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Why Free to Play is taking over and why that’s a good thing

By on May 22, 2012 9:40:47 PM from JoeUser Forums JoeUser Forums

Draginol

Join Date 03/2001
+102

As a business model, I very much like free to play.

Free to Play is a direct response to the digitization of PC gaming. It’s no coincidence that free to play is a PC-centric phenomenon.  If we still had a handful of major PC game publications and a major retail presence, there’d be no free to play.  The market adapts, the consumer benefits.

Let’s define free to play:

Free To Play is software that is fully functional and useful/fun in its free form. It’s not a trial. It’s not a “Crippled” version.  It is, ultimately, freeware.  The difference here is that users also have the option, typically within the program itself, to add more features or content to the program. These features and content are completely optional and the user could go just fine without ever spending a cent. Well made freeware makes its premium features “nice to have” but not critical to the program itself.

Migration

Free to Play may have started out as a gaming phenomenon but it just as applicable to non-game software. About a year ago, I outlined to our software unit that all our software was going to migrate to a free to play model. You can see this with Tiles. Tiles is freeware but users can add features to it for small amounts. The base program is compelling on its own. The extras (premium) are clearly “nice to have” but not core to the program (skinning, extra tile filters, etc.).

This week, we’re releasing WindowFX 5, a program we’ve been making for over a decade.  The 5th generation version is free to play. That is, there is no Pro/Plus/Enhanced version. There is only WindowFX.  Users who want premium features can add them in the app for a nominal cost but the application itself is designed to be compelling on its own.

Meanwhile, our PC games are still pretty traditional. The upcoming Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion is a $39.95 game. There will almost certainly be a demo version but it’ll be a traditional demo.  Digital does bring some benefits -- we can offer users of the original Sins of a Solar Empire series a $10 discount.  But we are very much looking at the F2P model when we are designing new titles.

Why is F2P taking over?

Simply put, the loss of a retail channel for selling software combined with the dilution of the software/gaming media has meant that publishers now have to rely, more than ever before, on word of mouth to generate revenue for their games.

Ten years ago, if I was publishing a PC game it went something like this:

Visit PC Gamer, Talk to Steve Bauman at Computer Games Magazine, Visit Computer Gaming World, Gamespot, IGN, GameSpy, a couple of others and you were pretty set on the marketing side.  Then you’d make sure your game was at EB, Best Buy, Gamestop, CompUSA, and a few others and you could expect great sales.

But today?

According to our surveys, most users are getting their information from various sources that boil down to word of mouth (Facebook friends, Twitter friends, Forums).  And retail? Good luck getting shelf space for your PC title. 

So what’s the best way to get word of mouth? Give it away. Give nearly all of it away.  Because it turns out that even if only 1% of the users contribute, you can make a killing as long as you have enough players – which is, ultimately, the challenge.  Because if you make it extremely well and give it away, people will talk about it. And that is what publishers are counting on.

So that’s why Free to Play works and will continue to become more and more dominant as time goes by.  In the meantime, I have to go buy a virtual hat and tweet a picture of my character with it…

//

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May 24, 2012 2:52:38 AM from Stardock Forums Stardock Forums

http://penny-arcade.com/comic/2011/06/10

I think inevitable everything can be made F2P

The formula is:
You build your game
You give your gamers 1 way to interact with the game for free, while offering more variations for money.

eg:
A "side" in a 4x game
A "character class" in a RPG
A "hero" in an arena game (like Skylanders or Rise of Immortals)
and so on

The trick will be to make novelty in the variations you offer. That is to say, everyone is playing the same game, but how they go about playing the game is unique enough to want to try out the other options for cash.

On the other hand...

This is the kind of stuff that makes me mad... this is not a good F2P model. (it actually makes me angry when I see what amounts to "take a short cut to power for $1")
http://penny-arcade.com/comic/2011/09/14

There is also a dark side to this model in bait apps aimed at kids and designed to wrack up credit card charges.

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May 24, 2012 4:06:41 AM from Stardock Forums Stardock Forums

F2P has some great products, but its really hard to get into more than one.  I play Battleforge myself and have spent more than my share on it, but other F2P games come along and you know, I'd rather keep playing Battleforge instead.

Even though I feel like I've spent more than enough time and money on it, I'd have a hard time investing in another game unless it was actually better.

Whereas I still buy tons of normal games.

So I don't doubt the F2P genre returns the investment, but it might not be quite as good as it sounds for games.

