Free to Play or Free to Pay

Zyngor | Thursday, August 28, 2014
OK, first off to get something out of the way. I hereby present Sean of Gaming Conjecture with his super official badge of MMO bloggership for covering his take on the whole free-to-play model thingy. Well done, Sean, well done! You can tell it's legit official by the exclusion of any Comic Sans, and the proper use of a lens flare, not to mention clashing colors abound. Awards like these are quite rare, but your deservedness was well-noted.

Anywho, Sean brought up some great points about his issues with the developers behind free-to-play titles pushing to find new ways to create systems that are dipped into the monetization paint bucket. Whether they may sometimes rely on our laziness to go and purchase some form of a booster, or perhaps changing previously-stated plans to needlessly monetize a mechanic or system, I can imagine he had a rough time handling several of the free-to-play decisions made by Turbine, ultimately waning his interest with LOTRO.

If you've seen any of my previous posts, you may have picked up on the fact that all of the MMOs I play are indeed under the umbrella of the F2P model. The biggest factor behind this decision is due to my current finances. While my pockets may be penniless and filled with regret, the road is paved with plenty of free-to-play MMOs whose only stipulation to enter their gates may be to receive a mailing every now and then (and abiding by the ToS and all that fun stuff we read ever so carefully).

I suppose I shall selfishly gear this a bit toward LOTRO, as it has been my longest-played MMO yet. Yep, this is that weird MMO that involves talking trees and seeing how crazy you can cosmeticize a hobbit. When they rolled out their F2P model in 2010, I think it was a great opportunity to introduce many into the world inspired by J.R.R Tolkien, myself included. I knew the basic characters, and I've seen the movies that were out at that time, but I had not read the books or knew much more about the lore. Well, the lore bit can still go over my head, but at least the book part had been taken on.

As you can tell by the graphs and charts, I am AOK with F2P.
But I digress. I'm cool with microtransactions and set limitations put on the game...especially when there are ways to accrue or get by these issued barriers via doing what you hopefully would want to be doing anyways - playing the game. I think this is one of those things that I find makes LOTRO really shine as the F2P hybrid model - accruing the premium currency in game feels so much simpler and intuitive than other F2P titles (ex: for Neverwinter you'd need to first sell a huge chunk of Astral Diamonds - a tradable currency - for their Zen, premium cash currency for store, and the same kind of thing with Rift for hoping to find someone to sell your platinum for their REX credit thingy). If you keep doing in-game activities,you're bound to get a good number of Turbine Points straight up.

Then again, while it's fairly easy to gain TP, there certainly is a lot you'd like to purchase in the store. From quest packs to extra character slots to trait slots, I won't argue there is a good amount of monetized items to help aid your journey. What I would argue is that you don't need it all, at least right away. Perhaps grabbing key quest packs to get you through certain tiers of levels could work, but there is no essential need for every upgrade that pops on the screen.

As yes, popping on the screen, you say. Developers aiming at monetizing something in specific will sometimes create an obtuse UI that projects the sales pitch. This is where I remind myself that I'm playing a free title by choice (skipping the little ditty that I had picked up a couple of the xpacs, shhhh), and as such I think I can manage to tweak my gameplay and attitude a bit to accommodate this. Is this Hobbit Present thing a gamble-mongering scam? No - I see it as a free daily item, thanks for free stuff with my free stuff! It's like getting a free side of curly fries with that free spicy chicken sandwich I never ordered. No complaints here.

F2P also means I am not bogged down by a scheduled subscription. While I love LOTRO, MMO exclusivity is really not my thing. Unless you are suddenly bailing on friends who were expecting you to be on to level or raid (or whatever people do in groups these days), I see nothing inherently wrong with jumping around to play on different MMOs during a week. This can sometimes let you remember what you missed (or perhaps didn't miss?) on your "main" game, and make going back to replay it all that much more special and fun.

That's really all I'm trying to get at in the end of the day. Have fun. If playing games without a subscription is your way of having fun, by all means go ahead. If you'd rather be offering a subscription to a company for a hopefully more stable and "full" experience, go for it, and don't forget to enjoy it. For those that would love to experience the ride of a subscription, but where money is the issue, I'd say just try to have a good time figuring out how to navigate your favorite F2P world with confidence, and don't be afraid to test the MMO waters in different areas - you might just find a cool spot!

TLDR, you should check out Gaming Conjecture - has plenty of great posts to check out. Meanwhile, I'll still enjoy dipping my toes into F2P games, roll with the punches, and find a way to make it worth the fun-o-meter that was implanted in my brain after that freak carnival accident in which someone actually won the ring toss game. Oh, and if parts of this post don't make sense, totes not my fault - totally was not me that had no sleep followed by hours of sorting books. Nope - sharp as a misplaced thumbtack here.


  1. My badge at last!

    Great article! Just to be clear, I'm not making any judgement on what people like about f2p, I think it's fairly obvious. Free=good right? It's more that I'm not sure it's the greatest trend for the health of the industry as a whole, or that it leads to games being the best they can be.

    Interesting read, and thanks for the plug!

    1. Yeh, I totally understand what you mean - it's like Halloween to some of those F2P game companies, and they have candy to give out. It's just not always distributed the best way...parents don't like when the kids have to come in the house and go get their treat in the basement. Plus, it's sometimes a mystery what the candy is...that generic stuff can be a bit funky.

      Oh man, I just realized I totally had the opportunity to bust out a gradient on that badge, and I choked!