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Humble Hobo

[Survey] The Price of Freedom

4 posts in this topic

This isn't explicitly game design, but the business model of an MMO does impact gameplay to some degree, so I feel justified.

I'm taking a software business class, and I'd like to hear your opinions. This survey about Free-to-play is 4 questions and takes only 30 seconds. If you could answer as yourself, and not as an 'average gamer'. If you're reading this right now, you're [i]already[/i] within the target (MMO veterans, armchair designers, forum-goers, and bloggers).


[url="https://qtrial.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_eS6dkpyvv3sbmux"]https://qtrial.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_eS6dkpyvv3sbmux[/url]


If you'd like to continue the discussion here, feel free to leave a comment when you finish. Here are the discussion points:

1 - Subscription required to try
2 - Free 30-day trial
3 - Free unlimited-time trial
4 - Completely free-to-play

The focus is[list]
[*]What do [b]MMO veterans, forum-goers, armchair designers, and bloggers [/b](i.e. [b]Not[/b]-The-Average-Gamer) see as the maximum barrier to entry [i]to even try an MMO in the first place[/i]?
[*]Just how big is the gap between Free unlimited-time trials and Free-to-play for you? If there is a gap, why does it matter to you?
[/list]
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I think it would be a good idea to keep this thread on the topic of tying game design to business model, so I'm not going to talk about the differences in financing each (as I'm assuming you already understand them thoroughly). Here are my thoughts on how each model affects my actions:

I took your survey and rated them at this:
Subscription to try: 5
30-day trial: 7
Unlimited-time trial: 6
Free-to-Play: 6

Personally, I'm not that put off by a required subscription to try it out. If it looks really good and I hear great things about it, I have no qualms in paying the price of a dinner to try it out for a month. However, a 30-day trial is superior as I don't have to fork over my credit card information so early. And if I like the game enough, I get to keep the progress I made in the trial, so the transition is quite painless.

Both of these types of games tell me that it must be high quality (or at least, that was the intention. we know this doesn't always work out that way). Unlimited-time trials and free-to-play, on the other hand, give me pause. Even though I'm somewhat likely to try the game out, I'm more likely to consider myself trying out the game for much longer than its non-free cousins (an hence, I feel less inclined to keep playing). The reason for this is to see how the community evolves. With free games, the community is more likely to change, sometimes rapidly. If I feel that I'm just bumbling around in a virtual world where I never see a familiar face, I might as well be playing well-scripted single player games. Additionally, the developers may have less incentive to keep the game interesting and running smoothly. Content updates and customer support would be expected in subscription-based models, whereas there is a much less of an expectation for free games.

After writing this, I noticed something interesting: this is more of a psychological barrier than anything. My perception of how a particular game will play out is somewhat based on similar games that I played in the past. As you can probably figure out, my experiences with free-to-play games hasn't been all great, but if you are around my age, then we both know that the first free-to-play games either didn't last too long or couldn't keep up with the quality of other games. Runescape might be an counter example to this point, as it has lasted for over a decade, with frequent updates. This was likely due to their dual-business model: An area restricted to free-to-play, and additional content available for subscribers. This enabled them to make a significant amount of money and pull in lots of players at the same time.

So, if a game can break the perception that it is lower quality, less kept-up, or has quickly-to-dissolve communities, then it deserves a shot. But really, the entire industry needs to change. This is already beginning to happen with non-MMOs. League of Legends has been immensely popular and very well supported financially. Now we have to wait for the leap to MMOs, but considering that the finances required to build these sorts of projects are so extreme, it could be a while.

All in all, I will pay good money to play a quality game, and that is what drives the business. This generally applies to all types of products: Pay more money, get a better product. If I'm not paying anything, I can only expect so much.
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Thank w00t for taking the time to post. I believe your right -- that there is still some hesitancy to just try all the free to play games out there (not much, but some). Perhaps that will change in time, but you'd be amazed at how closely your scores reflect the average so far!

Apparently there's quite a few bloggers and designers who agree. I've posted this on a few MMO-related forums and blogs, and the numbers are remarkably consistent.

Often the argument is made for free-to-play that "it removes the barrier to entry". But as a subset of all players, "developer-like" players who actively voice their opinions still have a small resistance to F2P and score one point less than a 30-day trial.

I'll let this run for perhaps a week on the various forums and post my results. Thanks for posting your thoughts (and more importantly, the reasons for them). Edited by Humble Hobo
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You have a minor typo in your survey - "who's" where it should say "whose".

Me personally, I've enjoyed f2p games, and not found them to have more problems than games with a free trial, because games with a free trial tend to be plagued by spammers, botters, and beggars (f2p players who want p2p items and the game doesn't allow these to be sold through a marketplace). F2p games actually tend to have less goldfarming because the game itself usually sells gold cheaper than is worth the farmers' time. One of the most brilliant things I've seen is the way Perfect World lets players sell cash shop currency to each other for in-game currency; this leverages those players unwilling to spend cash and uses them to motivate those who are willing to spend to spend more. This combines well with making cash-shop purchases bound to an account, such that the player can switch them between characters but can't sell them. Overall subscription games have slightly superior play experience because the development effort is aimed at more worthwhile content rather than this month's new set of cash shop vanity items, and the game is less obnoxious about selling its cash shop to players and bribing players to spam their friends with invites. But, overall I spend less money on cash shop games and don't feel like I'm wasting time I paid for if I take a week off, so to me that balances out.
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I have completed the survey (but of course, I forgot everything as soon as I completed it... so I can't remember what weights I chose).

I don't really like having to pay upfront before being able to test the game for myself, but I usually don't have a problem making up my mind based on reviews, videos, or just playing the game somwhere else (like at a friend's or something). Depends on the price, of course. WoW's USD $15 is about as much as I would pay per month. Call me cheap but it really adds up eventually.

As for limited trial MMO's, then I might try it out, but there is also the whole data usage dimension. I know many of you guys don't have to take that into consideration but where I live, we don't have cheap unlimited internet and have to do with a relatively small data cap. If the MMO doesn't provide some kind of "streaming mode" where you can try the game without downloading 5GB+ beforehand, then I'll have to coordinate the download into my monthly usage, and by the time I am able to download it completely I might have forgotten, lost interest, or found something else.

I really like unlimited trial MMO's, but I'm probably biased because the first ever MMO I played followed that model, Dofus, and you could usually purchase free "codes" (which you converted to subscription time) illegally for in-game currency from dealers. Sure, it was against the TOS, but what a great way of life it was for us who couldn't pay the monthly subscription - I was too young to pay for myself at the time. And it actually accounted for a significant chunk of the server economy. You actually played towards affording your next week of subscription time, it was kind of a part-time job. Anyway, I digress. It depends on the game. I certainly like having all the time I like before deciding whether to invest serious work into an MMO.

Completely free games, I tend to stay away, because there is usually a reason they are free. But you can sometimes be surprised. I mean, take private servers of existing MMO's, they are usually free (paying would defeat the purpose) and some are very populated and high quality, so clearly it is possible. And I've heard good things from Guild Wars, so I would definitely try it out if I enjoy the story/lore/etc..

But I haven't played an MMO in months now because of personal life reasons, so take my comments above with a grain of salt, they might be nostalgia-tainted.
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