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May 24, 2012 5:06:31 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I love F2P model if done properly as was described by Brad. Path of Exile is a great example of this, and I hope Neverwinter will be as well. 

 

D&D Online is kind of good example. Hellgate London (new one) was kind of bad, the game stopped you from playing on after doing 1/4 of the game and you needed to buy a ticket for 5$ to progress. Also all the shop items were Pay2Win ones and in end game were required to progress. 

 

Anyways, F2P model is a direct counter to pirates and it is a much better way then what others are doing (trying to hunt them down with police) or doing shitty models like Diablo III where you cannot play SP without lag and disconnects. 

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May 24, 2012 5:07:40 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Savyg,
F2P has some great products, but its really hard to get into more than one.  I play Battleforge myself and have spent more than my share on it, but other F2P games come along and you know, I'd rather keep playing Battleforge instead.

Even though I feel like I've spent more than enough time and money on it, I'd have a hard time investing in another game unless it was actually better.

Whereas I still buy tons of normal games.

So I don't doubt the F2P genre returns the investment, but it might not be quite as good as it sounds for games.

But if most of the best games coming out were F2P you would not have a choice. You only do this because F2P model hasn't yet taken off properly

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May 24, 2012 5:23:36 AM from Stardock Forums Stardock Forums

Quoting TorinReborn,

But if most of the best games coming out were F2P you would not have a choice. You only do this because F2P model hasn't yet taken off properly

If that ever happens I'll worry about it.

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May 24, 2012 11:23:25 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Savyg,

Quoting TorinReborn, reply 29
But if most of the best games coming out were F2P you would not have a choice. You only do this because F2P model hasn't yet taken off properly

If that ever happens I'll worry about it.

If it was used today, Blizzard would not fuck over most of their users with D3. We would not pay them 60$ (or euros if from EU) to play in singleplayer with 200+ ping.

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May 24, 2012 11:23:39 AM from Sins of a Solar Empire Forums Sins of a Solar Empire Forums

I think any game design can be bad. I don't care for intense versions of DRM, such as Steam or what Diablo 3 employs. Then again, I also don't care for games that play like older versions and charge you extra for all the 3D cinematics, like I feel Starcraft 2 or Diablo 3 does. And I certainly don't care for pay2play games like WoW.

F2P will have its good and bad models, but that's where the consumer needs to do some research, avoid caving to the cost and, depending on consumer preferences, the publishers will be forced to go one way or another to survive. Research saved my dad from investing a single moment in Dark Orbit.

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May 24, 2012 12:43:20 PM from JoeUser Forums JoeUser Forums

Personally, I think the f2p implementation of league of legends is one of the best out there.  The consumer gets a game that will see a constant stream of new content and patches (bugs or gameplay changes).  Recently, they rolled out a big graphics update and added the ability to spectate your friends matches using a tournament style overlay. Anyway, the bottom line here is that you get a ton of developer support.  To me, that alone is even worth a subscription fee.  I mean really... consider how much you'd like to see your favorite pc game ever (whatever it may be) receive continual support and have it constantly get new content.  That is the number 1 reason why pc gamers should be huge fans of f2p games (well... ones that are implemented well anyway). 

Anyway, like several other f2p implementations, its setup in a way that you could play it 100% for free.  The only thing you have to pay real money for is character skins (which does not impact gameplay).  Everything else can be unlocked by putting time in.  But its also structured in such a way that you might want to spend some money to get certain things in advance.  Anyway, I feel like LoL is a pretty great example of what f2p games have to offer and its obviously been quite successful for them. 

If SD ever chose to get into the f2p gaming side of things, there are already a few companies out there that have got it right.  That certainly would help in developing a successful monetization scheme. 

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May 24, 2012 1:45:50 PM from Stardock Forums Stardock Forums

Quoting TorinReborn,

If it was used today, Blizzard would not fuck over most of their users with D3. We would not pay them 60$ (or euros if from EU) to play in singleplayer with 200+ ping.

No, you'd end up paying hundreds, because it would've been designed to make you spend money if you really want to play.

Just like every other F2P game.

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May 24, 2012 1:59:40 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

So I am really a skeptic of the F2P model.  I have avoided it, so give me some ideas of what I should try that will not make me hate this model.

 

I've heard:

 

League of Legends

Battleforge

LOTR Online

 

Others:  What is best to get me eased into this mode of playing.

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May 24, 2012 2:02:23 PM from JoeUser Forums JoeUser Forums

Quoting Murteas,
What is best to get me eased into this mode of playing.

