Related topics: Tesh, Nils, Tobold, Syp.
Many of the current free-to-play arguments are based on assumptions; on certain player mindsets, on certain items up for sale that then can, will, could, should,might affect somebody somehow sometime. Or not. I’ve a bit of a problem with that in general because I believe MMO players are grown-ups and if they are not, they shouldn’t be handling credit cards. Either way, it’s not for me to tell somebody how to live his life, real or virtual or how to spend his own money, in “right” or “wrong” ways. Down that road there are only double standards wherever you turn.
That aside, common misconceptions about the F2P payment model are “players will buy items because they have to” or “if a player buys nothing, it’s clearly because he couldn’t afford it”. My favorite is the classist fallacy where really poor players are apparently excluded from F2P, but not from sub-games. I hope you perceive just how many hypothetical assumptions are needed for this to be true.
Instead, let me elaborate on why I actually believe that F2Ps might be the more “social” games like that, social in the sense of caring for more people than yourself. For argument’s sake, let’s assume too that there is such a thing as a poor MMO player in desperate, existential need to optimize his money, rather than players who are simply unwilling to shift around priorities (for whatever reason):
1) F2Ps are open to everybody. Unlike a sub-based game that already pre-selects the player base from the beginning and excludes players who might not be able to afford subs, F2Ps actually let everybody partake. In some MMOs this means almost a full access, few extras excluded (such as endgame relevant boosts) that a more casual player might not even care for. In other MMOs, the item shop matters more but either way everyone gets to play the game first and a casual player can still hang out with his more dedicated friends. No money doesn’t mean not your party!
2) In F2Ps, some players pay for others. Realistically the percentage of players spending any or much money is (currently still) low, compared to the mass of “freeloaders”. Since the game can be played for free by definition, some players will finance a system others benefit from without same contribution. Now that might vex you, if you belong to the big spenders. OR you could look at it this way: Those who have more and/or want to spend more, fund those who will not and/or cannot afford the same. This would be called the principle of solidarity in a social state. You can’t afford to play an MMO? Well, I can and I’m happy to take you along! (This is very European!)
3) By offering you to buy that backpack rather than to grind for it, F2Ps make it easier to include players with less time. Time is a currency; in fact it is the currency in MMOs; if you have more time to play, you have more time to progress and more time/opportunity to make money – potentially. The player who works a lot more or simply has more on his plate of real-life “duties”, is at a disadvantage. The item shop allows him (if he so chooses) to turn some of his real money into a time gain, by buying a useful item straight away, avoiding a grind someone else might enjoy. While I’m no fan of short-cuts in MMOs, there are “grinds and grinds” and there are good and bad types of short-cuts. Here, it’s an added choice that caters to different players and makes for happier co-existence.
Still think sub-games are fairer in handling players, when our circumstances are not equal by nature and never can be?
Three popular counter arguments
A) One popular counter-argument in this context is the question of meritocracy; players should earn their achievements without any “assistance from real money” in the game.
This type of reasoning is based on the assumption that MMO players aren’t already affected by real money or time to begin with. I’m not sure how I “earned” that access to the sub-based game other than with real money. I’d also argue that purchased items like backpacks or cosmetics don’t equal a heroic reward or actual ingame accomplishment. Items are not the same as achievements, although that is a common mistake as they usually correlate in MMOs (certainly do in WoW). You can rest assured nobody will confuse them so easily in a game where everyone knows which items are shop exclusive (if this exists) and which are raid epics for example. Anyway, meritocracy is no social concept to begin with.
B) There is a particularly cynical argument, that goes something like “an item shop is disingenuous to the players who can’t afford it”. – So much more generous to exclude the person right away, assuming subscriptions are the alternative? If we assume a “poor player” like that, we should assume he can either afford a sub OR some ingame items. There’s no reason to suggest an F2P is forcing players to spend any or more money than that, in fact I wonder if you’d even get up to those 140 Euros / year which are roughly what you would pay for 12 months of WoW subs plus half an expansion. If you do, it’s likely that you were “tempted” by extra shinies in which case you don’t qualify as a poor player. Case dismissed.
C) “F2P will disadvantage the less liquid player at later stages / endgame”. Still assuming this was a pro-subscription argument: if an F2P is designed to require (and that in itself remains questionable) micro-transactions in order to be competitive in endgame, we might as well assume the same player would never get to see end-game in a sub-based MMO to begin with. We established that he was already turned down at the door. If however we agree this awfully poor player doesn’t exist, B) applies once more: the player would only be excluded at endgame if the item costs greatly surpass what he’d otherwise pay for subscriptions. For such an F2P we could actually say a player gets everything for free but endgame, whereas in WoW he gets everything for free, full stop. Only that in WoW’s case there is no choice to skip paying for an endgame he might not care for.
Now, Nils would tell me how this last line is faulty; while you might pay for everything by default in WoW, it actually means you get everything. I’ll explain:
The F2P player might choose what he wants to pay for more consciously – but that also means he has to pay for it. If you skip endgame, you will spend that money elsewhere because the game offers the best RP items in the shop too, or the best PvP items. The WoW player on the other hand can play just as selectively, but he never gets asked to pay more or less anywhere. If he wants to have it all, it costs the same as if he only chose to RP. From this point of view, paying a sub wins IF –
- the player gravitates towards many play styles and has generally lots of time for the game
- the player plays in that same way consistently
- the total costs of required or interesting items for his purposes are higher than the subs
In this case, a subscription is the best deal for you. If you’re however part of a wider player base who has restricted time, exclusive interests, changing schedules, then F2P might suit you better. Not surprisingly, this gets more popular with an aging audience. It can create choices where a subscription cannot. Which is why both models have their up and downside, or rather their target audience.