I was reluctant to agree with this article’s extremely negative assessment of Star Wars: The Old Republic‘s F2P model until the author got to his own ideas for how it should have been implemented; then it all began to click into place.
Conclusion? Lock out parts of the story and give free players unlimited access to multiplayer content. In other words, the exact opposite of what BioWare actually did.
It began to make sense to me because it dredged up memories from my childhood, long before “free to play” existed as a business model. Sometime after shareware stopped being a thing, developers who wanted to give away portions of their game for free (as a gift, not a demo, which is a different situation) did indeed tend to give away the multiplayer portions. It was the singleplayer content that would be reserved for paying customers.
It’s possible that this has been going on since well before I remember, but my earliest memory of this happening was Return to Castle Wolfenstein. Half a decade later Sierra did it with F.E.A.R. (which is annoying to type, but not as much so as S.T.A.L.K.E.agh my fingers). Just a few months ago EA of all people started giving away the multiplayer-only Battlefield 1942. (I suspect somebody pulled the old “ask them while they’re half-asleep” trick on EA’s execs.)
In all of these cases, the reaction that I perceived amongst gamers was mostly “holy shit that’s awesome.” It was largely seen as a gift, not as a marketing ploy. Given the timing, you could make a reasonably strong case for the latter two being attempts to drum up interest in, and thus ultimately revenue for, the console version of F.E.A.R. and Battlefield 3, respectively, but the fact that people didn’t approach that fact nearly as cynically as they do TOR’s free-to-play system just goes to show that there’s a right way and a wrong way to go about carving up your game and giving pieces of it away for free.
And while there is, correspondingly, a right way and a wrong way to do free-to-play, the fact that publishers now regard it as a business model rather than a gift is probably a large part of the problem. If you give somebody a cupcake (or a hit of crack) in an attempt to entice them into buying more cupcakes (or crack) in the future, they still tend to accept the initial cupcake at face value, because technically there are no strings attached. Poorly-implemented F2P is more akin to giving somebody a free cupcake in a lockbox and then charging them $5 for the key, while still pretending that it constitutes a gift.
Wait, what was my point with all this? I guess that back when developers and publishers had a better reputation for generosity, it was usually the multiplayer portions of their games they were giving away while charging for the singleplayer, rather than vice versa. I’m just observing a correlation there, rather than claiming that A causes B. For the record, most well-received F2P MMOs more closely resemble the author’s other suggestion:
Instead, I’d go the extra light-year and sell alternate space ships. Currently every class only ever gets one ship, but I’d plunk down alternatives and charge a good $50 to $100 in the store for them. Seriously. It’s the ultimate cosmetic upgrade and a perfect example of the kind of thing you can sell for very big bucks.
Of course, if you did that, you’d also have to let players ride on each other’s ships. How else would you show off your new digs to your buddies? Then take another step to add a ship decoration system, where you can get furniture and what not and decorate your ship, much like house decoration in all those other MMORPGs. Have looted decorations, have crafted decorations, and — of course — fill the cash shop with premium decorations.
This pretty much exactly describes Star Trek Online’s business model (minus the furniture), although STO suffers from its acquisition by one of the shoddiest F2P publishers on the planet. At any rate, the STO players who can actually still access their accounts don’t seem to complain too much about it.