Posted Tue, Jan 06, 2009 by Ralsu
I have noted before that free-to-play (F2P) games have a very short window of opportunity (maybe 3-5 hours) to hook a player. By contrast, gamers who buy a box for a pay-to-play (P2P) game in a store feel compelled to try a game for the 30 days they get with the purchase of the box. It’s one of the reasons I think more F2P games should explore retail boxes. The key to the appeal of P2P games is investment: the customer investor with his retail purchase and subscription fees, and the publisher invests with content updates and expansions to go along with dedicated customer support. If now truly is the time for the rise of F2P games, developers and publishers have to figure out how to grow investment just like P2P games. In a two-part miniseries, I’ll explore how players view their investment first and then how publishers can demonstrate their investment to consumers and stake their claim on the MMOG industry.
Players who shell out $100 for a collector's edition usually stick with a game for the first month.
The typical P2P game costs $50 at the retailer in the United States, $70-100 for collector’s editions. When a gamer shells out that much money for a product, she’ll install it and try it out. Unless the game is absolutely horrible, she’ll play it for the 30 days she gets with the purchase price. The money spent is the player’s investment. If she subscribes for $15 per month over the next 11 months, she’ll have invested a total of $215-265 (depending on the price of the retail box) in the game over the course of a year.
Meanwhile, a player can download a F2P game at no charge. He might try it one or two play sessions. With no money invested, time becomes his commodity. The game has to be good immediately in order for him to invest more time in it. That is why first impressions are more important for a F2P game than a P2P game from the mindset of the consumer. It’s much easier to uninstall a free game after two play sessions and say, “Oh well. Nothing lost but my time,” than it is to uninstall a $50 retail game.
The next potential investment for the F2P gamer is the item mall. Once a player has determined that he wants to buy a hat rather than a lemon, he can spend his first bit of discretionary income on a F2P game. Let’s use Atlantica Online, one of my favorite F2P games, as an example. A gamer might decide to purchase extra inventory space and a mercenary room license for storing an extra unit after playing Atlantica for three months. The two purchases combined cost 1,998 Gcoins, the currency of Atlantica Online’s item mall. That player can buy 2,000 Gcoins for $20, and the extra inventory space and mercenary room are permanent. He never needs to spend money on that again, but he may decide to repeat the process and spend another $20 after six months to get even more flexibility. Finally, he might decide to buy 50 Oriharukan Enhance Stones so that he has a higher chance to get better results when enhancing his gear in-game. That also costs $20 in Gcoins. After twelve months, the player has spent $60.
Now that they have both spent money, the P2P gamer and her F2P counterpart must consider their time invested and the money spent before quitting their games. The person who only plays subscription games will be looking at another $50 startup investment, which is a deterrent because that same $50 would buy her another three months of her current MMOG. On the other hand, she already spends $15/month in subscriptions, so that financial investment would not hold her back. The F2P gamer won’t need to pay anything to download a new F2P game. The monetary investment would depend on the setup of the new game’s item mall, but he’d never have to spend anything if he didn’t want to invest financially. If he moved to Runes of Magic, he’d be able to buy a permanent mount, decorate his house with some potted plants, and rent two inventory bags for the whole year for just under $50.
Shaiya Online and other F2P games cost nothing to try.
The P2P gamer spends more money in my example than the F2P gamer, and the result is that she likely won’t make the move to the new game. She’ll avoid a new investment, pocket the $50 for the cost of a new game, and keep her levels of experience in the old game. Though the startup cost of a new game may be the biggest factor in her retention, her investment of time will mean more the longer she stays with her P2P game. The thought of starting over on the leveling treadmill will be too much to bear. This is almost exactly the opposite of the F2P gamer.
Finances will not influence the F2P player much so long as his monetary investment remains below the value of a subscription game. The bigger issue for him will be finding the game where he enjoys the community most, which usually means hopping from one game to the next with a tight group of friends. He’ll probably consider the $60 he spent on Atlantica money well spent. Besides, he can always go back to it for free if the new game is not good. On the other hand, he’ll be very reluctant to leave his first game if he has spent $200 or more in the item mall. Thus, the amount of money spent over time becomes the deciding factor for the F2P gamer.
Next time, I’ll take a look at how both P2P and F2P publishers demonstrate their investment in a title and what they can do to retain customers. I’ll also examine what their varying approaches mean for their ability to capture new players and a share of the market.
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