F2Ps are more social?

Related topics: Tesh, Nils, Tobold, Syp.

Many of the current free-to-play arguments are based on assumptions; on certain player mindsets, on certain items up for sale that then can, will, could, should,might affect somebody somehow sometime. Or not. I’ve a bit of a problem with that in general because I believe MMO players are grown-ups and if they are not, they shouldn’t be handling credit cards. Either way, it’s not for me to tell somebody how to live his life, real or virtual or how to spend his own money, in “right” or “wrong” ways. Down that road there are only double standards wherever you turn.

That aside, common misconceptions about the F2P payment model are “players will buy items because they have to” or “if a player buys nothing, it’s clearly because he couldn’t afford it”. My favorite is the classist fallacy where really poor players are apparently excluded from F2P, but not from sub-games. I hope you perceive just how many hypothetical assumptions are needed for this to be true.

Instead, let me elaborate on why I actually believe that F2Ps might be the more “social” games like that, social in the sense of caring for more people than yourself. For argument’s sake, let’s assume too that there is such a thing as a poor MMO player in desperate, existential need to optimize his money, rather than players who are simply unwilling to shift around priorities (for whatever reason):

1) F2Ps are open to everybody. Unlike a sub-based game that already pre-selects the player base from the beginning and excludes players who might not be able to afford subs, F2Ps actually let everybody partake. In some MMOs this means almost a full access, few extras excluded (such as endgame relevant boosts) that a more casual player might not even care for. In other MMOs, the item shop matters more but either way everyone gets to play the game first and a casual player can still hang out with his more dedicated friends. No money doesn’t mean not your party!

2) In F2Ps, some players pay for others. Realistically the percentage of players spending any or much money is (currently still) low, compared to the mass of “freeloaders”. Since the game can be played for free by definition, some players will finance a system others benefit from without same contribution. Now that might vex you, if you belong to the big spenders. OR you could look at it this way: Those who have more and/or want to spend more, fund those who will not and/or cannot afford the same. This would be called the principle of solidarity in a social state. You can’t afford to play an MMO? Well, I can and I’m happy to take you along! (This is very European!)

3) By offering you to buy that backpack rather than to grind for it, F2Ps make it easier to include players with less time. Time is a currency; in fact it is the currency in MMOs; if you have more time to play, you have more time to progress and more time/opportunity to make money – potentially. The player who works a lot more or simply has more on his plate of real-life “duties”, is at a disadvantage. The item shop allows him (if he so chooses) to turn some of his real money into a time gain, by buying a useful item straight away, avoiding a grind someone else might enjoy. While I’m no fan of short-cuts in MMOs, there are “grinds and grinds” and there are good and bad types of short-cuts. Here, it’s an added choice that caters to different players and makes for happier co-existence.

Still think sub-games are fairer in handling players, when our circumstances are not equal by nature and never can be?

Three popular counter arguments

A) One popular counter-argument in this context is the question of meritocracy; players should earn their achievements without any “assistance from real money” in the game.
This type of reasoning is based on the assumption that MMO players aren’t already affected by real money or time to begin with. I’m not sure how I “earned” that access to the sub-based game other than with real money. I’d also argue that purchased items like backpacks or cosmetics don’t equal a heroic reward or actual ingame accomplishment. Items are not the same as achievements, although that is a common mistake as they usually correlate in MMOs (certainly do in WoW). You can rest assured nobody will confuse them so easily in a game where everyone knows which items are shop exclusive (if this exists) and which are raid epics for example. Anyway, meritocracy is no social concept to begin with.

B) There is a particularly cynical argument, that goes something like “an item shop is disingenuous to the players who can’t afford it”. – So much more generous to exclude the person right away, assuming subscriptions are the alternative? If we assume a “poor player” like that, we should assume he can either afford a sub OR some ingame items. There’s no reason to suggest an F2P is forcing players to spend any or more money than that, in fact I wonder if you’d even get up to those 140 Euros / year which are roughly what you would pay for 12 months of WoW subs plus half an expansion. If you do, it’s likely that you were “tempted” by extra shinies in which case you don’t qualify as a poor player. Case dismissed.

