Oct 11, 2012

[F2P Is Not the Problem, and it's Also Not the Solution]

Karen Bryan at Massively posted on 'The Ethics of Gaming', questioning if the fad for F2P over subs that companies are rushing to embrace might be a Bad Idea. As someone who made peace with F2P games years ago, I actually agree with her, but for different reasons:
"In order to succeed, MMOs need players, but over the years there's been much more of an emphasis on how to monetize games and generate even more revenue. Back when the western MMO market was largely subscription-based, the key was to get players signing up and sticking around. It didn't necessarily matter how much you played, just that you kept coming back. And players did come back because they were compelled to, not because they were swayed by marketing."
  It's a fallacy to say the only reasons why people stay with F2P games (though 'F2P games' are far from all the same so they shouldn't be lumped together as if they are) is just because of marketing rather than content quality. This might shock some 'sub zealots', but tons of F2P games are succeeding because PEOPLE LIKE TO PLAY THEM, not because cash shops hold some kind of mind-control power over the 'stupid casuals' (which, let's face it, tends to be the stereotype in many anti-F2P players minds of the sort of person who would play a F2P MMO).

  My worry is that instead of learning the lesson as to WHY so many sub MMOs have failed in the wake of WoW's success, these companies will only come away with 'Subs are no longer popular for some reason, we just need to change our monetization scheme!' rather than the core issue which is PEOPLE DIDN'T FEEL YOUR GAME'S CONTENT IS WORTH BOX+15$ A MONTH. That is the true core of the problem here -- if people aren't willing to stick with a MMO with a monthly fee, it's because they don't feel like it's worth that investment of their time or money, and that is a serious issue that being F2P will not magically solve, and neither will 'slick marketing'.

  Why is Rift (which is far from 'revolutionary') still alive after so many other sub fee games failed all around it? Could it be that the frequency of content updates and quality the service it offers its players is considered by them to be 'valuable' enough to be worth paying a monthly fee for? Is this why WoW succeeds where other games who tried to ape it's 'popular gameplay style' failed -- because it provides CONTENT of sufficient concentration that players feel it's worth 15$? Is the reason why people left SWTOR in droves because they felt that what the game offered at level cap was not worth 15$ a month to be allowed continued access to? What is it about a F2P that makes people WANT to buy stuff in the cash shop? What is it about ANY MMO that makes it compelling to players longterm?

  Simply grabbing onto F2P as the savior (or doom) of MMORPGs is a fallacy. Companies are missing the lessons that the market has tried to teach them, if 'trying a new monetization scheme' is their best idea for how to survive in the current MMO environment.

  Players are not seeing these games as having enough gameplay & content value to justify a sub fee. The reason why many sub MMOs are doing poorly is not simply because those games were using an 'obsolete payment model'. If the latter is what all these 'AAA' studios have come away with as their lesson after seeing years of post-WoW MMO failures, then maybe the genre is in peril after all.

Related Reading:
SWTOR's Failure Was Not 'Random Chance'
Should AAA Game Studios Die?


Anonymous said...

Agreed wholeheartedly. This also reminds me of a question on Twitter that Syl asked a while ago that might be relevant to this discussion. Basically, she asked that now that Guild Wars 2 is a month old if people would who play it would still do it if it was a subscription-based game.

My answer was that I would definitely do it. Because to me I haven't been enjoying a MMO this much in a very long time. So it would be worth to me paying a subscription for it.

And just to add to this discussion...

I really wish the companies would try to chase some magical solution that makes their game impossible to fail and will give them tons of money. Cloning the most popular game won't do it. Changing business models won't do it either.

What I wish they would do is give a look at all the most prominent MMOs since the beginning of the genre and try to figure out what made them tick and what made some of them fail. They should specially look at the ones who didn't do well as there are a lot of them, both subscription only and F2P ones.

~ Rakuno

Bhagpuss said...

I generally tend to agree with John Smedley ( I know, shocking) at least in his broad-brush "direction of the genre" statements. His recent take on the f2p future, at least as reported (haven't watched the full speech) was somewhat depressing.

He's probably right that LOL and similar MOBAs are the financial future of online gaming, at least in the next wave, which means for a few years. They aren't MMORPGs, though and MMORPG is the genre that I'm interested in. If all the big development houses go MOBA instead of MMORPG that's not good news for me regardless of whether the games they make are "free" or not.

Pai said...

MMORPGs (the type with a huge virtual world) are niche. WoW is a freak.

I still think that successful MMORPGs can exist, but they'll have to be WAY smaller and more concentrated in scope (and players will have to give up their demand for 'AAA' graphics and such). That's my prediction, anyway.

Anonymous said...

Agree with Pai. I said something similar a week or so ago about the "failing" of The Secret World. The real failure was their expectations and first year goals. There's no way they should have expected over 500k subs.

Likewise, SWTOR didn't learn the lesson either and so are gutting their game down to F2P for the exact same reason. They don't know that their games are supposed to be niche with a small audience that can grow if the game is developed and nurtured.

Wrong lessons have been learned and in 2011 we started seeing some of the results of *not* learning the *correct* things from this stuff.