F2P Discussion at Tobold’s Place

Tobold ponders:

Imagine a Free2Play game with an item shop that offered both purely decorative items, and items which gave you some sort of advantage in game… Which one would you rather buy?
I have the distinct impression that previous discussions on the subject were influenced by the contribution of people who actually wouldn’t buy anything.

This is a very important point. If you do not spend money, your opinion does not count for much. “I want you to pay for the game and for me to get everything I want and for you not to get anything I don’t want you to.”

The excluded middle discussed in the comments is paying for content, the model from Wizard101, DDO, and LotRO whereby you pay to unlock quests and zones. Of course, those games also dabble in cosmetics and “convenience” items, some of the latter trending dangerously into “game advantage.” And then we have League of Legends, which sells content, cosmetics, and convenience with no further gameplay effects and hopefully is rolling in currency.

: Zubon

14 thoughts on “F2P Discussion at Tobold’s Place”

  1. The question is rhetoric as the answer is obvious. People buy both, depending on their preferences?

    Your statement holds true for cosmetics, but when LOTRO goes on to expand PVMP their +50 stat sales and +combat run speed (!) items are no longer “convenience” or borderline dangerously close to *game advantages*, they ARE. And then people are right to bitch and moan about that. I hope GW2 never goes this path.

    1. Firmly agree with Longasc on this issue…

      PaytoWin = people who torture puppies and kittens for fun.

      There is NEVER a circumstance where a developer should use pay2win if they want my participation.

  2. However, the whole trick about the F2P thing is getting people to buy things they did not intend to buy when starting the game. Therefore, the illusion that one can compete with those n00bish cash shop junkies by spending a bit more time and otherwise being just way better than them is vitally important for game developers, because it gets people playing, and people who play will eventually buy stuff — at least a great many of them — although they did not intend to do so. Therefore, in this case also the opinion of people who think they’d never buy anything in an item shop counts, which is paradoxical enough.

  3. For F2P, I’d say that the people not spending money have the opinions that probably count the most, as they’re likely to indicate (overtly or subtly) what their threshold is likely to be.

    Isn’t this the market that’s trying to convert those into customers?

    1. As both you and Naum suggest, their opinions matter only if they are wrong. No, if someone never intends to pay and wants to play for free, his view of your economic model does not matter because he will be contributing to it. As Naum’s wrongness contention suggests, behavior is what matter, so let us see what people actually buy.

      People lie. People are wrong about their own preferences and plans.

      Non-profits know: almost all people who are “thinking about donating this year” will still be thinking about it next year. Getting non-spenders to spend is vastly less remunerative than catering towards spenders.

  4. One interesting feature about Tobold’s responses is that more people (including myself) admitted to buying items which help you progress in the game and fewer people admitted to buying cosmetic items.

    This highlights a flaw in the often made argument that companies should only sell cosmetic items and not items which enhance your abilities. Games have to make money so they need to sell stuff that people want to buy.

    1. “This highlights a flaw in the often made argument that companies should only sell cosmetic items and not items which enhance your abilities. Games have to make money so they need to sell stuff that people want to buy.”

      Another flaw being that not all enhancement items should be categorized as a satanic cash grab from the company. +20% exp for two hours of game time? I’m okay with that. +10% more badges in end-game dungeons? Sure. A gun that is more powerful than anything acquirable by people just playing the game? That’s my line in the sand.

  5. I’m not sure I agree with the premise that you have to spend money in F2P shops, to be entitled to participate in a discussion around the game and how cash shop items work. If a game opens it’s doors as F2P – everyone who downloads it should be entitled to contribute to that discussion.

    Just my $.02. Not sure what two-cents buys you in a cash shop these days. Probably not much.

    Crazy idea. How about, instead of F2P games, and instead of $15/month subs, just give me an MMO with an exclusive, hardcore club of people paying $90/month for the privilege of being there.