C)F2P will disadvantage the less liquid player at later stages / endgame”. Still assuming this was a pro-subscription argument: if an F2P is designed to require (and that in itself remains questionable) micro-transactions in order to be competitive in endgame, we might as well assume the same player would never get to see end-game in a sub-based MMO to begin with. We established that he was already turned down at the door. If however we agree this awfully poor player doesn’t exist, B) applies once more: the player would only be excluded at endgame if the item costs greatly surpass what he’d otherwise pay for subscriptions. For such an F2P we could actually say a player gets everything for free but endgame, whereas in WoW he gets everything for free, full stop. Only that in WoW’s case there is no choice to skip paying for an endgame he might not care for.

Now, Nils would tell me how this last line is faulty; while you might pay for everything by default in WoW, it actually means you get everything. I’ll explain:

The F2P player might choose what he wants to pay for more consciously – but that also means he has to pay for it. If you skip endgame, you will spend that money elsewhere because the game offers the best RP items in the shop too, or the best PvP items. The WoW player on the other hand can play just as selectively, but he never gets asked to pay more or less anywhere. If he wants to have it all, it costs the same as if he only chose to RP. From this point of view, paying a sub wins IF

  • the player gravitates towards many play styles and has generally lots of time for the game
  • the player plays in that same way consistently
  • the total costs of required or interesting items for his purposes are higher than the subs

In this case, a subscription is the best deal for you. If you’re however part of a wider player base who has restricted time, exclusive interests, changing schedules, then F2P might suit you better. Not surprisingly, this gets more popular with an aging audience. It can create choices where a subscription cannot. Which is why both models have their up and downside, or rather their target audience.


  1. Sigh, I miss the times when you hated F2P too. πŸ˜› But I guess with how much you’re looking forward to GW2 you had to go with the times.

    I think Tobold explained it quite well today. Even by his reasoning, subscription is still the way to go for me, because I want to immerse myself in an MMO as much as possible, and obviously I don’t like the idea that doing so means having to pay extra through the nose.

    Also, I just don’t like microtransactions. I don’t like shopping in real life either. Just give me what I want/need with as little financial hassle as possible and leave me alone. πŸ˜›

  2. I never really thought about this. But that’s probably my naivety: You judge microtransactions depending on whether you make a bargain or not.

    I’m with Syncaine there: A game’s quality has nothing to do with its costs. Money? I don’t care. If a business model makes the game 1% worse and 100% cheaper for me, the game is 1% worse.

    And if a game is 1% better but costs 3x as much, the game is 1% better. And since I want to invest myself only in on MMO at a time, there’s a good chance that I am going to play this MMO.

    MMO’s a have a really long way to go until I stick to the BMW, because the Maybach is too expensive.

  3. @Shintar
    Haha, actually I’m no shopper irl either! πŸ™‚
    The thing is, whether I pay a sub or items, doesn’t matter so much to me. I am still looking for the same as you, but an item shop doesn’t bother me if the game is otherwise great. If it comes with annoying pop-ups etc. then it might, but not every MMO does it in the same, obnoxious way (so it’s actually ignored quite fast). the only question that matters to the individual player is whether he gets out of the game, what he’s looking for. and I see that happening in both a sub game or an F2P (where I am willing to spend cash) – the payment model after all is just the payment model.
    but since I keep hearing that F2Ps are somehow more classist/discriminative towards certain players (whose existence I doubt anyway) all the time, I wanted to point out how F2Ps are actually a lot more social in terms of access. whether the MMO is a good one or not is a different question, but F2P does most definitely offer more for the unsteady player with a small budget.

