Free to Play vs Pay to Play?

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.

Jim Franklin

Jim Franklin

Jim Franklin is a freelance writer, living in Derby UK with his wife. When time allows he likes nothing more than losing himself in a multi-hour gaming session. He likes most games and will play anything but prefers MMO's, and sandbox RPG's.

8 thoughts on “Free to Play vs Pay to Play?

  • June 30, 2011 at 4:05 am
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    We’re all experiencing a nice trend where a booming group of budding developers wanting to make a name for themselves. So rather than competing with the market, they free distribute the game so everyone can be entitled to an opinion about rather than trying to steal a fan base. Because of this, they’re stirring competition for the old guys with the hulking companies making money off games are are seeing subscription bases peaking or dwindling. So to stay in their niche market, they go free to play which is what we’re seeing here. Some companies are having their sweet time to see that peak, when they do they’ll lose out more than gain within the same time frame.

    There are some exceptions to this surge. Some do so well that in order to out do the competition is to gain a larger fan base and just to not exclude their old players out of some goodies, they too go free to play. Remember those days of “Deluxe Edition” and “Super Mega Awesome Combo Pack Gold Edition” games bundle like a nice Christmas present? It’s harder to do things like that considering some players want more content updates so they won’t be bored and move on. Companies had their fill with DLC’s and in my opinion, I think they bring in less money from DLC’s.

    Problem is with this trend that it too will peak until the next big thing attracts gamers. I can’t predict trends, trends just happen and we’re all caught in it.

    Have fun in the new age of video games! (Haha)

    Reply
    • Jim Franklin
      June 30, 2011 at 8:21 am
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      Yeah, it’s an interesting time. Players would prefer it if everything was free, game companies prefer it if everyone pays through the nose.

      Larger companies hire more people, own larger buildings and just generally have bigger overheads. To try and compete in terms of player cost, those bigger companies must see a decline in profits somewhere, and the most common way to reduce those debts is either redundancies (no good for staff), cancelling the less profitable or non-profitable games or just generally producing lower quality but cheaper to produce games (No good for the consumer) so before long, the bigger comapnies can no longer sustain those awesomely big games.

      This works in both directions of course, once a smaller company produces a nice small, but popular game. The game starts needing more servers to support it, then more staff to support them, the stockholders might show more of an interest and before you know it the nice, stable, popular game has grown so big that it can no longer remain that way without a more consistant cost model.

      But would some kind of intermediate measure (such as making the game free but having to pay for DLC, of via some kind of ingame purchasing system for costumes/extra bags etc.) actually be sustainable for long periods of time? I suspect not, we’ll just have to see where this goes.

      Reply
      • June 30, 2011 at 9:22 am
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        Indeed. It will be the best tug of war we will ever play. They’ve actually tried appeasing a niche market in the 80’s with consoles and really low rate games even during those times with rudimentary bi-dimensional physis and 8-64 bit colours and processing. It’s happening again with higher stakes knowing this “niche” market is more than +1 billion strong and with the capacity to dish out about 5-15 bucks a month per capita.

        This time, I don’t think the consoles would really engage to dominate the market but more of the games that will be trying compete for a larger audience. It’s going to be great though, I can tell you. Micro-transactions and server populations are to console loyalty and processing power of the 90’s.

        Speaking of which, someone needs to go free to play on a sci-fi MMO…no one is in that market yet that’s worth mentioning 😉

        Reply
  • Jim Franklin
    June 30, 2011 at 9:41 am
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    True, I can only think of Battlestar Galactica, but it’s not exactly awesome. Though, It isn’t bad for free expecially if you’re a fan of the series.

    Reply
    • June 30, 2011 at 4:31 pm
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      I beta tested it, it’s more pay to win now in my opinion. There’s another Star Trek MMO coming out by a German company I think, I rather wait for Cryptic’s to go free to play because of their take on Star Trek.

      Reply
      • June 30, 2011 at 4:34 pm
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        Oh and by pay to win, I literally mean it. For about a month’s subscription of WoW, you can buy nukes in Battlestar Galactica and stat pad your account. Also the open PvP with the levelling system kind of ruins the fun since you just lose for joining late in the game while people have larger ships.

        Reply
      • Jim Franklin
        June 30, 2011 at 5:02 pm
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        It sounds like you’ve played it a lot more than me. I think I managed about half an hour then kinda got a but bored by the slightly weird control method.

        I can be a bit fickle sometimes.

        Reply
  • July 1, 2011 at 3:58 am
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    That’s the 3 dimensional control for you. Playing too many games focusing on X and Y movement makes you think about it different when up, down, left, right and axial controls are all into one bug game. I like it a tad bit but the HUD and content is pretty bulky in terms of how the system makes you see certain things without the need to. Nothing’s perfect, just have to find what you want the most from an MMORPG.

    Reply

So what do you think?

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