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Monetizing Free-To-Play Gaming Models 164

eldavojohn writes "Last week, a game consultant named David J Edery gave his two cents on why free-to-play (F2P) game models aren't as prolific in the West as they seem to be in the East. Aside from a few unprovable cultural divides, he makes some interesting claims concerning conversion rates of non-paying players to paying players. Some customers pay hundreds for functional items and only a dollar on aesthetic items while other users might be the complete opposite. He also notes that converting a non-paying newbie into a paying customer is not the same as converting a non-paying salty dog. He defines 'aggressive monetization' to mean how much money will advance you 'unfairly' in the game. He focuses on two classes of items: those that provide performance-neutral aesthetics and those that provide performance enhancing or functional advancements. He claims to have access to ARPPU ('average revenue per paying user' per month) rates among several game developers and states that 'more aggressive monetization model and a loyal, niche userbase can hope to generate $50 per paying user per month, on average,' while 'a F2P game that limits itself to flat subscription revenue and/or non-functional items is generally more likely to fall somewhere between $5 and $10 per paying user per month.' Like any good consultant, he also gives ethics a footnote in an otherwise verbose post on monetizing free to play games. Has anyone here had experience pricing items and content in free-to-play games?"
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Monetizing Free-To-Play Gaming Models

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  • Golf works like that (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Animats ( 122034 ) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @01:40PM (#33257576) Homepage

    Golfers spend considerable money on things which are supposed to improve their game. It's usually mediocre players buying stuff that won't help them. There's a lot of that in running shoes, too. (Much to the annoyance of Nike, their sponsor, the Stanford University track team trains running barefoot. [])

  • by luvirini ( 753157 ) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @01:41PM (#33257578)

    If a game that is billed as f2p is too agressive in making things cost more people will be annoyed and leave, on the other hand make it opposite and you do not get enough money.

    That balance is ofcourse modified by the way to "force" the user to buy things. For example if the grind without buying some items is way too slow the level of dissatisfied people will likely be higher, than if the grind normally is "slow" and the acceleration items for example change it to "medium"

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 15, 2010 @02:04PM (#33257684)

      If it is a game like the traditional fantasy MMO, then high end raiders and solid group dungeon runners will start resenting people who can just hit a store and buy with real-life currency items that are up to par with them. If the game wants to be another Second Life, that is one thing, but I'm sure the high end players in WoW would start leaving in droves if Blizzard had sets of armor for sale with stats that were equal to items earned in raids/groups.

      Appearance stuff is different. People buying non-combat pets are looked at money wasters, but it doesn't affect the game. Mounts are iffish. In a way, they are a bargain for WoW players who have a lot of alts because it means all 50 chars on the account have some type of steed. This also goes for appearance armor. If someone wants to have their mage wear plate for $10, go for it, as long as the armor doesn't give a stat advantage.

      When it gets over the line with traditional MMOs is when someone who spends lots of cash at the store starts having a PvE or PvP advantage. What would kill a MMO is an item that as significant as game play as journeyman's boots in the early days of EQ1 [1] being in the store. This means that one would have to purchase stuff in order to keep their membership in a raiding guild, or be on the top tier (and trust me, in some MMOs, having an item is as important if not more than having a decent gearscore in WoW [2].)

      [1]: In the early, pre-Luclin days of EQ 1, jboots mean the difference between booking it to a zone if one got overwhelmed with mobs, versus certain death. Your membership in raiding guilds depended oftentimes on having this item.

      [2]: Gearscore is probably the most critical thing people judge on in WoW. You can be a moron, but if you have a high enough GS, you had to at least have survived enough high end fights to earn good equipment, assuming the character was not ebayed.

      • by luvirini ( 753157 ) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @03:05PM (#33258010)

        Personally I think DDO gets it about right.

        There is enough free content that you can make it to maximum level without paying anything, but you will have to run through the same quests way many more times than someone who pays the monthly subscription so it will be more boring in the long run.

        Also you can buy things that speed up your level gain by 20% and items that help you to not have to grind to get certain things that people spend a lot of grinding time on like crafting ingredients.

        Overall the option to spend money to speed up things that would take really many hours of repetition is fine, as they still allow you to do the grinding as option. This allows both people with little money and lot of time and lot of money and little time to particiapate. But still raid loot is way better than anything in the shop.

        The number of people there again helps to keep people intrested as there are groups to adventure with.

      • by Darkman, Walkin Dude ( 707389 ) on Monday August 16, 2010 @05:00AM (#33261722) Homepage

        If it is a game like the traditional fantasy MMO, then high end raiders and solid group dungeon runners will start resenting people who can just hit a store and buy with real-life currency items that are up to par with them.

