News in the Key of F2P

Free-to-play has been making some headlines lately — some not-so-lately, but I wasn’t paying attention when they happened.

The big story of the day is all about Philip Reisberger, CEO of Bigpoint, the company behind the free-to-play, browser-based Battlestar Galactica MMO.  I can’t really comment on the game.  I signed up for it once, played through a bit of the tutorial or intro or whatever they prefer to call it, and was not impressed at all.  I can’t put my finger on why—if there was ever a reason, I don’t remember it—so it could be a wonderfully fun little game.  It’s just not for me.

Philip Reisberger

Indisputable Truth: Everyone with a goatee is evil

But if there was ever a chance of Battlestar Galactica making the list of my F2P Quest, that chance flew the coop when I read excerpts from an interview with Mr. Reisberger published today by Next Gen.  I’m left wondering if the man has ever played an online multiplayer game other than one of his company’s products, and if he has ever spent a single moment absorbing the concerns of veteran internet gamers.  Plus, he has a goatee.  

Here’s what Mr. Reisberger had to say that got him some attention:

There are millions, hundreds of millions of people willing to invest even though they aren’t obliged to. The crucial part of the design is not having to invest, but wanting to. Most people in the Bigpoint universe don’t ever pay, but if they want to pay, don’t just offer hats – offer them something that will help them. 

If selling an advantage ruins the game, you haven’t done the balancing right…EA and Ubisoft, for example, they’re both trying, but they’re not really there yet.  It’s a delicate balance, though, and that’s why I love my game designers. All of them have understood how to do this. If you have a sophisticated approach to free-to-play games, in the end you can monetise everything. [sic]

When I first read this, I was absolutely floored.  I can’t think of a single advantage that can be purchased for money that would not ruin the game, by which I mean permanently shift the balance so that skill becomes secondary to the amount of actual currency invested, and on the other hand, I can’t think of anything in a cash shop that does not ruin a game that grants any advantages.

I suppose I shouldn’t be shocked.  This man’s well-being and future potential to purchase facial hair trimmers rests entirely on his ability to convince people to spend money on his game.  It does not surprise me that he wants to maximize sources of income — it simply irritates me that he expects the gaming community to believe the insanity he has sold to himself and his staff.  He convinces himself by cherry-picking his examples: he clearly mentions EA’s refusal to give an outright advantage to those that pre-order Battlefield 3 as a failure to monetize but neglects to mention the incredible growth and healthy profits obtained by League of Legends, a free-to-play game that stubbornly refuses to sell power but does fine without monetizing everything.  Also, did I mention the goatee?

In other, slightly outdated, free-to-play news,  I somehow missed that my MMO guilty pleasure, City of Heroes, will be switching to a freemium (free-to-play with multiple subscription options) model when they drop Issue 21 — somehow, this news escaped my attention until a few weeks ago despite that it dropped in May or June.  Fallen Earth set a date of October 12th for its own freemium conversion.  And Star Trek Online has announced similar plans and released details of what features will be available to free-to-play customers, though they have not yet set an official conversion date.

These three games will definitely be added to my f2p quest.

As for news on me, I’m currently playing Deus Ex most often, but for online gaming I am still occasionally popping in to LoL and Global Agenda, have started testing the waters in Pirates of the Burning Sea, and have set aside my initial dislike for LOTRO to give it another whirl.  I’m actually enjoying it — I wouldn’t want to pay a subscription for a story driven theme park, but I have no objection to having limited fun that costs me nothing.  At some point, I may even pick up a few months of VIP, perhaps around level 20.  In the meantime, I kind of like running around the Shire doing quests without feeling rushed to reach the level cap and play the “real” game.  Perhaps SW:TOR isn’t as bad as I thought — though I still don’t think a single player story is worth a monthly fee.

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