Well - it's really more of a question of what type of game do you like. 

edit - if you like 1st person shooters, I've heard great things about tribes - ascend - apparently lots of fun without spending a dime as well.

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May 24, 2012 4:01:50 PM from Sins of a Solar Empire Forums Sins of a Solar Empire Forums

action RPG: Vindictus

point and click RPG: Requiem: Momento Mori

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May 24, 2012 5:19:41 PM from Sins of a Solar Empire Forums Sins of a Solar Empire Forums

I can see many companies biting the dust with this model of game distribution.

What happens when you spend millions to develop a game and no one cares?

It not like you can sell it cheaper.......

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May 24, 2012 5:31:13 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting pacov,

Quoting Murteas, reply 35What is best to get me eased into this mode of playing.

Well - it's really more of a question of what type of game do you like. 

edit - if you like 1st person shooters, I've heard great things about tribes - ascend - apparently lots of fun without spending a dime as well.

 

Honestly, I like most genres of games.  I particularly like strategy, but I usually like any type of game that is good 

 

I'll have to check out Tribes: Ascend.   I have Battlefield 3, but I am horrible at it.  It's still fun, but not really my forte.

 

I've wanted to check out League of Legends.  I love Demigod, but I've never tried LoL, so it sounds like it should be at the top of my list.   Suggestions on what I should really buy for LoL?

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May 24, 2012 5:36:44 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

It would be interesting to see if mods could be monetized in an FTP model. User created content that can be packaged and sold would be a great way to keep great games alive. 

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May 24, 2012 8:29:28 PM from Sins of a Solar Empire Forums Sins of a Solar Empire Forums

That has legal ramifications up the ass. I was actually working to mod a few games back when Starcraft and what not just came out. They liked a lot of the material, but the devs told us that they can't even touch it without their lawyers freaking out about all the ins and outs of getting sued. Even compensation won't help. One can always sue for being paid too little.

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May 24, 2012 9:39:44 PM from Stardock Forums Stardock Forums

Quoting seanw3,
It would be interesting to see if mods could be monetized in an FTP model. User created content that can be packaged and sold would be a great way to keep great games alive. 
On Stardock's windows customization side users that prove over time to be the best skinner's become "master skinners" and sell their work on Stardock's WinCustomize site.

That is *a* model . . but not exactly the same.

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May 24, 2012 9:41:48 PM from JoeUser Forums JoeUser Forums

Quoting Murteas,
I've wanted to check out League of Legends. I love Demigod, but I've never tried LoL, so it sounds like it should be at the top of my list. Suggestions on what I should really buy for LoL?

I didn't like LoL at first (coming from Demigod), but it grew on me.  Now its my fav game.  You shouldn't really buy anything at first.  Download the game and play the tutorial to get a nice overview.  Then play against bots or people, whatever you like.  There's a character rotation each week, so you will always have some free characters to play.  Then you can use your ip (the currency you get for playing games, etc - eg don't pay for) to buy some characters (a good amount of them are cheap).  If you decide you really like it, then you might want to consider buying one of their combined character packs to unlock a bunch at one time.  But honestly, I wouldn't spend a dime in your first few weeks.  I think I went about 3-4 months without paying a cent and then decided to.  Anyway, if you want to talk more about lol, hop over to the lol thread on the forums - http://forums.demigodthegame.com/413863

 

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May 25, 2012 1:27:01 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Of course there are legal ramifications, but that is just because laws are a few decades behind technology. There are always ways around liabilities. Personally I think there should be some sort of document you can sign that relinquishes all possibility of suing. Some sort of super document that has to be signed in blood. Maybe with a small sacrifice or the groping of the inner thigh. 

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May 25, 2012 2:40:18 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Fallen Enchantress is already FTP for many

@seanw3 - are u gonna do a Lets play for 915?

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May 25, 2012 8:22:02 AM from Stardock Forums Stardock Forums

Quoting Murteas,
LOTR Online

I remember when this happened, and I remember its forerunner, DnD Online.  I played a month of that when it first came out, and liked it, but not quite enough to keep paying monthly.  Turns out, most people thought the same way, and they couldn't turn a profit.  Then they went F2P as an experiment, and started making money hand over fist.  The trick was, the core game is all free.  Quests, the world, you can get it all.  The things you had to pay for were not essential to "the game".  I played for a while for free, and it was legitimately fun, and I bought a couple small upgrades, nothing big, but I feel like I got my money's worth.  After that, several other MMOs went to the same model, including LoTR, and both Everquests.

