Updated Fri, Oct 02, 2009 by Ralsu
Last week, Ten Ton Hammer’s Eric “Dalmarus” Campbell suggested that free expansions for P2P games might actually reduce overhead expenses for publishers and headaches for developers. I agree with Dalmarus in his assessment of the feeling of entitlement (albeit justified) consumers develop when they pay for a product. The line of reasoning posed by Dalmarus makes sense for a P2P, but I have been arguing the other side of the debate when it comes to F2P games. It still firmly believe that F2P games would do well to explore the benefits of retail boxes. My idea calls for retail prices sufficient to cover production and distribution of boxes, which would provide invaluable marketing, but it obliterates the developer’s ability to call a game F2P. More importantly, most F2P games simply aren’t good enough to warrant the expense and logistics of retail. So does that mean we F2P gamers are stuck with soft launches?
The primary deficit I observe in digital distribution of F2P games is that the lack of retail presence results in diminished marketing, which causes beta phases of development to be little more than marketing ploys. It makes no sense. F2P developers typically expose gamers to a product already beneath industry P2P standards but with dozens of bugs or incomplete translations to boot. It’s a bit like asking the three little pigs to invest in an unfinished straw hut that sits across the street from a nice sturdy stone house that just needs a paint job. We already know the outcome of this mindset: F2P games have a short window of opportunity to entice players, a poor retention rate, and a horrible reputation.
As awesome as I like to think all of my ideas are, F2P games aren’t ready for retail boxes yet. Dungeon Runners is available in stores near you, but I have no data about how that has helped or hindered the game (and I welcome anyone from NCsoft to drop into our forums to comment). Dungeon Runners is very polished as F2P games go, and it would be one of three or four games I’d think could get my retail distribution plan to work. Most of the rest of F2P titles would not live up to the demands of consumers or would not be able to generate impulse buys. For instance, I never would have tried Nostale even if it were available in a box that only costs $5. The style of the title was too cute and screamed “for kids.” Given how Nostale turned out, it’s a good thing I didn’t pay for it, too, because I would never try another game from that publisher again. Since I didn’t feel like I wasted any money trying it, I would be willing to give something else they make a go.
If Mike Tinney, North American President for CCP, is right when he says retention is a bigger factor than big numbers in the success of MMOGs, then F2P games have got to change their focus from cycling players through a network full of games to a focus on keeping players in a single game. As I have noted before, this means making betas be about fixing bugs, finding different ways to market, and making launch day noticeably different from beta. If retail boxes aren’t the answer, then television commercials and print ads will have to fill in the gaps.