Free to Play – Is it the answer?

Happy Monday to one and all or Tuesday if it happens to be so in your part of the world.

Here’s the thing, many games are going free to play nowadays.  Usually they start off in the “premium pay by month” subscription, then as interest dwindles or newer and better games come out and the population becomes that of a east Texas highway to generate more people, the game is offered at a free rate.

Whew, that hurt to write.

I guess I’m under the theory that if I really like a game, I’m going to pay to play it – have access to everything and just play it as it was meant to be.  Free trials aside of course.

I think on a purely social basis (yeah, yeah Community – I know) it is difficult to maintain the core community numbers when there are so many who come and play for the limited free access. On one hand you have more players, on the other hand you have more fly by nighters who really have no interest in playing beyond what they are allowed to for free.  These short timers can make it seem like more people are playing, but are there?

The question is – does it really generate more revenue by having a game free to play?  Well not more revenue if everyone has to pay of course, but in a declining game will allowing people to play for free up your subscriptions?  The short answer is yes – the not so short answer is maybe not unless the free areas are designed in a way for someone to want to play more.  It’s kind of like an addiction, if the drug you are trying gets you hooked immediately, chances are you will pay to get that feeling of euphoria once again.

So the pattern of most MMOs is – launch with pay per month, then depending on how it does, eventually leads to a 30 day free trial (which you are usually limited by level, gear, etc) and then it used to pretty much disappear into the sunset much to the chagrin of the most dedicated players.  Now, they go Free to Play and hope it maintains enough paying subscribers through this new chunk of players to keep the game from sunsetting.

The problem is an interesting one – if the game model starts as a Free to Play game, then that’s what you get – but usually you don’t expect much.  If a triple A game becomes a Free to Play, then more folks will make the effort to try it or re-try it, but will they stay?  Also, lets not forget that the free to play players are sometimes always too cheap to pay for any game. I’ll call those the stingy F2Pers. That’s right, calling you guys out.

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