December 12, 2012

Free-to-play is a very different model

Welcome to Free for All, a weekly column highlighting the world of Free to Play/Freemium games! The new generation of free-to-play games are not only of the same quality as many “standard” MMOs, but they give players a chance to try them out before they ever spend a dime (if they choose to). I am going to try to make sense out of the masses with this column, so wish me luck and thanks for reading!

There really is no difference in allowing your players free unlimited access to a limited amount of content, and allowing your players that same limited access to a heftier amount of content, with the option to add on. The “velvet rope” is a great way to hook the player, without making them feel rushed. Often, after playing through a 14 day trial and being faced with the purchase of a digital copy of the game (50 dollars) as well as with a monthly fee (15 dollars) and paying for any expansions (instead of getting them for free which is the practice in most velvet rope games), I decide to take my time and money elsewhere.

But if that trial had been unlimited, I would have had even more time to build my character, to forge relationships and to explore the world. Essentially, I could play to the same limit but on my schedule. This allows players who work many hours, have children or are generally busy to enjoy the game with the option to buy.

So, if you look at most popular “freemium” games, you will see a very successful pricing option. But, is it truly “free” or just a subscription game under a different title? It is a little of both, it seems — somewhere squarely in the middle. And developers are noticing! In an older interview, Kingsisle’s Todd Coleman gave some insight into how this model works for Wizard101:

Free-to-play is a very different model from retail boxes, WoW may be an exception to this, but you come out and day 1, you get all these sales. And that is effectively the highest number users you’re going to have, because the next day, you start losing and you bleed and you bleed and you bleed and, eventually, you put an expansion pack out and then hope that pops up a whole new curve like the last one, only a little higher or at least equal to it.

So, you’re fighting a war of attrition the entire time. FTP is not like that, at least it hasn’t been for us. Every day we get more people coming in, and the game is sticking up or keeping a pretty good chunk of them. So our loyal fan base of subscribers grows, our number of people spending micro payments and buying areas one by one by one, that’s growing. And then the number of peak players grows and then the number of free trial players grows. And then, we still have people that signed on back in September when we first launched that are just deciding now to become subscribers. I mean, it’s crazy. It’s a very, very different model.

You may also like