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Author Topic: Can a free MMO work?  (Read 13088 times)

Trerro

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Can a free MMO work?
« on: December 04, 2009, 07:12:52 am »
This may seem like an odd topic for a debate thread, but well... read on. :P

As you're probably aware, there are 2 main business models for MMOs - subscription (where you buy the game and pay a monthly fee for server access, or in some cases, get the game free and pay just a sub) and cash shop (where the game is "free", but many items cost real rather than in-game money.) Occasionally, a hybrid of the 2 is used (usually the game is a free download, the subscription is cheaper than normal but present, and the cash shop plays a smaller role than normal, but is also present.)

"Free" MMOs face 3 very problematic facts:
1. They want to make the same profits as subscription ones.
2. They NEED to make at least a good percentage of those profits to stay in business.
3. Most players, given a choice, won't pay if it's truly optional... but will still cost as much money to keep in the game as a paying player.

What this means is that those who DO pay need to make up for those who don't... to the point that the average paying player needs to pay several times what he would for a subscription game.

This is an obvious problem, as while players who loby the game and have the cash will happily pay into the game, they won't be willing to spend much more than they would on a normal MMO. That means you need to make your cash items attractive enough that people will buy them because they actually want to use them heavily in game, not just because they loby the game and want to support it.

I've seen several games try to keep things relatively sane - selling expensive mounts, items that save time but that don't actually make you stronger (things like the ability to teleport to the entrance of anywhere are particularly common), +xp items (gets you up faster, but doesn't give any actually advantage over other max level players), things like an auto-loot function (ensures you don't lose loot, but doesn't make anything drop that wouldn't have), etc. What I generally find is that games that start with only these sorts of items quickly change to selling actual gear, and items that make a HUGE difference... and then often releasing new areas of the world that pretty much require the cash items to survive - or worse, locking them if you don't buy a (usually rental) item that looks an aweful lot like a subscription on top of a cash shop. In either case, these games tend to start out very promising, and burn out as the cash shop gets more and more insane, eventually losing most of their playerbase. Even people who WILL pay tend to leave at that point, since it becomes impossible to keep a guild active and MMOs aren't fun when there's no interaction with other players.

Obviously, some companies just don't care. They know they can gouge players for a few months, and that they'll kill the game doing it, but then they're just grab another game and do it again. (Companies importing Korean games are especially big on this, since of course, they never have to actually make the game.)

Sometimes though, it really does seem like a company IS trying to run a fair game, and really doesn't want to screw their players... but the money simply isn't there. The result is that they're forced to try more and more desperate measures, and the result is well... the same thing as the gouging companies, it just takes longer for it to happen. (This is especially annoying because it's impossible to tell a company that did this because they had no choice vs. one that planned it from the beginning to hook more people in before setting off the trap.)

Having played more than a dozen online games that use the "free" model (mostly MMOs, but a few others as well), I have yet to see a single one other than browser games pull it off successfully (and browser games of course have a MUCH lower cost of operation.)

I currently think that's it's TECHNICALLY possible, but because it's such a delicate balancing act, it's extremely difficult. I have yet to see it working in action.

Do you think it's actually possible for one of these "free" games to succeed without being horribly broken? If so, how do you think it would work, and more importantly, if you've had better luck than I have in finding one, can you think of one that did it well, and describe what they did differently from the rest?

(For the curious - there's 2 reasons I'm running this thread. One is simply because it's often discussed topic, and I think a good change from the usual political crap, and the other is because, as an alliance where we have a LOT of people who are adverse to subscription games, discussion of this topic is quite relevant to the alliance, and where we can bring it in the future.)

Edit: I changed the words "more than a dozen online games" to be a link to a post listing said games.
« Last Edit: December 04, 2009, 07:31:31 am by Trerro »
Order of Chaos (Ragnarok Online, iRO Ymir) guildmaster - Mwrip (99/70 High Wizzie)

Dragon Code: DC2.Dw Gm L7f W T Palw Sks Cbk Bfl/"puns" A Fr-- M O H-- $- Fo R++ Ac++ J++ S+ I--# Tc++ E+

"I never knew faith had to come with an instruction manual." - Source Unknown
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"Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." - Benjamin Franklin

GPH

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Re: Can a free MMO work?
« Reply #1 on: December 04, 2009, 04:02:52 pm »
Or option 3: Guild Wars :P

Pay a one off payment similar to the amount you would pay for a normal game, play game. They release an add on (I think the add ons where slightly cheaper than a normal game but slightly more than you'd normally pay for an add on). Play game.