  4. @Nils
    “MMO’s have a really long way to go until I stick to the BMW, because the Maybach is too expensive. “

    Yeah – but then, MMO players do not only get to choose between a popular car that costs 50k or a high society car that costs 500k. I agree with you that it’s not about the cost (IMO); players go where they get the most bang for the buck, with emphazis on the bang. but your analogy forgets that some players prefer BMWs over Maybachs, or then the choices/differences aren’t nearly as obvious.

    If you pay for a sub, you don’t pay for content quality either: you pay for full availability at all times, no matter whether you experience 10% of the game or 90%. whether the game is great or not is another question, you will only keep playing long-term if it’s fun to you (which goes for F2P too). so it’s not about bargains; but I think you ignore what a subscription is for and for whom. it’s by default not designed for everybody. and it’s not true that you would never ask yourself if you should buy an annual train abonnement, if you only use the train once a week. you will consider if the abo makes sense, you will compare it to 48xticket, and you will ask which option is suitable for you. and that has nothing to do with whether the train sucks. it’s maybe a small difference to you personally, because you drive the train every day; but it is a difference in payment approach, maybe simply a more transparent one. subs (or pauschalen) are not exactly transparent. some people rather pay for content rather than access. maybe it’s a psychological thing more than anything – but it certainly has to do with how dedicated you’re looking to play an MMO, too.

    It’s about this a lot more than just looking for the bargain, otherwise you confuse the motivation to play something with its side-effect. the decision will not rise and fall over the payment model alone or because you saved money. which has always been exactly my point. πŸ˜‰
    I don’t even believe F2P is cheaper, at least not for me. but I keep hearing some players point out costs (which I already said I find doubtful), so I wanted to present an argument about how F2Ps are actually better in this regard (certainly not worse!) – in terms of overall access first and foremost. and as you said yourself, money is not quality. if more expensive doesn’t equal better, then cheaper doesn’t equal worse, either. I think you missed whom I was adressing here.

  5. I’ll agree with Nils insofar as I don’t care about the price either (within limits) as long as the game is good. Additionally, I really, really don’t want to be confronted with the issue of deciding whether a purchase is worth it over and over again. But on to the actual topic:

    I’m not sure if F2P games really are more social that way. Sure, I have a couple of friends who don’t usually play a lot of games and who play League of Legends with me because it is free but would consider ponying up for, say, WoW a waste. Part of the reasons that that works is the very unobtrusive F2P model in LoL though, as well as the fact that all of us are playing rather casually. If I wanted to play actual ranked games with a friend, I would have to invest quite some money to acquire the necessary champions. People who are not willing to pony up (or play a damn lot) at that point, are left out. (Yes, they would also be left out in a sub game as you pointed out. This only shows that F2P isn’t all that far ahead in that regard.)

    Then there’s the little annoyances rather than the actual barriers to entry. When I came back to LotRO, I was a F2P player for a little while. Once I grouped with another player who had a faster mount (only available in the cash shop or via subscription) and questing with him made me feel awful to the point of not wanting to group with others anymore. Then there’s the peer pressure of others being so much more impressive than you even if you consider yourself the better player (or the player who invests more time.) That causes resentment which leads to antisocial behavior.

    Vice versa, those paying for the game can easily get annoyed by “freeloaders”. Whether it is them not being able to catch up (that mount again), not performing, or wanting to grind something stupid for the cash shop currency, you’ll get to resent them for hindering your gameplay. (Which you payed for!)

    In all of the above cases, the “freeloaders” wouldn’t be able to play at all if the game wasn’t F2P as per your definition, so one might want to ignore those cases. (Which I would consider wrong already since the resentment caused is much worse for the paying player than those people not playing at all.)

    But then there are the frequent cases of players who might be willing and able to pay, but not for something they can get for free. You know, the kind of people who will go to the gas station 5 minutes away for a slight reduction in gas price. (http://xkcd.com/951/)
    These players will play the game regardless of business model, but will cause all the issues detailed above if the game is F2P.