  6. Like Scopique pointed out, there’s a subtlety being ignored here that makes all the difference. If someone hasn’t bought anything, they could be in one of three completely different groups:

    Apathetics, who simply don’t care about the issue at all, and are thus fine with any type of a cash shop.

    Actives, who refuse to buy because none of the currently available cash shops cater to their preferences.

    Opponents, who categorically reject any type of a cash shop.

    These three groups shouldn’t be treated the same way.

  7. About LoL: To me there model works because its 99% fluff (skins), but it has been since day one and the fluff is both reasonably priced and of pretty high quality (IMO of course). The stuff that’s not fluff is all stuff you can get just playing the game, and at a reasonable rate too (no super-long grind if you don’t pay like the typical F2P garbage).

    Of course, LoL actually being a good game helps a lot in the profits department, and most F2P games don’t have that going for them. This drives the need to feed into the weak wills of those who want to just buy power in a videogame because they believe it will make them happy.

  8. I bought lots of convenience items in DDO, and paid to unlock areas in Wizard 101 (for two accounts as well). So both of those seem to work at parting me with money. However I don’t play either anymore.
    The only cosmetic items I’ve ever bought were a few minipets in WoW, but not mounts. For some reason buying a mount seemed silly, I’d probably feel the same about armor. But since minipets are silly to begin with, I did not mind buying them.

  9. The key to LoL’s health commercially speaking is that it adds a new champion every other week. LoL expands horizontally, twice a month, giving players new options without making power differentials worse. This means the game’s depth is constantly increasing without alienating players with new systems to grind through.

    Imagine a scenario in which Blizzard makes WoW F2P and starts selling classes and/or talent trees….then released a new one every month. WoW is more complex that LoL, of course, but I can see big MMOs really benefitting from a model like LoL’s, if they were to bake it in at the outset.

  10. What is going improve my enjoyment of the game most? That’ the question.

    In Foresaken World there was absolutely no doubt. I had to get the right cosmetic gear as a top priority, as having something less striptacular than the standard female outfits was by far the biggest win of anything in the cash shop. Cosmetic all the way.

    In Jade Dynasty there was also no question, had to (perfectly legally in that game) buy the gold for use for NPC purchases, and get the inventory space increasing item, simply due to the pricing of NPC services and the tweeny tiny inventory. Straight up advantage there.

    I’m playing my LoTRO F2P account, rather than my LoTRO lifetime account because F2P doesn’t give me rest xp, which means I don’t out-level the quests so much which improves my enjoyment of the game to such an extent that (for me) that it outweighs the fact that I have to actually pay for a whole bunch of stuff I actually already have. So I’m paying through the nose for a gameplay change most people would consider if anything a disadvantage.

    In EQ2X I’ve bought races, classes, and tickets to post stuff on the auction house. Races are probably cosmetic, classes are probably content, and auction house tickets are some sort of advantage I guess.

    In City of Heroes (subscription version) I’ve bought characters slots and costume packs. Most costume packs you get a power, the only one I can remember is Ninja run, which is a great travel power mechanically with an absolutely hideous animation that I can’t stand. The stuff I got the most use out of were the costume pieces in the Wedding Pack which didn’t have a power.

    ‘Advantage’ vs ‘Cosmetic’ isn’t a very useful distinction. Sometimes ‘Advantage’ brings the fun sometimes ‘Cosmetic’ does. Sometimes something that’s billed as ‘Advantage’ is no fun at all and I’ll go to perverse lengths (including paying money) to avoid it.

    So a bad cash shop item is one that actively brings the anti-fun. Either when you buy it — Hello items that give you a loot roll for cool stuff which you’ll inevitably fail! PWE games I’m looking at you — by it’s very existence — Hello LoTRO’s obnoxious cash shop UI integration, took design lessons at spam school did you Turbine? Even EQ2x gets by with a discreet button and a popup or two on login, and I couldn’t even find the darn button at first in Foresaken World — and finally the one that everyone fears, the item that screws up the balance of the game such that everything now has to be rebalanced around you having bought it, some cosmetic items are just that awesome ;)

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