        They can resent as much as they like, unless they are contributing equal or more money than the people who pay, the game manufacturers have no reason at all to cater to them.

    • by Cylix ( 55374 ) * on Sunday August 15, 2010 @02:28PM (#33257796) Homepage Journal

      I have known several of those types of games.

      Sufficiently skilled players can operate without purchasing any items and amass quite a bit of wealth. Generally, I found the paid items merely increased the rate at which you would acquire items.

      That said there were also two other types of players that were competitive without spending any amount of revenue.

      Those would generate rigged matches with multiple other interested parties and pray on weaker newer characters.

      Those would take whatever they could via illicit actions.

      All in all there are basically five archetypes with only one actually paying. The three communities of thieves, pros and scum generally did not like the fourth archetype to any degree. The last category consisted of the newbs who didn't fit into any genre as of yet. They were the weakest and we feasted on their bones.

    • by jorghis ( 1000092 ) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @05:08PM (#33258672)

      A good example of a successful f2p game with a 'fair' system is League of Legends. The entire game is free, but they make most of their money by selling custom skins for different champions that players can control. It has no functional difference in the game, but somehow they manage to sell enough to keep the company going.

  • Anecdote (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TriezGamer ( 861238 ) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @01:42PM (#33257590)

    I've played numerous F2P MMORPGs (at least 20) that operate on a micro-transaction model. While many of them were not good enough games to justify payment of any kind, those that have gotten to my wallet have done so in varying degrees. I have sunk over $400 each into three separate games, and one of those three has exceeded $1000. If you take the $400 figure, even at a $15/mo subscription [above average for a subscription based game], I have paid the equivalent of over 2 years of subscription time to each of these three games. I am not an exception to the rule. I have met multitudes of people in each of these three games that have invested at least as much as I have, and no shortage of people who have invested at least an order of magnitude more into them. For each person who isn't paying, I can assure you, someone is making up for it enough to turn it into a major profit.

    • Re:Anecdote (Score:5, Funny)

      by Cylix ( 55374 ) * on Sunday August 15, 2010 @02:32PM (#33257824) Homepage Journal

      My therapist once said I spend an overly healthy amount of cash on item transactions. To this I replied, "You are only saying that because you are a nub and wish you were as half as pro as me."

    • by SmallFurryCreature ( 593017 ) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @02:47PM (#33257906) Journal

      But your entire argument falls flat on ONE important point. Where is the F2P behemot? WHERE is the Blizzard equivalent?

      This is the amusing thing in most MMO debates. People talk about how succesfull PvP is, but not a single PvP game is a financial success. And F2P games are surefire money machines, yet none of them do all that well.

      Simply put, the number of idiots that spend as much as the parent on a single game are few. Ther is more money in the masses then the niche. And F2P payers are niche. You get F2P fans arguing about the success for their game with a whole 2 servers and a third might be coming any day now!!!

      The real reason for the geographic difference is that original american MMO's were run by dumb americans unable to provide any other payment scheme then credit cards. SOE was the first to sign up with global payment companies to provide world wide payment solutions. No credit card, no Ultima Online or Meridian 59. And you could forget about localisation.

      The asian MMO developers operated in a vacuum, they had an audience that wasn't being catered to.

      This has changed and WoW is played around the world.

      Even today, most western MMO subscription companies are horrible about payment solutions. Don't underestimate the difficulty of selling to customer who can't pay you money.

      But in the end, F2P tends to be more expensive. For 1000 bucks you could have bought 3 lifetime editions of Lotro. Why pay more for lesser games?

      F2P only appeals to the cheap skates and the mathematically challenged.

      • by TyFoN ( 12980 ) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @03:14PM (#33258062)

        You have Perfect World []
        It seems to be the WoW of F2P

      • Re:Maybe (Score:3, Insightful)

        by twidarkling ( 1537077 ) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @03:23PM (#33258106)

        You're completely right about the difficulty in paying for most western MMOs. I recently started playing a relatively new one, and whenever I look at the help channel, multiple times a day I see people going "I wanna upgrade from my trial account, is there any way to pay without a credit card?" but for that game, there isn't (well, maybe paypal, I can't remember). And that's just when I'm online. That means this company's losing out on literally dozens of customers every week, just out of ones that mention it. How many more customers on trial accounts just poke around for payment, then give up? How many others research a bit, then when it's only CC payment, decide to not even try? Due to an anaemic payment method selection, they could be losing out on thousands of dollars a month in revenue. Considering it's a fairly small MMO right now (I think I heard about a 25,000 player base), that's not an amount I'd think they could afford to turn away from.

