People Don’t Want F2P? You don’t say…

I chuckled when I read this article on Gamasutra about developers moving away from the F2P model.

In measuring pricing model preference, we found that 82% percent of US audiences, and 87% of UK audiences preferred games with a one time fee. [source]

My chuckle came because I’ve been saying this for years and years. I chuckle because I see developers who were once champions of the F2P model touting these findings when they were once the biggest offenders in the proliferation of F2P into the western market.

The push away from “buy-to-play” (aka “one time fee” (sad we have to call it that)) toward F2P — or pay-to-win, whale-to-play, whatever — trashed this industry hard. It nearly (or did) ruin the MMORPG industry by wreaking havoc on studios at a time when they were already trying to combat (or embrace) themeparkism, and left us with almost a decade of garbage games.

I’ll maintain my same position here that I hope F2P finally goes away, but I’ll caution everyone to watch out for its replacement: Premium. The new coy way of pricing games is this idea that you can get the basic game for $60, or even free’ish, but have a lot of the game cleverly hidden behind psychologically acceptable pay walls. Hearthstone, for example, straddles this concept of being “Free” and “Premium” where you can certainly play for free… but can you TRULY “play” for free?

Players seem hesitant to latch onto free-to-play games for fear content and progress will be locked firmly behind pay walls.

So they stealthily market the idea of free-to-play as bad, while hiding the same payment model behind something that feels like, “Oh you don’t have to buy that. No, that’s just there as an offer. Don’t even pay attention to that. I mean, if you want to you can. You can totally play for a low entry price and then enhance your experience with our premium status. No biggie.”  If you fall for where this is leading, you deserve it. You should be just as afraid of “digital premium titles” as you are “free-to-play” ones.  It’s like DLC on steroids.

Let’s fast forward five years from now when the polls show people don’t like “premium titles” and what they’ve done to the gaming industry, and they would like to return to games where you buy the box and get the full game.

  • I dunno. I think Premium has been around longer than F2P has even existed, in terms of preorder bonuses, Collector’s Editions, and arguably DLC/map packs/expansions. It’s certainly not new, and I’d take the opposite bet that we’re still going to see Premium offerings in the next five years. Hell, it wouldn’t make sense not to, assuming the game has DLC at all. Getting tired of Premium means getting tired at any DLC at this point.

    Regarding Hearthstone, I’d argue that it’s P2Setup, but truly F2P after that. I’ve bought the last two Adventures and ~80 packs of the latest expansion entirely using in-game gold, for example, and see no reason why I’d spend more dollars at this rate. Then again, I’ve been playing a few times a week for the last two years.

  • Buy… game… get… game? Whoa Keen. What kind of sorcery are you spouting now?!

  • Now let’s wait until developers and players understand that a game which haves monthly running costs requires a monthly payment scheme… and then a monthly payment scheme can only be sustained with a regular development scheme… so players get to play every month, developers get money every month and then players get content updates regularly… on and on, for years.

    “There are old venerable MMOs and F2P/B2P/Premium MMOs, but there are no old nor venerable F2P/B2P/Premium MMOs”

  • This is pure wishful thinking, not to mention self-delusion. The huge majority of US/UK players demanding games with a “one time fee” are actually asking to be charged an entry fee to play the same game that would have been F2P a couple of years ago. What has actually changed with the currently popular “Buy to Play” model over the previous “F2P” version? Just an extra charge to the customer to get exactly the same product and service they used to get for free.The companies producing these games must be laughing their heads off.

    I see absolutely no sign of any return to a “buy game, play game” payment model. That model belonged to the pre-online era, of which there is also no sign of any re-appearance. I think it’s very likely indeed that we will end up with more subscription-required online games but the idea that those will then be on the old “all included for monthly fee” model” is pure dreamworld. We will be paying a box fee for the game, a sub to carry on playing it, micro-transactions to use the in-game store and further fees for DLC. If that’s better for the customer than the F2P model we had for a few years then it escapes me exactly why that would be.

  • I question if they have started to look at the data. Developers a few years back starting off like League or Farmville and saw these massive windfalls happening to these tiny companies for what seemed like stupidly low development costs and then said he we should do that for every game! What should we make right now? MMORPGs were really hot because all those wow players have to be going some where? and thus the F2P MMO was born. Then you realize that the reason those F2P games were so popular was they were either new games mechanically or popular mods of existing games that were behind that original paywall that once went F2P were instantly successful.

    I don’t think it matters what kind of pay system you put in place as long as you produce a quality game. If you poop out the flavor of the month with the pay system of the month you’re following a crowd and your going to have a bad time. AAA developers need to take a page from Paradox or any of the other indie developers that are up and coming and start investing in the niche markets. Break up those call of duty studies to work on 3 different games, in 3 completely new niche genres. Let one of them make a text adventure or whatever, you just need to let them try something different. Try a bunch of different pay strategies. Let them refresh their batteries and then put out your next COD or whatever. Use all the data gathered to determine your next move. It is high risk but I feel high reward.

  • If the future is B2P the way BDO did it, then I think I’ll stick to F2P or Sub. We got a game that is almost identical to its free version in Asia, but with the priviledge of actually having to buy a box. And with cash shop prices inflated on top. What a bargain!

    Really, what’s the difference of (current) B2P games and buying a Founder/Premium Pack for 60$ in a F2P game? Other than, you know, the illusion that you’re not playing “free to play trash”?