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With a lot of talk and endless discussion about the standard of pricing for MMO’s it comes as no surprise that gamers expect the standard practice to be free to play. Who wouldn’t? In this age of gaming with prices forever increasing, every one of us is out to secure the best bargain and we want to know we are not just sinking monthly subscriptions into a game that will flop somewhere down the line.
However, perhaps it is because of this ravenous bargain hunt that we instinctively grab the pitchforks if a developer decides upon a pay to play model. The new Elder Scrolls Online is a good example of this. Whilst a handful of players are judging the game based on its game-play/storyline, most are simply put off because of its price tag. It is more understandable for future console players of the MMO to be more concerned, as they essentially have to pay two monthly subscriptions if they decide to play the game (PSN/Live). However, for the hordes of PC gamers out there (thats me!) can we really justify this outcry for free to play games? A lot of gamers seem to think that we can.
We are a hard bunch to please indeed! I have witnessed MMOs have potential but could not achieve this potential because they could not produce content quick enough for their player-bases. Furthermore, as a long time WoW vet, i cant help but think that blizzard is entirely right in their statement that WoW will never go free to play. It is detrimental to the game itself, why have a free to play system when they can make money and in turn provide better content and patches for the players? Who in turn want to play the game because of its increasing standard of quality. Without this cycle developers simply have to gamble and rely on players using the in game store to pay for in game items,or worse yet, resort to using adverts.
MMO’s cost a lot more to develop and maintain, therefore developers need to consider ways to be successful whilst still turning a profit. Guild Wars 2 as an example uses micro transactions for varying cosmetics and other items. SWTOR is another F2P model that uses micro transactions, however with Star Wars you can buy a variety of items including dungeon passes and different character races. Both games use a similar style to make money. However player bases seem to rapidly decline in free to play games, and this could be due to the standard of the games. Perhaps the community loses sight of this tradeoff, that if they want a free to play based game, they will have to sacrifice potential features and further improvement to the game. But that is where us as gamers need to reflect, we need to think deeply about this tradeoff before we just ‘jump the gun’. Personally, i would always support a game that i think deserves my money, it helps keep the game healthy whilst also guarantees proper maintenance and future expansions.
You can see a post from time to time on the forums of each of these F2P games, claiming or asking where the population went in the game? Obviously some people just naturally lose interest and return later to the game, however i personally feel that this happens a lot quicker when the game is F2P. Micro transactions feel awkward in any game, they are something that should be fun and included in the game to make you say ‘Lets go collect them’, not be priced at half a regular subscription amount (about £9 P/M here in the UK), and make you consider how much you have in the bank to spend on a new hat, for your character ‘deathofthenight666killer’…..next is to see how much a name change costs and so on.
But this is certainly not bashing these games, i personally love SWTOR (that sith lightning, there’s no better feeling) However, i do worry about the games future and where the devs can take it because of a possible lack of interest or a lack of available content for the game. I have even used the in game store from time to time, although i think the player-base would generally be happier if most of the mounts were available in game, as most of the store bought ones are vastly superior. This in fact is a rising issue in a lot of MMO’s looking at F2P games and seeing the player-base using the in-game store. Blizzard have recently started to make cosmetic items and mounts more readily available through the store, and some players see this as the games age showing. However, the question arises that if this is what gamers think of an in game/real money store, then what would they think about a game that comes shipped with it? Even if its a few months in the pipeline, the in-game store is the biggest disadvantage to any F2P model, although i could not see any other way to make money from such a system, and there in lies the problem, gamers could possibly view these games as not being up to scratch after a couple of months with the game.
Personally i will be supporting the new ESO game, but i do think a different price plan should be implemented for console gamers. I do hope however, that they stand firm and do not go free to play. Whilst F2P models have worked, have they actually achieved? I would say not to the degree that people claim.