      • Re:Maybe (Score:1, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 15, 2010 @03:26PM (#33258122)

        First of all, WoW is an anomaly in terms of subscribers. While there have been several hopefuls that have tried to duplicate WoW's numbers, nobody has achieved it. Not even the previous subscription MMO champion, EQ1, had anywhere close to number of subscribers. You do not need to have massive numbers like WoW for your MMO to be considered a "financial success." Unfortunately, a lot of companies nowadays see Blizzard's pile of cash and want in, so they sink a ton of capital into a supposed WoW-killer. However, trying to out-WoW Blizzard has proven folly for all of them.

        As far as PvP, a PvP focused game will probably always be niche, but sustainable as long as the devs cater to that niche. A lot of former DOAC players tell me that they were happy with the game until the devs tried to release too much EQ-style PvE raiding content. In other words, when they ignored their niche and tried to go for more of EQ's players is when they had problems. Then again, DOAC is still running (barely) after all this time. I think Mythic was able to reverse some of what they did before completely destroying the game.

        Right now I think the big niche games are Darkfall and EVE, which to my knowledge are in the black because they are doing a pretty good job of catering to their niches and not trying to WoW-ize themselves. They aren't going to have the subscriber numbers that WoW are, but they are going to be able to keep themselves going.

        F2P, on the other hand, baffles me. I cannot fathom how these games are making money on the western market. Most of them I've tried are utter garbage, and in many you will end up having to sink close to the cost of a WoW subscription into them to remain competitive. Runes of Magic is at least playable, but it is a subpar WoW clone that is inferior in almost every way. Why start paying into it when you can just play WoW? Then again, it baffles me how some people can even consider sinking cash into all those shitty Facebook games.... so maybe the passable ones like RoM are able to stay afloat because a lot of people are suckers.

        The F2P model is hot right now, but I suspect that it is going to crash hard once the Zynga fad wears off and people realize they just blew their money into a subpar game experience. After that, I expect that the hybrid model will be the one that sees the most success. One where you pay for a subscription to a game, and if you want to buy some bonuses once in a while, you can for a small fee. Blizzard already seems to be playing around with this model with pets and mounts.

        • by Kreigaffe ( 765218 ) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @03:59PM (#33258278)

          League of Legends is F2P / microtransaction, and by all accounts they're doing pretty well for themselves. Not an MMO, but MMOs.. at least, today's typical MMOs.. they're friggin weird beasts that I consider garbage, they're all PvE grinds and timesinks. Some people like that, but few people are going to shell out cash for $LEWT just to grind more. Unless it's WoW and they're spending the money for a super special mount... but WoW is a bit of an aberration. It's got some crazy obsessed fan(boy)s.

      • Re:Maybe (Score:5, Insightful)

        by TriezGamer ( 861238 ) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @03:57PM (#33258268)

        You are attempting to create an argument where there isn't one. There is no NEED for a 'behemoth' free-to-play game, and I don't see where anyone was saying that there needed to be one. Free-to-play games don't have to be massive to succeed at making money, which is the whole point.

        In addition, you're making the assumption that WoW is successful because it isn't free to play -- instead of the fact that it had a marketing behemoth (worldwide), an extremely popular brand name (worldwide), and a very highly praised development team (worldwide) working behind it.

        Furthermore, if you WANT to see sizable Free-To-Play games, they're out there if you look. You also mention 'lifetime' subscriptions to LotRO -- a game that is in the process of converting to free-to-play precisely because of the success of DDO's free-to-play conversion that the company already had.

        >Why pay more for lesser games?

        Who decides they're lesser? Subscription numbers are meaningless to personal tastes. I've had more fun playing free-to-play games than any retail subscription game - and not for lack of trying them. I've had active subscriptions at one point or another to approximately half of the mainstream subscription MMORPGs in the west.

        Another benefit of free-to-play games: When I'm struggling financial, I can still play and just stop paying.

        • by stonewallred ( 1465497 ) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @08:23PM (#33259676)
          I will leave WoW as soon as a better game comes along. Preferably one with some character customization and dev supported RP stuff. WoW, if it included dev supported RP(such as toon housing, closets, more bank space, better naming conventions like last names, family names etc)it would be pretty close to perfect. I would stay a subscriber and level alts and work on amassing the most gold possible. As it stands now, I might subscribe for a couple of months, then let it die, only to come back again later on. I don't raid, don't run instances, PvP only for leveling gear for alts, and to run alt after alt through the lowbie BGs to faceroll folks. The lore does not interest me. Farming and making gold is what I enjoy. But how many mechahogs do you need? Not enough gold sinks. Where if they would put player housing in, that would give me something to grind for and achieve. And no, I am not terribly anti-social, met some good folks playing WoW, just not into having a guild dictate when I am going to play.
  • by noidentity ( 188756 ) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @01:42PM (#33257592)
    When I was a kid, they had free-to-play games in the arcades. This was where you stood in front of the machine and pressed buttons while the demo played.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 15, 2010 @01:44PM (#33257598)

    I like to buy my game, and immerse myself in the content to have fun. The painful part of parting with cash is complete.