The obvious disadvantage is that as they release the new expansions (including new classes and skills) your skill set will no longer be the optimal skill set. However you'll still be playing the exact same areas with the same enemies so it won't actually make you worse...it'll just make other people better. I originally stopped playing after they bought out the first expansion because I didn't want to buy it and I'd completed all the content from the first game. Recently went back and bought all the expansions in a big cheap bundle.

Other disadvantages of this system include the potential abandoning of old areas when new ones are released. This was solved to a certain extent by the release of various titles which required adventuring in the older areas but they're still pretty deserted now I'll admit (as is most of GW compared to when they were actively releasing things for it).

So there are quite a few disadvantages to this system. That said, why do I like it? It's all about the mindset that you approach the game with. When I originally bought guild wars, for the price of a game I got...a game. Well...I actually spent many more hours playing than I do most games I buy so I got a pretty good value game. For the price of the second expansion I would have got...a second game. And so on.

Over the long term if you buy all the expansions it probably works out about the same as if they just had a subscription service going. The advantage is that you don't HAVE to buy the expansions if you don't want to but get to keep on playing the game. Or you can choose to buy them when you have enough money instead of having to make a commitment to pay every month. Or you can buy some of the expansions and not others. Or whatever.

Also theres no sense of pressure. I've never paid for an MMO and I doubt I ever will simply because I don't like the idea of somewhere down the road sitting there and deciding to play the game not because I want to but because I feel like I haven't got my moneys worth that month.


So in summary, there are problems with the guild wars system but I enjoyed it and definitely that I got my monies worth from the game/games.

Disclaimers - I have almost never PvPd, I much prefer PvE...it seems likely that not buying the expansions would make a significant difference in PvPing so keep that in mind :P
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oddblob :)

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Re: Can a free MMO work?
« Reply #2 on: December 04, 2009, 04:19:18 pm »
Damn it GPH you beat me to it..i was gonna suggest GW

although ive got all 3 campagins (not expanstion) :) (btw im quite nerdy when it come t GW, i played it forages) and the Expnation

and i think there quite good, you got the basic MMO game play with a few changes like, not open world, and the party system and so on..i wont keep on as its off topic..but the story is defiantly well explaiend, with the best being Nightfall

however as well as the thing GPH pointed out, it is defiantly decreasing in numbers now, the english districts are practically epty of pleopl because everyone's completed it. although whenever GW2 come out (who knows) im sure the number will start to pick up again.



in answer to the debat.

no

out of all the MMOs ive played, ive yet to see a "free" one work...like trerro said, the shops aer normally way to expensive yatta yatta.
and even if the shops aren't to expensive, there more than likely to have items that you NEED to progress, and there's gonna be loads of em so it's not free

if however, were talking "cheaper than normal" MMO's then yes i agree that its possibly, but so difficult there yet to be one that succseds


P.S. according to xfire (which i got after i started playing GW i think) ive played 877 hours of GW :S
well know...this is an act called mating, but there are a few differences between human beings and animals that you should know about....

         

oarsof6

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Re: Can a free MMO work?
« Reply #3 on: December 04, 2009, 04:53:57 pm »
I think that KOC was a great model, supported by advertising and free for everyone. To make that work, however, you need MILLIONS of hits per day, and it's hard to keep that interest going for a long period of time.

1420r2d

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Re: Can a free MMO work?
« Reply #4 on: December 04, 2009, 08:16:39 pm »
Well this is kinda of topic but, we can always try getting the game, for example I have World of warcraft but i stopped playing 2 months later and i dont wanna pay anymore. There are custom servers with no fee, and most of them are stable. If any of you ppl know a MMO with custom no fee servers we can try playing there

Trerro

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Re: Can a free MMO work?
« Reply #5 on: December 04, 2009, 09:49:37 pm »
GPH: While I liked Guild Wars, as you said, it really is a subscription, just done via expansions instead of anything else. As for feeling bad about paying a month you don't really use, the way I've always looked at it is this:
If I buy a normal game, it's going to cost 40-50 bucks. Some games stay interesting for months, you play them maybe 20 hours, total, and are done with them. This means you're paying about $2/hour to play them. An MMO is usually $12-15/month, so if I'm playing the game at least 10 hours/month, it's clearly worth it. That amounts to logging in 3-4 times per month, which even the most casual of players will do.