    Long comment over, I really need to stop commenting on this topic πŸ˜‰

  6. I get that you weren’t adressing me, Syl. But I wanted to state my opnion, anyway :). And it seems you don’t actually believe me. So I am going to repeat this:

    I am holding my right hand on my heart and singing the nationmal hymne while I swear to you at the same time: I have never in my life pondered the question whether I should play a game that costs less than WoW, because it’s cheaper.

    For me, personally, money just doesn’t matter when it comes to MMORPGs. Not while within reasonable amounts. Of course, that’s just me, and I get that different people are different.

    I absolutely do ponder the money question when it comes to train tickets or cars, etc. But MMORPGs are so incredibly cheap for me and I (used to) play them so much, that my consumer surplus is somewhere near the moon.

    It’s like asking you whether you would like to buy new house for living in. You can choose between one that costs 12.99€ a month and one that costs 8.99€ a month. And one that constantly makes you think about money and supposedly costs you something like 5-10€ a month. What do you do?

    Well, since you can live only in one of the houses, you simply ignore the price and concentrate on which house is better. And the fact that in one of the houses you constantly have to think about money does change its quality. But it’s not the amount of money, it’s just that you constantly have to think about it.

    Perhaps you can make a distinction between players who like shopping and players who don’t. I dislike shopping – and thus I dislike microtransactions.

  7. @scrusi
    “I really need to stop commenting on this topic πŸ˜‰ “

    LOL – You actually raise a lot of interesting points though which is why receiving comments like this is so nice. I can see what you’re saying about playing casually with your friends. out of interest: how much money would you have to pay if you wanted to play “for real”? I absolutely agree it depends on balance in F2P and that the system must be unobstrusive. that depends on implementation mostly though? what I still see as a pro here is that you can play casually like that together at all, small as it may seem.

    Peer pressure is still interesting in regards to buying items. if we assume a shop where you really get to buy many useful things, it can certainly divide players. I would argue that similar players need to find one another though, which is basically true for any MMO. maybe a matchmaking concern? unless we assume an F2P where really everybody is buying and has to; in which case you’re absolutely right that it does nothing socially. I was however basing the argument on the assumption that maybe 5% currently do this in F2Ps. which is just a sign that we’re not nearly at a point where F2P have gained popular acceptance. I’m sure the buyer percentage will increase in the future and everyone who wants to buy, will buy. I do not believe in the cost argument, I merely choose to ride with it a little. πŸ™‚

    there’s much food for thought about all the ways other players can produce social resentment in F2p – although if we compare it again, there’s just division and resentment like that in MMOs produced one way or another. I can’t help but think it will always either be time or money, no matter the system, so at least money can make up for time a little while producing time is difficult for the casual player. from that PoV I see potential for choices, but then I am assuming certain things here myself. anyway, thanks for the input! πŸ™‚

  8. @Nils

    “I am holding my right hand on my heart and singing the nationmal hymne..”

    I don’t understand where I didn’t believe you – I do? and, can I get that as a video by the way? πŸ˜€
    lol Nils, I have stated a hundred times by now that money is a) not a concern for me personally, and b) I find it a bad argument in general because I suspect most players are saying they can’t afford when they don’t want to. I’ve dedicated a whole thread to this.

    So again: I believe you. I always choose the MMO that offers me what I look for, money/sub/F2P is secondary to me. you do understand what I was getting at in this topic though? exactly at the popular argument that ‘F2P is more expensive / discriminating”. I think it’s a hoax to begin with, but since some people wanna argue about social, I brought some counter arguments about why F2P “can be” the better “deal” for “someone who counts every dime”. and not just deal as in bargain maybe, but overall the more transparent feeling about what he is actually buying (you should really differentiate the two). that’s all.
    as an aside, I hold to access being a real plus here and I think F2P can create choices (even if they matter less for me).