    Buying "items" in a game kills the fun, in the same way that paying for sex kills my boner.

    • by Phrogman ( 80473 ) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @05:01PM (#33258642) Homepage

      That is the western model for game sales. Its worked so far, but now the companies face more serious competition in fighting for customers dollars. In the MMO world there has been relatively little offered in the way of new games, probably because of the huge costs and development time required to produce a new major MMO. Of the titles coming out a few are seeking to do RMT monetization of items - the new Star Wars game coming from Bioware for instance. Why? Presumably because in Asia they have seen this model work well.
      There are definitely tons of players of MMOs out there who are willing to fork over big bucks to get items that let them win more in PvP. I have seen it in a few games I have played. I view these people as pathetic cheats, but it doesn't change the fact that they get the top end items and can dominate in PvP. Either the companies decide to support this in game and profit from it themselves, or they let it happen as a blackmarket and lose out on the money changing hands. If there is a way to cheat in an MMO, players will find it and exploit it, and other players will find a way to make money from it. Very few players seem to be interested in playing a balanced and fair game. The experience of virtual victory over an opponent is too highly valued, no matter what needs to be done to acquire it.
      I think companies need to strike a balance to keep their players from leaving in droves though. If "The Sword of PK Slaying" is available as an award from a large scale raid, and offers great bonuses in PvP it will be desirable. If its a very rare drop, it will be even more desirable since it confers a substantial advantage and most other players will not have it. If the company running the game then turns around and makes an equivalent item available in the Online store for the game for say $20, then the perceived value of the original item will drop considerably. Its no longer rare, it no longer confers the same advantage etc. If the 2 items are stats-wise the same, but the raid gained one has a distinct (and shinier) appearance, you can at least have the boasting rights for having won it in the raid, and that will help compensate a bit. If the company sells the equivalent item at $125 in the online store, the original will retain its value and the people who shell out the $125 to have the equivalent item (because they are too lazy to earn it the hard way) can still get the same item but with a much larger barrier to acquisition, then more of a balance is struck. The players who earn it by repeatedly doing a difficult raid until they win the item can feel like they have achieved something (and MMOs are in large part about the virtual sense of achieving a goal), while the people who lack the time but have the money can still get the item they want, but far fewer of them will do so.
      The problems arise, IMHO, when the store starts selling items which confer a substantial advantage but which are not available in game, or for which the chance of obtaining the item is extreme to say the least.

  • by loufoque ( 1400831 ) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @01:45PM (#33257608)

    This is missing an important dimension. When he says aggressive monetization gives 5 times more money per player, he forgets to say that it also reduces the number of players, because some players are simply put off by the idea that the game is not fair.
    Therefore it might not be more profitable.

    • by dmomo ( 256005 ) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @01:57PM (#33257648)

      Without numbers on how many players actually "leave" as opposed to "simply don't go on to pay", you can't really tell how much of an impact that has. But, from my experience, nagging people (popunders, spam, etc) unfortunately in general does result in greater profit. I think Puzzle Pirates does a great job at making things free, while still trying to get people to buy premiums.

    • by Luckyo ( 1726890 ) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @02:59PM (#33257954)

      World of Warcraft is generally a good example here. They're been selling aesthetic items that give no advantage gameplay-wise, such as various pets, and That Retarded Horse (google it).

      They also sell leveling aid through recruit-a-friend program, which is more functional. But in the end, the real meat of the game, end-game is completely untouched by anything extra they sell. You can't get more powerful items by buying, or increase your drop chance or anything like that, and even recruit a friend experience bonus ends at level 60, while level cap is 80.

      And there is a wide sentiment among players and officially acknowledged by blizzard that if any kind of gameplay-altering for-sale items enter endgame, blizzard could kiss them good bye.

    • >>because some players are simply put off by the idea that the game is not fair.
      Therefore it might not be more profitable.

      Indeed. Stronghold Kingdoms is an awesome, awesome game. (You can join the alpha test at []) Think Stronghold, but in MMORPG form. Build up your village, build a castle, attack your neighbors, trade, etc.

      However, it's a F2P game that allows you to buy "cards" which do things like tripling your production for a day. Right now the use of cards is unlimited (though because it's an alpha test, you're given an allowance of them instead of buying them with real money.) So the monetization advantage appears to be x3 or so, give or take. *However*, the game also allows you to cash in cards in order to get research points (the main benefit of leveling is that you get 3 research points with which to choose new technologies - think Civ.) Think around $20 per research point, though prices aren't fixed yet.

