money. But for me personally the type of community in a game is a major if not the major factor in whether I continue to play longer-term.

    1. As long as everybody pays the same (relatively high) sub there won't be any elitism, I think.

      One other point is that of accountability. If you allow only a limited amount of characters per account, a high sub will significantly increase the quality of the community.

  3. I have of late come to the conclusion that especially a MMORPG game has unfortunately too many variables that determine it's quality. Combat, story, replayability, difficulty (in so many aspects leveling,raiding,even single mob fighting), ability to mask grinding successfully, quest design, background story (quest lines), atmosphere (of each zone and as a whole), graphic detail (but not limiting massive amount of players).

    I am quite certain that i keep forgetting many more :(

    It just is not that easy as a 2D adventure game that required good puzzles and fantastic storyline that i used to play b4 getting into MMOs.

    I just fail to see the business model in the above list. Its only there when the game is lacking in other departments in my book.

  4. there is a trend nowdays that people somehow "boycotaz" subscription games even if they like those games in order to promote/force the developers into the F2P model. I did participate in many discussion on the internet and found out many people say that they would not play a game just because it has a subscription while they liked it and also have the money for it..

    What they don't understand is that they shoot on their foot cause it is unlikely that will see the next big MMO but only a bunch of worthless f2p games that are only enjoyable for a month or 2.

    In my opinion f2p is not mandatory. A company need to make a quality MMO that will not target the playerbase of current wow. If someone can make a "Vanilla wow" or an "Everquest" with updated graphics will be enough for people to invest into it.

    And of course Developers must have valid expectations. 400-500k subs are more than enough for a game to be very profitable. What happened with wow is happening once in a century. Just happened to be the correct game in the correct time and after that it became a "celebrity"

  5. Depending on which source you look at, the average age of MMO gamers is either 26 or 28. The average age of gamers generally is 35 to 37 (again sources vary and both those figures are a couple of years old now).

    I'm not sure many companies are all that interested in courting the still-at-school demographic.

  6. I agree.

    Back in the day - as a 14 year old kid, I went to the store and was so tempted to pick up WoW - but I have settled with Guild Wars for the sole reason that paying that monthly sub would be a drag to me.

    I spent the best year and a half on Guild Wars. That investment up-front to buy a game (like most decent games out there!) with paying upfront is doable.

    I did eventually get into WoW, mostly because I have made some online friends - and I have came to an agreement with my dad to give him the money to pay my fee (I didn't have a Visa). It was a huge and elaborate plan to get into WoW, especially to make an account because I had to have a Visa.

    Morale of the story: A very high quality MMO can go back to the Pay-monthly sub, with a cheap (or maybe no price up front, but straight into the 15$ rotation) for a game if the game is GOOD. Kids will find a way to pay, like I did, and like most do now - with negotiating deals with their parents - so on and so forth.

  7. The problem is that MMOs do not exist in a vacuum. 10-28 year olds will compare your commercial model with those of your competitors/substitutes and consider the barriers to entry before they spend.

    Does your game offer me better value than my Xbox Live subscription?

    Can I play your game as much as League of Legends before I hit a paywall?

    How many of my friends have already bought your Premium MMO (option 3)?

    As I mentioned in the previous post, targeting this market segment with your MMO is tricky because you will either break new ground or rediscover the old reasons why this group do not play MMORPGs.

  8. "Back in 2000 there weren't many alternatives. If you wanted to play a fantasy MMORPG you had to pay a subscription."

    People overlook the importance of this point when looking back beyond the last five years.

    In 2000, or even 2006 (post-WoW but before any other solo-friendly MMO had made it to market - e.g. LOTRO in 2007), the MMO's on the market were sufficiently different that one was not really going to be a good substitute for another. If you liked raiding in EQ1, are you really going to switch to DAOC? If you liked soloing in vanilla WoW, are you going to go to an older game where you will need to group almost all the time?

    The bad news was that you did not have much choice. The good news was that your developer was reasonably assured of a steady stream of revenue that could be re-invested into the game (or they could go complacent, which also happened). Most of today's games do not have this luxury. The ones that do still have a reasonable number of subscribers (some in spite of offering non-subscription options) in today's market get those numbers because their game offers something that their competitors do not.

    But getting back to your point, I am NOT convinced that charging more - whether one time or on a recurring basis to try and off-set smaller population numbers - is the solution. A subscription fee means that each and every month it costs players money NOT to quit your game. The higher you make the cost of not quitting, the more you encourage people to quit. If you want to get away with this model, your product must be so different that the player cannot get it anywhere else.