The model they went with works because I think a lot of people are like me in that they don't want to devote a huge portion of their time to a game like that, and paying $15 per month doesn't make sense in that case.  But playing every now and then, and paying a little here and there means it'a a better value, and it's easier to pay the amount you're getting out of it.  This causes a wider audience to come in, as they're not immediately blocked by something that isn't a good value for them.

It's not just 'Free-to-Play', it's an extension of the "pay what you think it's worth" model that has been so successful for things like music (Radiohead), stand-up comedy (Louis C.K., Jim Gaffigan), and indie games (Humble Bundle, Indie Royale).

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May 25, 2012 8:44:17 AM from JoeUser Forums JoeUser Forums

Quoting Rosco_P,
I played for a while for free, and it was legitimately fun, and I bought a couple small upgrades, nothing big, but I feel like I got my money's worth.

Yeah - that's the beauty of it.  While you could get by spending nothing on many of these games, eventually you will most likely want to spend some money (be it for an exp boost, unlocking content faster, you name it).  And at that point, you generally actually feel good about making the purchase because the initial cost to you was zero and you feel like you are supporting a game you love. Now, if you really do the math here, though, that's where it gets a little scary.  Someone calculated the cost in real money of everything in league of legends.  And the total was anywhere between $2,000 and $5,000.  Seems a little insane, no?  But that said, you could still play completely for free if you wanted to and still get all of the content you wanted for free (except for character skins).  But its pretty easy to see how the f2p model is amazing for generating revenue.

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May 25, 2012 1:50:05 PM from Stardock Forums Stardock Forums

Quoting Rosco_P,

Quoting Murteas, reply 35LOTR Online

I remember when this happened, and I remember its forerunner, DnD Online.  I played a month of that when it first came out, and liked it, but not quite enough to keep paying monthly.  Turns out, most people thought the same way, and they couldn't turn a profit.  Then they went F2P as an experiment, and started making money hand over fist.  The trick was, the core game is all free.  Quests, the world, you can get it all.  The things you had to pay for were not essential to "the game".  I played for a while for free, and it was legitimately fun, and I bought a couple small upgrades, nothing big, but I feel like I got my money's worth.  After that, several other MMOs went to the same model, including LoTR, and both Everquests.

The model they went with works because I think a lot of people are like me in that they don't want to devote a huge portion of their time to a game like that, and paying $15 per month doesn't make sense in that case.  But playing every now and then, and paying a little here and there means it'a a better value, and it's easier to pay the amount you're getting out of it.  This causes a wider audience to come in, as they're not immediately blocked by something that isn't a good value for them.

It's not just 'Free-to-Play', it's an extension of the "pay what you think it's worth" model that has been so successful for things like music (Radiohead), stand-up comedy (Louis C.K., Jim Gaffigan), and indie games (Humble Bundle, Indie Royale).

I think they still had a successful biz with monthly.  It just drained a bit quarter by quarter.

I had a lifetime account.  Probably the only time I'm ever going to do that.  It's worth the money if the game's that good, but it's still a huge unnecessary investment.

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May 25, 2012 11:20:27 PM from Sins of a Solar Empire Forums Sins of a Solar Empire Forums

I play a online shooter game called, World of Tanks. You basically drive World War II tanks around and kill each other.

http://worldoftanks.com/

 

Anyway, it also a F2P game. You can play normally, but to own a greater number of tanks, or buy premium tanks, etc requires money to be spent. I personally love the game, and while I have spent money, it was gift money intended for the game.

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May 26, 2012 12:23:42 PM from Sins of a Solar Empire Forums Sins of a Solar Empire Forums

I must have spent between 500 and 1,000 USD on World of Tanks in my "career" in that game. The thing about WoT is that to "enjoy" the "end tiers" (tanks are separated into tiers based on strength, and matchmaking is based on these tiers, but the lower tiers get stomped on by the high tiers a lot) you either must grind for game currency in the lower tiers as they cost less to maintain, pay up for a "premium" service, or be extremely skilled. So it was almost a subscription, even, on top of the FtP model of real money giving conveniences.

 

Funny thing is, for me, I moved back away from World of Tanks (my first FtP game) to Tera (my first subscription game) and I feel like I'm saving money. What I see is what I get, you could say, outside of cosmetics and what appears to be character change services. 

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