      So for people with open wallets, you can essentially buy as many levels as you want in the game. If it is released in such a state, I refuse to play it since there literally will not be any way to compete professionally without spending just as much money as they do on the game. A person who starts the game by buying $320 of research points will have triple stone and wood production for the entire span of the campaign. A person who spends $480 dollars at launch will also have half-price buildings on everything. A person who spends $640 will have all his buildings constructed twice as fast. Then on top of that, he can play cards to triple again that production and building speed.

      So a person with an open wallet will have about a 10x advantage over someone else.

      If you've ever played an RTS, you know what a tremendous advantage this is. Worse, campaigns only last about 4 or 5 months, so you get to do this all over again once someone "wins" (by getting elected King of England, presumably.) Drop a K every so often? No thanks. I'd rather not play it at all. Right now, it's only fair because everyone is given an allowance of $80/week to play with.

    • by CodeBuster ( 516420 ) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @09:23PM (#33259952)
      It seems that everything is aggressively monetized these days, why should we expect games, online or otherwise, to be different?
  • by gamricstone ( 1879210 ) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @01:55PM (#33257644)
    I created this account specifically to reply to this post. He defines 'aggressive monetization' to mean how much money will advance you 'unfairly' in the game. Does not accurately represent the linked article. In the first paragraph: For the purposes of this post, I'm defining "aggressive" as the sale of items that impact gameplay and/or speed up a player's progress, in addition to other, less controversial premium features like aesthetic items and account personalization. Nowhere does it mention the word 'fair' or any variation of the word in the entire article. I have no comment on the linked article's content, just that slashdot has been filled with crap like this more and more often lately. I won't be continuing to visit slashdot(and my brand new account will go to waste) if this sort of posting does not stop. That is all.
  • by Todd Knarr ( 15451 ) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @02:03PM (#33257678) Homepage

    After reading the article, the author seems to simply not talk about two things (at least as related to conventional MMORPGs).

    First, he doesn't address the question of the effect of monetization on player base. In his HappyFunTime example, for instance, he blithely assumes that both monetization systems have the same number of players. But is this true? I know many players who actively avoid games with aggressive monetization systems, especially those where the best items are available only via RMT or where progress beyond a certain point requires RMT purchases (which is not related to whether or not you can continue to play forever for free, it's a question of whether, eg., access to the best end-game instances and raid zones requires paying or not). Their thought is that games aren't a paying job for them, and those sorts of games are going to be dominated by professional players for whom the game in fact is a paying job (they either make money off of player-to-player RMT if allowed or they're employed by a plat-farming and/or power-leveling service) They're also wary of putting time and effort into developing a character in a game where their progress and ability to play with their friends may be randomly blocked by the vagaries of real-world finances (eg. your friends want to run a raid but this week your checking account just doesn't have enough in it to pay for access to that raid zone). For them it's safer to stick with games with a less aggressive monetization model, ones where they won't have those problems.

    Second, there's the question of how well the player base will stick with the game when economic times get tough. We're going through a time like that right now, for instance. I'd think that when times get tight players will abandon games that effectively mandate out-of-pocket costs (ie. have aggressive monetization models) every month more readily than fluff-only or flat-subscription games. In games where RMT gets you fluff-only items, you can cut your out-of-pocket costs quickly and decisively without seriously impacting your game experience. In flat-subscription games, you don't even have to worry about your cost level since it's going to remain steady and predictable. If you can afford to play at all, your play experience doesn't depend on how much you're spending. My experience has been that those things create a player base that finds the game a better value for the money and that'll be less likely to drop it than other things when their entertainment budget starts to get squeezed. IMO designing a game that's highly vulnerable to economic ups and downs is a more risky proposition than designing one that's attractive even in the bad times.

    • by fish waffle ( 179067 ) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @04:21PM (#33258382)

      First, he doesn't address the question of the effect of monetization on player base.

      This is so important. I've played several F2P games. I have donated plenty too, but never to the ones where the main goal is obviously to keep chipping away at my bank account.

      A free game relies on the relationship between the players and the producers. If I'm just a commodity to the game then I treat the game the same---tell me what I have to pay up-front and I'll decide if it's worth it. A labor of love, a game where the developers care that the players are enjoying the game irrespective of payment, induces symmetric feelings. That's your loyal, paying base.

      It is certainly possible to have a successful F2P game that does not over-monetize and doesn't constitute a charity. Kingdom of Loathing comes to mind: completely free (donation-only and it's not essential), but supports 4-6 full time staff and has been going for 5 years.