    I wasn’t talking about myself, nor you. and you’ve every right to dislike shopping! πŸ™‚

  9. I agree that it is a hoax. Just like I dismiss those who are angry about the monocle because it’s too expensive as .. lunatics ? πŸ˜‰

  10. Well…why can’t you just let me write WoTs about them? =P

    sometimes it’s interesting to roll with a basic idea you disagree with and see where it gets you. it’s almost always the only way to convince the ‘other side’, for that matter. besides this, don’t think I need to explain devil’s advocate to you.

    and I still think you’re too negative about F2P. he he.

  11. the problem with the headline is that certain MMO’s on F2P are fundamentally less social because their business model actually restricts communication for those who don’t pay a subscription in the name of preventing goldspam and currency trade. Age of Conan is one of them – F2P players cannot contact subscribers unless the subscriber is willing to add the player to a friends list. Certain communication methods only become available if all parties are subscribers.

    An MMO is by definition supposed to be a social game and until the F2P model embraces this and doesn’t restrict fundamental MMO mechanics (like communication) then you’ll have a hard time convincing me otherwise.

  12. @Stumps
    A very fair point. and of course it will be all about the “how” which is why this is such a case-to-case thing (hence also the question mark in the title) with too many assumptions going around. we’ve yet to encounter the AAA+ MMO though that was designed to be F2P from the start. I really hope GW2 won’t be disappointing, but for other reasons – obviously the social aspect isn’t really big if money is not a concern.

  13. In LoL, I’d guess $50 would be an appropriate start (though by far not enough to actually play competitively.) Then you’d have a reasonable set of champions to choose from and you’d probably have played enough by that time to have earned enough currency to get the respective runes. You’ll still run into quite a few situations in which your team would be a lot better off with you picking a certain champion you don’t have (and they will tell you so, being the LoL community.)

    In LotRO… it depends on your (paying) friends playstyle really. Assuming you don’t want to go for a subscription option, all content past lvl 25 or so is paywalled and if you want to play with your friends you need to cough up. Worse, if they like to jump around zones and instances a lot (as subscribing players do), you need to buy a lot of content. I would guess that his could easily be more than $200 throughout the leveling process (but this is a rather uneducated guess.) In such a case you’re much better off by simply subscribing.

  14. @scrusi
    200$ is a lot of cash! I wonder how this relates to the majority of players not spending anything then, are they simply all just playing a quarter of the game? or is everyone subbed in LotRO? I’ve no idea, it’s one game I never played.

  15. You can get to max level paying a lot less. (In theory also paying nothing. That would be grinding only then.) In order to actually do something other than grind, you have to buy region packs which include quests and instances. You can also buy skirmishes (somewhat like instances) for additional content.

    You only need to buy one zone at each level range to get by and you don’t need to buy any of the skirmishes. That’s if you are playing alone or with others with the same limitations.
    The issue arises if you want to play with players who have access to all the content (either subscribers or people who spent a lot of money) and want to join them on their adventures.

    “Can you help me in Forochel?” – “Sure, let me just drop $8 so I can quest there as well.” – “What about this instance in Evendim?” – “Yeah, I’m sure I have another $8 somewhere” and so on.
    I’d have to check the store at home for all the exact prices and available options to say whether $200 is correct, but I feel it’s about the right ballpark. (And not including the new Isengard expansion and anything related to that.)

  16. This is a fascinating debate! We’re featuring it on MMO Melting Pot today.

    Personally, one of the problems I have with F2P games is that they’re harder to predict – it’s very non-obvious just how much money I’m going to end up spending in the future.

    That’s the big advantage and selling point of subscription games, and arguably a point where F2P is less fair. After all, shouldn’t I know what I’m getting myself into?

  17. @Hugh
    I agree it’s less transparent there. if we’re just looking at subs, you can make the calculations for the coming months and years. to be fair, I never knew what other extras WoW would get me to buy into when I started either, but then WoW isn’t a great case as the sub-model is blurred by the blizzstore.
    on the other hand, F2P is (or feels) more transparent in terms of that I get what I’m paying for. in a sub-game, I get all (or nothing) by default. and cheers for the heads up!

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