Tuesday, 22 April 2014

The great misconception - Free to play games

If you have been gaming for the last five or six years you will have seen the shift by developers from the subscription model of massively multiplayer titles to the free to play format.  It's probably a mix of factors that have caused this with a big one being the economy.  Free to play titles have started to come thick and fast and it's not unusual now to see games come out nearly every week, ranging from your traditional roleplaying games to racing, fighting, shooting and real time strategy, it basically caters to all tastes these days.

However many still view the free to play market as being bad or just indicative of a bad game, as if paying every month makes the game bug free and have more content.  Obviously this isn't the case but it's a tough perception for people to shake given the early history of free to play games.  World of tanks which can be considered the first major free to play title was popular but did feature a monetised system of buying better ammunition for your tanks.  It gave players a distinct advantage over those who didn't purchase this item.  It didn't make the game unplayable and certainly didn't stymie progress for those who never dropped a penny on the game but it did colour peoples perception of the entire genre.

As time rolled on and more titles came out that offered monetised items that didn't offer an advantage to players things changed.  Today World of tanks and it's sister title world of warplanes are both entirely free without a pay to win advantage.  You can still buy "premium" tanks and planes but they have no special features that make them better than everyone else.  Guild wars is the game that kicked off the full MMO experience for free and was a major success, so much so that it's sequel is still going strong with regular content updates all free outside of the initial purchase of the game.

It's weird how this perception that the subscription fee somehow makes the games that need them better, like your money that you have to pay is better than that of players who choose to pay.  It makes no difference in the long run since the money goes to paying staff and keeping the servers maintained.  If for example EVE or World of warcraft went free to play with a micro-transaction system, it would not adversely effect the games mechanics.  You can still do everything you do in the game now but with the added benefit of not paying every month.  So how would they make money?  Well Warcraft already charges for extra vanity items and mounts, things that allow players to look different and show off their guild for example.  Nothing would be there to allow players to effectively cheat by buying their way to high level gear.  EVE could have plenty of vanity items and even special skins, variants and more of existing ships and other tech.  It's not like DUST doesn't already do this by charging players to have limited uses of special weapons and armour.

DUST however is an example of free to play done wrong.  Although the system of small payments works in as much as it makes money for CCP it also harkens back to the original pay to win system which many believe is still the case with free to play.  DUST would be better served by allowing players to earn those items through grinding as well as paying for them.  Mechwarrior Online has special hero mechs that can only be purchased with real money but they don't give any in game bonuses outside of extra c-bills and experience earned.  A hero Highlander for instance may have a different weapon setup compared to the normal Highlanders but that's it, it grants no other benefit they still die all the same.

I fully believe that the subscription system is a massive stone around players necks because it almost forces you to play to justify your subscription.  After watching Angry Joe's review of the Elder Scrolls Online where he said that the game is painfully average and it's only saving grace is it's PVP content which itself is a major rip-off of Guild wars 2 and Dark ages of Camelot, Guilds wars 2 being free after your initial payment it just goes to show that the game demands all of this money every month and you get a buggy, poorly laid out MMO.  Even Angry Joe feels the game will eventually go free to play and no doubt it will see more players when it does.

All this isn't to say subscription MMO's are bad, clearly when they work they are very good and many people happily play them but the same can be said about free to play.  Yes there is a lot of these games out at the moment and it can be a chore to sift through them to find the gems, but that is no different from the early MMO days where every month a new one was launching.  At least with this rush of free games you can try it, decide it's shit and just leave without having paid a penny to the developers.  Basically before you denounce a title as crap because of the free to play title give it a look, check the facts and don't blindly believe subscriptions = quality because it ain't always the case.


Fallen Sparrow said...

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. The statement that "Basically anything that can be done in EVE will be available in Star Citizen" is false. I doubt very much that there is a server in existence that can support a 2,000 player battle in a state-of-the-art cockpit-controlled twitch fighter game.

Secondly, the free-to-play model is different from the subscription model, but not necessarily better. I personally prefer a subscription model because it means I have to deal with fewer commercial interruptions in my gaming experience. I pay my money and I get to play the game without limitations, or constant exposure to advertising in-game. It also means that I don't have to contend with 12-year old players pontificating about the various ways they've had sex with my mother. EVE is a harsh, cynical, gank-filled world, to be sure, but its subscription model ensures that it is a more mature world as well.

As for the "pretentious and snobbish" EVE community, I think you've demonstrated with this condescendingly anti-EVE post that those qualities will most assuredly be a part of the Star Citizen community as well.

I like EVE and, like many of my fellow capsuleers, I will probably try Star Citizen when it's released. I may even spend a significant portion of my gaming time--at least initially--playing Star Citizen. That does not mean, however, that I will unsubscribe to EVE. I think that reports of EVE's impending demise have been greatly exaggerated.

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