  • by jiteo ( 964572 ) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @02:29PM (#33257802)
    ie, free-to-play games that actually have a recurring cost for the developer. Because how to monetize free-to-play games has been solved when the first game came out: people bought your game, and you got their money.
  • by localman57 ( 1340533 ) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @02:58PM (#33257944)
    I remember in the early 90's, the SysOpp of our local BBS had a variety of level-limited varieties of what today is called a MMO (although it was only as massive as a typical football team, and only one or two of us could be online at a time). They were ASCII/ANSI based dungeons where you fought monsters and got stuff. Only 15 minutes of play per day per person please! Other people want to dial in!

    Eventually we all chipped in a few bucks (Convincing my mom to write a check to a stranger I met on the computer ("how is he on our computer?") was a challenge). But eventually we got enough dough together to buy a license so we could all level up, and go attack the much more powerful monsters represented by such fear-invoking characters as '#', '%', '&'. Oh yeah, I remember old '&'. He'll never cross us again. I'll tell you that much.
  • Gaming profit models (Score:5, Informative)

    by peterofoz ( 1038508 ) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @03:00PM (#33257962) Homepage Journal
    From the games I seen I can draw the following profit opportunities:
    • F2P comes with a banner or side advertisement. Subscribing eliminates the ad. Example: Runescape. Aggressive would be popup ads or commercials. More subtle is ads incorporated into the game landscape. Example: SecondLife
    • In game items - cosmetic. You just have to look good in some social games. Aggressive is where you have to have a clothes item to enter an area or complete a quest where you already have a time investment. Example: SecondLife, Farmville.
    • In game items - functional. These items let you get ahead with better tools or weapons. Aggressive is where it provides a really unfair advantage. Example: Mafia Wars. Some have have items using in game cash you can earn by playing or find along with other kind of cash you have to purchase. Example Farmville, Wizard 101.
    • Time advantage. Some games have recharge timers where you can just wait 24 hours to recharge, or pay for an instant recharge. Example: Evony, Wizard 101 Pet Games
    • Content - Games offer a F2P area with access to additional content by subscription or by single cost per area. Examples: Wizard 101. Some games provide a place to put content, but you have to create it. Example: SecondLife.
    • Content + Subscription - Games that require you to purchase the content and then require a subscription for online play. Examples: Eve Online, World of Warcraft.
    • Real World purchases - Games that blend game play with real world purchases, such as buying a coffee at 7-11. Example: Mafia Wars, Farmville. Many game makers also have a store where you can buy shirts, hats, mouse pads, etc. Examples: Slashdot, Jagex.
    • Information - Hints and Helps - Games (typically puzzle quest types) where you might need a hint to complete a puzzle. You get the hints by purchasing a book or magazine, or by calling a help line that charges by the minute providing help via a menu tree. Example: Zork (classic). Newer games might use SMS Texting and let the phone company handle the micro-transactions.
    • Marketing - Games that provide free play, but sell your email address and demographic details to third parties.
    • IPO - Games that provide free play to build a 1,000,000 user base, at least until the company is sold to investors who then figure out how to monetize it.

    There's probably more, but that's the ones I've seen.

  • by vampire_baozi ( 1270720 ) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @03:07PM (#33258022)

    I had a really long, intelligent-sounding post detailing two F2P companies, but it got lost when I hit the back button. Oops.

    Summary: F2P works, in both models.

    Aesthetics: People will pay real world monies for in-game aesthetic improvements. See: Guild Wars, entire economy revolves around bling with stats identical to ordinary items bought from NPCs, just shinier.

    Functionality: Silk Road Online. Either you pay to quicken the grind, get EXP, and stacks of pots/etc, or you are food for bots. Perfect World: same deal. No EXP scrolls? Enjoy getting PK'd. Oh, and watching everyone else floating around on really pretty animals in really pretty armor. PW is also interesting because they changed it for the Western release: much LESS grind, you level faster. They figured we westerners wouldn't sink as much time into grinding/farming.

    Soth SRO and PW are expanding their userbases and continually adding new servers. GW isn't doing too poorly either (I still play, and buy items from their in-game store with cash).

    • by Creepy ( 93888 ) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @04:50PM (#33258550) Journal

      Interesting point, and while Guild Wars is not technically a F2P game because they have an initial entry cost, the game does have a number of F2P features (no monthly cost, an in-game store with speedups like skill unlock packs, etc). I agree the game is very fashion driven - there is no reason to get Obsidian Armor other than aesthetics, because it is extremely expensive and offers no defensive benefit over cheap armor that is 1/100000 the price. The real trick with a store is you need to sell something players want and not over-saturate the game with that item. For instance, an in-game example: elemental swords were extremely valuable at one time, then raptor farming came along and you're now lucky to get 5000 for them. The same problem happened with Chaos Axes and Underworld farming.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 15, 2010 @03:18PM (#33258090)

    To my mind, Kingdom of Loathing has done a fantastic job of handling this type of problem. Though not what most people think of when they think of a F2P MMO, they have made all items that one donates for tradeable, allowing non-paying players to experience the "premium" content if they are willing to farm hard and long enough for in-game currency. So people who are willing to pay can buy extra to sell in game to people who are not willing to pay real life money for them. It's a system that could easily have broken down horribly and made the whole economy wildly unbalanced, but through attention to detail and a commitment to making all items and content available for every player, they have succeeded where many games have failed.

