I’m still on the hunt for a new MMO, so I’m now trawling my way through the ever-increasing array of free-to-play games, available to download for absolutely nothing. Which does get my mind thinking about the new trend for Free to Play games.
It’s certainly a model that I couldn’t imagine would ever exist a few years ago. A few years ago, the mentality was very much around ‘you get what you pay for’. If a game was free, it was easy to dismiss it as not as good as something you’d pay £40 for.The ideology has definitely changed. I suspect it’s because the smaller companies would not necessarily have the money to be able to spend on a highly polished game. So what’s the main area that the smaller companies can utilise to their advantage… cost. It’s not necessarily that people have much lower expectations when it comes to free to play games, but they do capture a large area of the market, who either can’t afford to spend, what could add up to be considerable amount of cash, or don’t spend enough time on games to make it worth the expense.
Is this the way forward? Well, several of the big games companies are certainly seeing the opportunities that a free-to-play model could hold. Turbines Lord of the Rings, Cryptic Studios’ Champions Online, Sony Online’s Everquest II: Extended and soon Funcom’s Age of Conan will all be sporting a Free to Play version of their games. Of course in nearly all cases, the gaming experience is reduced (in some cases drastically) in order to entice the hapless free-loader into parting with some of his or her cash in order to unlock everything.
Now, compare the Free to Play method to the Timed Trial. In other words most, if not all, of the game’s content is unlocked but for only a given amount of time after which you need to subscribe and sometime purchase the game as well. With the time-trial, the trials duration always goes on calendar times rather than the time actual spent playing. As I found out with Rift, when I downloaded the 7 day trial. I got really busy and my time trial time got sucked away with me only experiencing a handful of hours playing the game. If it was stated as 24 hours of game time, players would always benefit from being able to play for the full period of time, which in turn would likely benefit the game companies as more people would be likely to convert to a paying subscription if they truly experienced the game during the trial. Free to Play’s allow the subscriber to experience the game in their own time.
It’s clear that this is a direction that’s got more room for growth. Once you start offering something for free, it becomes expected that it will always be free. it’s very difficult to then introduce a pricing model, unless the customer really feels they’re getting something extra special for their money.
So, where will the trend of Free to Play stop? Are we seeing an end to standard subscription models? Will we ever get to a point where all games will be free, relying purely on DLC to fund them? I think it’s going to be a while, but after the ridiculous boon in certain game prices that happened around 5 years ago, it’s nice to see the gaming consumer getting a little more for their money.
- Age Of Conan Going Free-To-Play (cinemablend.com)