Saturday, March 1, 2014

Why Free to Play is Always Better

      Many games these days- especially massively multiplayer games - tend to come with a monthly cost.  I remember the first time I encountered this - it was a Final Fantasy MMO that I installed, discovered that it had a subscription fee, then uninstalled and got a refund for.  I will quickly explain why Free to Play, or rather, free online play with an initial cost is the best strategy for gaming companies to make money long-term, while also cultivating a reputation for the creation of art - which is the ultimate goal of video game production.

      Firstly, this article comes having halfway downloaded the Elder Scrolls Online, for which I received a beta key a few days ago.  When I learned there would be a monthly subscription, I immediately decided not to buy the game, despite being a longtime fan of the series.  Below I will explain why:

1) Taking my money implies you have given me something of equal value to that money.

 My personal use of a game's servers does not cost that company 15 dollars a month, or even 2 dollars a month.  This a disproportionate relationship of cost and value.  World of Warcraft set the stage for MMO, and it did many things right - but profit maximization was not one of them. You shouldn't arbitrarily charge as much as possible just because you can - that is a model for business in the previous century.  Stock prices go with consumer good-faith.  More on this later.

2) Subsciption fees turn games into chores and obligations.

 For example, if I have exams or work, or a very busy month, or if I simply dont feel like playing that game, I have wasted my money for that month.  It's not as if I can take 15 dollars worth of time from September and transfer it to December, when I have more time off.  In this way, subscrip fees fundamentally alter the nature of gameplay - and the relationship that the gamer has with it.  Like most things, money corrupts.

 If you need to widen your profit margins to make these games viable, include cosmetic microtransactions, or increase the base cost of the game.  Hell, I'd pay double the normal price (120 instead of 60) knowing that I wouldn't have to deal with bullshit recurring subscription fees bleeding my bank account.

3) Consumer good-faith and the art of gaming.

The Elder Scrolls Online is a great example for this concept, because it is now making a transition into the MMO sphere.  This has been a series of in-depth story and character design, combined with stunning visual effects and music.  It is a series that embodies what good games should be.  So the transition to massively multiplayer is particularly dangerous.  Subscription fees always make me feel like I'm being used, it causes a separation from the immersion that makes games so great.  I don't want to worry if I've gotten my money's worth - I want to worry if I'm going to be able to take on that bad ass dragon with my new bow.

Using WoW as the antithetical, let's think for a moment about the fundamenal nature of the game.  Subsciption fees imply the game can never end. Here's a hint: IT DOESN'T.  They just release slightly more powerful weapons and armour every few months. Oooooh, +15636 stamina instead of 15424, this game is still fuuuuuuuuuuuuunnn (dozes off).  There should be a finality to the game - there's nothing wrong with that - instead of making the game NEVERENDING, make it have HIGH REPLAY VALUE instead.  Character customization, crafting, racial elements.. etc. etc.

  A half dozen expansions and 6 years of gameplay, and you've spent thousands on a game that should have cost you at most a couple hundred bucks.  It's like having a novel that you pay 10 bucks for, plus 10 cents every day.  If you didn't read on Tuesday, well, too bad, we had to uhhh- keep the pages lubed for you while you were gone.. WTF?

In WoW, they focus on creating addiction by well-placed dopamine rewards, instead of meaningful advancement of character, and it's the whore-mark of the franchise. I.e. "Kill 15 slobbering noobs and collect their mountain dew cans" and you get 10 xp. Kill me now.

Good-faith consumerism: Knowing that a company creates quality products for the sake of creating quality products, and not for the sake of maximizing profit.

This is why I WILL NOT buy a subscrip game, unless they are giving me a shitpile of value for it. If they put out an expansion every month, sure! But nothing is worse than a game that charges you monthly fees, then creates "expansions" that you apparently weren't loyal enough to receive.  How much money do you have to spend? 100? 500?  They don't care. And that's the point, we want gaming companies comprised of gamers, not vampyric suits.

Gaming companies with integrity will stand the test of time.  Path of Exile is an excellent example.  The gameplay is rich, the environment is dark, and the story is interesting (while not being shoved down your throat with clumsy cut-scenes). The microtransactions are cool, but not pay-to-win. 

So please, everyone, do the right thing and boycott sub games with no value, and let gaming companies know we expect quality, and we're not a bunch of cows to be milked.

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