  • by rantomaniac ( 1876228 ) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @03:54PM (#33258246)

    Players are more likely to pay if they get more advantages out of it, but players who can't pay or can't pay enough to stay competitive won't really have an incentive to play.
    The game has to remain playable regardless of the level of monetary contributions or else it ceases to be about gameplay and turns into a bidding war. While that might give you a couple high income players, I doubt it's feasible in the long run.

    I used to play a MUD by a certain well-known developer in the MUD community. It was advertised as free-to-play, pay-for-perks, but its scheme had two major flaws:

    The power plateau was ridiculously high, it took thousands of dollars AND months of playing to reach it, per character.

    The baseline character power level, at which the game was by design balanced required an investment of around $200-300. There was no segregation between paying and non-paying players, both competed in the same game world. This put non-paying players at a big disadvantage unless they just wanted to use the game as a glorified chat-room. The developers used to counter this argument on message boards saying that players can get the perks through contests and in-game currency. However contests were not frequent enough and too competitive to make much of a difference (usually the same clique of players won). And buying them for in-game currency required weeks of grinding quests (mere knowledge of which required a lot of gameplay beforehand) competitively against other players with similar goals (because the game offered no instancing).

    Was the game successful? Moderately, they're making some money, they've made quite a lot of a couple selected players with deep pockets. But ultimately there never was enough players to keep the game from feeling empty, usually just a couple players per character class at any given time. I heard their other games using the same model were more successful though, on the order of 500 players logged in on the most popular one. But I can't help but wonder what kind of numbers they could have raised if the price for playing the game competitively was an order of magnitude lower. Their MUDs are actually worth paying for, compared to all the uninspired DIKU clones, just not that much.

    I regret sinking $200 into it before I realized I just can't compete without buying the equivalent of a used car in skills and virtual items.

  • by Nrrqshrr ( 1879148 ) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @03:58PM (#33258276)
    1% of the player-base pays for 100% of the costs. The rest is profit.
  • by Renraku ( 518261 ) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @03:59PM (#33258282) Homepage

    In my opinion, all premium content should be able to be purchased with the in game currency.

    The reasoning? Some people are poor, but have a lot of time. For example, the disabled. Rather than absolutely limiting them (they're barely getting by, most likely) to low end items/gear/decor, why not just make the items available in game at a disproportionately high cost? Like for example, your 'stamina' recharge that lets you fight/gain experience/items/etc could cost half a day's worth of grinding and it could cost $2. That fancy hat might cost $10 and take you a couple of days to farm for. There's really no downside to this.

    The grinders can grind, the payers can pay. It's economic specialization. Those disabled folks can grind to their heart's content and feel like they're earning something, maybe sell it for some in game currency or *gasp* real cash in a competitive amount with the game servers. Those payers can feel awesome when they get a $0.10 discount on their Fancy Hat because they bought from the grinder.

    Nothing will make me stop playing a 'F2P' game faster than setting up obvious noticeable speed bumps to keep the poor poor and the payers on top.

    • by Ambvai ( 1106941 ) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @04:44PM (#33258512)

      A few games work like that-- Gunbound had most of the items purchasable for game-currency or real money, though a few were limited to real money or game-currency only .

      Alternatively, Kingdom of Loathing, mentioned a few posts up, operates on a real money->Generic Trade Item->Item of the Month system, for which you may spend/earn game currency by trading the GTI around. For those with limited real money, you can save up game-currency to buy them.

    • by war4peace ( 1628283 ) on Monday August 16, 2010 @08:10AM (#33262286)
      Congrats, you have just described how EVE Online works.
      I can buy a PLEX (30-day Pilot License EXtension) for real-life money and then selling in-game for in-game currency.
      So let's see...
      You are a player who doesn't really have enough money or is unwilling to spend them on a monthly subscription, but at the same time you have a lot of spare time. So you make lots of in-game currency (called ISK). I am a guy who can afford to pay the monthly fee but because of my job/real-life lack of free time, I can't afford making lots of ISK; however, I could use the ISK to buy in-game ships, modules and the like, for a better gaming experience. Therefore, I buy the PLEX for real-life money, sell the PLEX to you for ISK.
      In the end:
      - CCP (the game maker) gets its money;
      - You get to play for free (no real-life money spent)
      - I get my ships and modules (which I can lose in the blink of an eye if I'm a bad player...)

