8-Bit Thought Bubbles

So my understanding is that there is some real misunderstanding currently about World of Warcraft supposedly going F2P. Well let me assure you, that isn’t the case….yet. I have no idea why the media is touting the current offer from WoW as F2P. If that is the case then Warhammer Online is F2P also, but I must have missed those headlines.

You’ll remember that way back in a previous article after PAX East I mentioned that I do think F2P is going to become the model that all MMOs – and likely computer games in general – follow in the near future. I simply don’t think there is another viable option given the scope and quality of the games already offered in this way. Let’s try to cut through the misinformation though so that you can find out what is truly out there.

World of Warcraft now has an unlimited free trial. Before they have offered both 7 and 14-day trials but now they’ve just said you can play up to level 20 forever. Once you hit 20, that is it, you can go no further. There are also various other restriction on the account to prevent creative people from exploiting this and farming whatever it is you can farm in WoW at level 20. I feel like a giant such as WoW doing this indicates something bigger than they are willing to admit is happening with the industry.

The list of F2P MMOs online at this point is staggering. A quick look at Freemmorpglist will show you that. Most of these are shabby in quality but it does show an industry trend when former AAA titles like Age of Conan shows up in the space. In the good old days games that hemorrhaged users just got shut down. Now even a failed experiment like APB can come back in some bastardized F2P form to have another go at success via microtransactions.

I think the bigger problem is that now you are getting hybrids of the original F2P games that Nexon mastered with games like Maplestory, Combat Arms and Vindictus. Now you have games that come very close to, if not surpass the quality of, a game showing its age like WoW in titles such as Lord of the Rings Online, Guild Wars and Dungeons and Dragons Online. These games all have their issues but they are technically “free to play.”

Are they really? Guild Wars simply eliminated the monthly fee but the client is still not free to play. You're buying the game for presumably $50 and then buying subsequent expansions whenever they come out if you please. Free to KEEP playing, but not free to play. Warhammer Online and WoW have adopted the unlimited free trial that just restricts how far you can progress. Anyone who thinks that level 20 is “getting a quarter of WoW for free” doesn’t know what they are talking about. Level grinding and content always gets longer the further into the game you go. Getting to level 20 is EASY.

Age of Conan – a game I was once very fond of – has adopted and even more confusing model that I’ve read about and still don’t fully understand. You can play for free with a few races and classes, but then have to pay to upgrade to other things and certain dungeons and areas. People who already subscribed but choose to go free can still keep existing characters but I’m sure micropurchasing will rule the land soon enough.

Even the mighty valve has hopped on the F2P train with Team Fortress 2 going free. I guess they are counting on people buying massive amounts of hats! It is also possible that a game that old is just not selling anymore and the revenue lost can be made up for by a few new people buying hats. Yes- hats are important enough to TF2 to mention in three straight sentences.

In the end I’m still enjoying Rift despite its subscription model and I know that Star Wars: The Old Republic will start off strong due to name recognition even if it won’t be free to play. I do think this is the future of PC gaming though. If a publisher can get me hooked on a game odds are I’ll spend money on it at some point.

The most recent example of alienating a fanbase and doing it wrong can be seen in Eve Online and the current fiasco over cosmetic micropurchasing options when it flies in the face of what your consumer sees in the game. It's hard to ignore the overwhelming feeling that when the king – and don’t get yourself by thinking that WoW ISN’T the king – starts doing unlimited trials to lure people into addiction and subscription, something fundamental is changing.

In the end I’m not sure what my point is. Perhaps I’m just trying to convince myself that this isn’t a bad thing for the industry. It gives me the option to TRY A GAME and since releasing a good demo is apparently dead, that's what F2P represents to me. It's never REALLY free to be competitive, but if you just want to play it is hard to argue this is a bad thing.

It is worth repeating what I read on another site though and I wish I could give them credit – probably Rock Paper Shotgun – why not just bring back demos?