A recent discussion with a friend turned to the topic of subscription versus Free to Play, versus Buy to Play. Within ten minutes we were arguing heavily about the benefits and pitfalls that they all offer. I can honestly say it's a topic that never gets old for me and from a personal perspective, I bloody hate anything other than subscription.
As an individual who has covered Guild Wars 2 for over a year, it might perhaps be surprising to hear that I hate the Buy to Play model and equally, the Free to Play model is also on my hit list. I suppose then, I should probably justify why. I must stress however, I'll likely alienate plenty of you during the course of this reasoning.
Part of the reason why I love subscription so much is not only does it separate the wheat from the chaff (i.e players) but it also tends to enforce retention of said players who want the game to succeed. It will certainly sound high and mighty from myself, but I hate the scrubs that Free to Play attracts and I hate the imbalances created by Buy to Play. I feel both are entirely separate problems as a result of each respective payment model and I honestly want to be part of neither.
Free to Play
What frustrates me about Free to Play is the neutered experience and multiple payments options. Worse, the fact that it removes any and all barriers of access. Anyone can jump in and sure enough, that often results in a wave of idiots or the clueless. This further results in forums, sub-reddits and in-game chat descending into blind questions from players who've never read a single thing about the product. I'm certainly not suggesting that new players aren't welcome in an MMOG, but when no money needs to change hands, I've found Free to Play attracts the worst of the worst into the genre, with players that are often rude or clueless. I'm admittedly generalising here (such is my experience) but I'm of the opinion that if you can't afford $60 for a product, you really shouldn't be playing it. Better still, if you can't take the time to read up on reviews and previews to ascertain whether or not you'll like a product, again it likely isn't for you.
When it comes to payment options, Free to Play just gets complicated. Boosters, subscriptions, in game stores and alternative currencies all tend to rear their head and more often than not, they force you to subscribe anyway. The only game I know that doesn't force you down this path is PlanetSide 2 and even that has a somewhat confusing payment system.
Buy to Play
Guild Wars 2 is without doubt the shining light of Buy to Play and while I favour it more than Free to Play, its still a payment model I feel is having a negative impact on the genre. My concern with Buy to Play (despite it being wonderful that you can go back to the game at any time after purchase) is the fact that in-game mechanics are often protracted intentionally in order to retain your play: ascended items is a perfect of example of this. There's also the fact that the developers behind a Buy to Play product have to monetize in some form in order to continue to fund development when box sales inevitably dry up. Guild Wars 2 (again) is a perfect of example of this as ArenaNet flood the in game store with cosmetic items and advantageous sub-items that are astronomically expensive. Worse still, I've found Buy to Play products have harsher loot tables than any subscription game (to further encourage play) rather than a truly level playing field. While I can fully understand the reasoning behind this, I'd rather provide a developer with £10 a month so I'm not unnecessarily punished or encouraged to part with my cash at the in game store.
What I find frustrating about the objection to subscription model is the fact that certain players act as though $15 or £8 a month is a large amount of money to pay every month. Considering we're all adults (or at least over 16) and likely working or have a paper round at the very least, to argue that such a sum is too expensive or shouldn't be a requirement to pay is surely nonsense. I'm sure we all have vices (mine is certainly Diet Coke) and I'm sure that we all spend money in our day to day lives that amounts to much more than any subscription. If however a subscription means a fair loot table, an in game store that is purely optional as opposed to a requirement and removal of gated content designed to protract my play, it is without doubt worth it. Best of all, not only does a box purchase gate the game off from such Free to Play “scrubs” (I've no other word to describe them), but the subscription model will surely finish them off.
Admittedly the perfect approach would have to be replicating Eve Online and its PLEX system that allows those who earn wealth in the game, to buy subscription time (removing the need to pay monthly). With WildStar following suit, I think it's a perfect balance between funding development, creating a level playing field and ensuring a mature community. Sure some bad eggs will always get through the net, but that's the nature of the genre we play.
So that's my moan about MMOG payment models over with, what are your thoughts on them? Do you like Free to Play and Buy to Play?