      There are many good things about this whole approach to transactions:
      a. PLEX value is not fixed, it varies in-game because it's a market commodity, based on the in-game demand/offer. b. The stuff you buy for those ISK amounts is all destructible. All of it. (okay, except stations, but if you are crazy enough to buy one with PLEX-ISK, you can still lose it.) It's not like in WoW, where if you die, you still get to keep your gear. Here, it's gone for good.
      c. It reduced the ISK farmers to 0. A year ago, when I joined, most of the trading hubs chats were pestered by spamming trial characters flooding you with commercials such as "500M ISK for just 20 USD!" - now they are all gone. It's been months since I saw the last one.
      d. It doesn't affect skills, skillpoints or how well you perform. Also, it doesn't affect which ships you can fly. You still need to train for those :)
      So IMO, CCP really nicked the goal with this PLEX approach.
    • by Darkman, Walkin Dude ( 707389 ) on Monday August 16, 2010 @09:32AM (#33262808) Homepage

      There's really no downside to this.

      Except game producers are in it for one reason, and thats to make money, not to provide free entertainment. In fact the more time you spend grinding and not paying the more you are costing them, this is why things like friendster became basically worthless once it became apparent that most of the userbase was impoverished SE Asians. There's nothing amoral or unethical, flame-ey or otherwise in this statement, this is the simple fact of how things work. A nice free to play for all would be great but also unsustainable.

  • How good the game is able to hold or pull an audience. Maple story is probably one of the more successful F2P. I didn't play too far into Maple story (maybe level 40ish) so I'm not the most understanding of it, but, it seemed to be able to grip onto those kind of people who are willing to pay for F2P even though you wouldn't be able to buy a item advantage in that game. you can buy cool costumes (cool compared to what you usually have to wear...) and I think EXP boosters (but those are time savers more than a leg up on those who don't because what cant grinding do that a EXP boost could do besides make things faster) in game. What I think made the game popular compared to other F2P's is the fact that the UI (although stupid looking) was very functional and easy and the game play generally copied what the UI did... the easy part at least (although time consuming). I think, as always, game companies shouldn't try to trick people into giving them the most money by certain methods of player-base/money per person and just simply make a good game that keeps people on for a long enough time they feel it worth it to spend money on the game (like with league of legends for me. i played it enough and found it a decent enough of a game to put 30 bucks into it. I'm still playing and don't see me stopping until valve hopefully makes a better AoS).
  • by izomiac ( 815208 ) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @04:51PM (#33258566) Homepage
    This is starting to get ridiculous. The term "free" means "no cost". A demo or "lite version" is only free if you don't advertise the features of the paid version, similarly, a time limited trial isn't free anymore than something with no payments for 90 days. Adware isn't free, nor is anything that you need to exchange valuable personal information for. And "buy one, get one free" is just plain nonsensical.

    Lately, commercial software providers have been really abusing the word "free". These F2P MMORPGs are an excellent example. Some MMORPGs actually are completely free, but they're next to impossible to find because of all the P2P MMORPGs that call themselves free. The Android application market is another good example of how demos, trials, adware, spyware, "free program only usable with paid service" and "mandatory donation of a fixed price" software makes truly free (gratis or libre) software hard to locate.

    IMHO, we need a new word to differentiate "FREE!!!!! *" from literally "free". I would say "non-commercial", but many businesses generate profit from open source software, and a free sample is most certainly commercial. Unfortunately, there are too many people that can't wrap their head around non-monetary costs to reclaim the proper word that describes this concept.
  • by Charliemopps ( 1157495 ) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @08:19PM (#33259644)
    Too bad the publishers out there haven't thought to actually lower subscription rates to $5-$9 per player like how much they are making from these free games. At some point someone decided $16 was a good idea, and subscriptions have dropped ever since. We don't want to re-purchase the game ever 2 to 3 months. I dont think any of us are foolish enough to believe it costs them that much for bandwidth and to maintain the server. People just don't like feeling like their getting ripped off, and any game that charges you over $10/month is without a doubt ripping you off.
  • by gumpish ( 682245 ) on Monday August 16, 2010 @10:54AM (#33263650) Journal

    Giving an unfair advantage to players who pay into a free-to-play game is at least less unethical than what EA/Dice did with Battlefield 2 (and presumably other titles - I don't know as they've lost me as a customer), which is to charge everyone for the game and then sell balance-changing upgrades to people who pay them more money.

    Fucking. Evil.

The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness. -- John Muir