That is the question.
There is a lot of debate going on about the merits of different MMO revenue plans. Many of those arguments make valid points, but I am not sure if the motivation for those points are entirely justified in any way other than personal, or emotional, reasons.
“Free to play” (a.k.a. F2P) is one of the most widely used forms of MMO funding. Now, you may be going “WAIT A MINUTE!”, but it’s true; if you consider a global marketplace. Technically speaking, most Facebook games also qualify as MMO’s. In all of them, there is no charge for playing the basic game, but if you REALLY want to use all the features available, you will have to eventually break down and purchase some of the premium items. That’s how the game company makes it’s money, and they’re called “micro-transactions.”
The downside to doing this in a non-Facebook game, is that there will always be the person who has tons of money and no better way to spend it. They will always be better than the person who can’t afford as much stuff. So a lot of the fun is drawn out of the game due to a severe imbalance. Runes of Magic is one such game. The only way you can get a permanent mount, is to spend real cash on “premium” in-game currency for the “cash shop” and buy one. All other mounts in the game are limited-use.
While I can understand the need to make money, it’s just not something I want to try and compete with while I am on a budget.
“Buy to play” (a.k.a. B2P) is the least-used form of generating revenues. In this form, the online service is always free, you only have to pay for the game once. You also have to pay for any future expansions that may come out. In the long run, this is the cheapest way to play an MMO, as studies have shown people generally spend far more than they realize on all those “micro-transactions” in a F2P game.
B2P games offer the advantage of always being there if you decide to take a break, without having to continue spending money on a subscription. Often times these game also have micro-transactions, but they are (at least in the good games) far less unbalancing, and usually only cosmetic bonuses. Even if you never spend money on that fancy cloak, you can still enjoy all the same combat ability as the person who did spend money on it. You are never forced to spend any more money to be better at the game.
Pay to play (a.k.a. P2P) is a subscription based service, and recently has become a method only the biggest games use. The user buys a copy of the game and then, after a “free” month, is forced to pay a fee every month as long as they play the game. The usual amount is $15 (US) but there are some that are less.
It is generally accepted that a P2P game offers superior content and more frequent updates. This is not always the case. If you examine the biggest MMORPGS on the market, you will discover that they are all almost identical in play style, and function. You may have a sci-fi skin placed on the surface (SWTOR) but ultimately they are all trying to be the next “World of Warcraft.” The problem with trying to be the next WoW, is that you have to do something different, and nobody seems to be willing to admit it; or try.
My personal opinion is that F2P is the worst of the bunch, because people who are willing to spend more money will always be better at the game. Even if you have the same skill level, they will be better equipped. This creates an unfair balance, and ruins the game for me. Now, you can try and tell me that you spend less than $15/month on these games, and maybe you’re being honest, but then you’re never going to be “leet” no matter how much skill you have. This system is about as fair as a running race, against a cheetah, with your ankles tied together.
Buy to play can work, but the developer is forced to continuously release “expansions” to earn the revenues required to maintain staff and servers. Some will say that server and bandwidth costs are minuscule, but they are still costs. Eventually, if expansions stop being sold, the funds will run dry. When the funds run dry, the servers close, and you are left wondering where to go next.
It’s true that even pay to play games get shut down (SWG) but the best ones from 10 years ago are still around. Everquest is on it’s 13th year, and their 18th expansion was released last November. They manage a loyal base of customers who are still willing to pay for those servers, despite Everquest 2 being available since late 2004. Ultima Online (UO) has been around since 1997, and still enjoys a loyal base of subscribers.
One of the reasons I bring this up, is because Everquest transitioned into a hybridized F2P model this month. You can play for free, with micro-transactions and limited features, or you can choose one of two subscription plans. This is why I say it is hybridized. Realistically, you will have to continue paying $15 a month to maintain full access to the game. You can get all of the content for free, but you will be limited on races, storage, professions, end even mail. In my opinion, Everquest is still essentially a P2P game, with the option to play a crippled version for free, or a slightly less crippled version for one-third the cost.
I don’t think P2P is hard to justify, and just think of it like this: “If I buy one less game a month, and then pay $15 for this one that’s always there and updating, I actually save $45 a month.” It’s pretty much a no-brainer for me.
Which do you think is the best option, and why?