Oars: That only works with browser games. Generally speaking, you're going to make 1-2 pennies per active player per day with that model. With a browser game that's fine, as 2-5 people can support a game with 300k+ players, and server costs won't be more than a few K per month. The KoC guys said in an interview that they made $180k in their first year, with 20k going to pay for the server. That gives each of them a 40k salary. That's actually not bad at all, considering it's not a hard game to maintain, and they could easily run 2-3 games at a time, giving them 80-120k salaries. Hell, had they actually cared about KoC, they probably could made that much with just KoC. It's difficult to tell how many players KoC had at its peak since they didn't purge inactives, but I'm guessing it was around 100k, giving a staff to player ratio of 25,000:1. Again, works fine in a webgame, but there's no way you could even do a GM team with that ratio on an MMO, much less also cover actually building the game. For a webgame, you need a programmer, an art guy, and a creative person to build it. Very often, the creative person is also the programmer or the art guy (or they're both creative people and do the design together), and as most webgames require minimal art, the art can be freelanced out. In other words, if you're a creative programmer with a bit of money to spare, you can build the whole game minus the art yourself, then briefly hire an artist to handle that. This makes the dev cost of the game pretty much negligable. Even when there's a larger team, it's usually a group of friends building the game in their free time, then simply splitting the profits. This gives a dev cost of maybe 200 bucks to buy a stack of programming books, and a launch cost of about the same to launch the game with a low-end, but upgradable, dedicated server. At those prices, if your game is at ALL good, you'll be turning a profit. MMOs take dozens of people at least a year to build, and you need to pay salaries and have an office building for that process. Any decent MMO is going to take a least a few mil to launch (20 mil+ for major ones), AND you need a much higher staff:player ratio once it does launch, in addition to continuing to pay the dev team to make new content, and having more expensive servers as your game has to process far more crap than a webgame. I don't care if you're the most popular MMO of all time - there's no way in hell you're covering all of those expenses with just ads.

1420: Private servers are illegal - ACTUALLY illegal, not just piracy illegal. The people running them are taking someone else's work and turning a profit from it. It's true that the small privates tend to be ignored because they aren't worth the real company's time, and they don't care if people are hitting 100x exp servers to test builds before making a character on a main server. Whenever a private gets large enough that it actually gets a playerbase approaching that of a real server however, it gets promptly sued out of existence, as the main company isn't going to try to compete with people running servers that don't have to actually build a game. This means that while, yes, you may find a stable private, you're not going to find one with a population that actually supports an economy and a collection of guilds. Additionally, privates are famous for GMs that will ban people at the drop of the hat, invincible guilds consisting of friends of the GMs (or the GMs themselves) having gear they could never have actually obtained, etc. The servers are also usually hosted on EXTREMELY limited hardware (often some guy's cable modem and 4 year old PC), so they're stable only because ~10 people are logged in at a time. They're fine for build testing and screwing around with weird settings, but when you actually want to play the game, they suck - so even if they were legal, they wouldn't be worth playing on.
Order of Chaos (Ragnarok Online, iRO Ymir) guildmaster - Mwrip (99/70 High Wizzie)

Dragon Code: DC2.Dw Gm L7f W T Palw Sks Cbk Bfl/"puns" A Fr-- M O H-- $- Fo R++ Ac++ J++ S+ I--# Tc++ E+

"I never knew faith had to come with an instruction manual." - Source Unknown
"My political ideal is the democracy. Let every man be respected as an individual, but let no man be idolized" - Einstein
"Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." - Benjamin Franklin

1420r2d

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Re: Can a free MMO work?
« Reply #6 on: December 04, 2009, 11:46:20 pm »
Um ok. I didn't see it like this. Then I don't have any suggestions for now.

The_Black_Assalant

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Re: Can a free MMO work?
« Reply #7 on: March 14, 2011, 02:23:43 am »
Haha resurectiong the dead here.  Can a free MMO work,no   

First you have your server cost,even if you are going to buy your own privet server your looking at a major cash dump,like said 10 players on a old 4 year pc would be ok,if you talking something like runescape's base 750k+ active players around the clock your gonna need a fleet of server's.

2.The better the actual game play,the higher the player base will be. If you think about it,art work is the corner stone of your game. if you wanted 8 bit graphics you would buy a nintendo. being cool cost and in mmo's your either top banana or in the delete bin.

there is an exception and KOC was a good exzample.  I loby games like KOB,and that one we were playin where nosh was godly on the top of the pole.    If you wanted a web based game like those and managed a high enough player base that you could use ad's to support it you might make a profit but i dont really consider them mmo. 
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