“Have Fun playing your F2P game” — Okay, I will!

I don’t believe I mentioned it to anyone but myself, but I told myself I would do a post a day this week, even if that meant scraping my mental barrel for content.  It’s a few hours past midnight where I am, but I’m unable to relax and suddenly realized I was failing my self-assigned goal.  Since that might be why I can’t relax (probably not, but I can hope), I have decided to stay up even later and make a post.

So here we go.  I’ve just decided it’s blog war Friday, but without a blogger saying anything I can flame, I’m going to pull out this quote I saw repeated from one commenter over and over on Massively, the quote in my title.  And we’re going to talk about a possible gamer mentality—not the personal psychology though such is also fascinating—that thinks such a comment is insulting to either the game or the gamer playing it.

But first, because I’m pedantic, let me point out that the commenter, every single time he posted these words, was wrong.  The game in question is Guild Wars 2, and while GW2 does not have a subscription fee, it is not a free to play game.  While free to play is an easily manipulated term used to describe a lot of different payment models, there is one element they all have in common: installing and launching the game will cost you nothing.  GW2, on the other hand, is what is often called buy to play (sometimes B2P).  It’s a sad fact of online gaming that buy to play has its own name, as really all it means is that the game is purchased like every game has been since the first board game — you buy it, you bring it home, you play it.   There’s nothing free about Guild Wars 2.

So aside from the fact that just calling GW2 free to play sort of proves the poster in question was either an idiot or intentionally being inflammatory, why exactly does he think it’s an insult?

Well good question, ain’t it?  I’ve tried to start this paragraph a few different times, and each time I find myself gravitating towards examples of similar behavior that have political implications.  And while I am actually politically active, informed, opinionated, and always 100% correct about everything, I really don’t want politics to ever enter into this blog.  Basically, all the examples were intended to show how sometimes people find one bad example of a service or product or human institution or ethnic group or what have you, and they decide that anyone or anything that shares any characteristics with that original bad experience must also be bad.

This tends, however, to only happen when the person is in someway motivated to tear down this group or thing and thinks they can use the one bad example to convince others that there are no good examples.  Again, it’s really hard to avoid political examples here, but suffice it to say politicians, on both sides of the spectrum, are experts at using this technique to drain support from something they want to pull funds from.  But it does require that others might be so outraged as to lose anything resembling reason and logic.  For example,  I have met few, if any, people who would deny there is such a thing as a dirty cop, an officer who uses his position to secure bribes or abuse others with his authority.  Yet I have never met anyone who thinks the existence of dirty cops means we should abolish law enforcement in all forms.  No story about a dirty cop, no matter how terrible, would ever drown out the follow-up that there are indeed still good cops and that law enforcement exists for a reason and serves an important function.

But getting back to gaming after that close brush with something real, this is exactly the logic process informing a person who believes “f2p” is some sort of insult.  And I can relate, this blog was only created so I would be motivated to explore free to play games despite the reputation that some of them have.  And oh boy do many of them deserve that reputation.  Free to play games like EQII, LotRO, and City of Heroes operate by severely inconveniencing free players, then dropping links to the cash shop items that remove the inconvenience at every opportunity.   Combine that with a low barrier to entry, as anyone with a high speed connection can get in the game at any time if they feel like it, and these games all have reputations for having terrible communities.  That low barrier has also been thought to encourage “gold spammers,” a term I will come back to (and define!) for those unfamiliar.

But is that the case for any free to play game automatically?   If you think so, I hope you immediately follow reading this article with a march to your town’s center of government, demanding the police department be abolished because of what that one guy did in that other state twenty years ago.  Free to play can, and has, been done right.

I can agree that many free to play games are attempting to milk as much as possible out of players, all while claiming to be free.  Even in games where I’ve put up with those practices while trying to spend as little as possible (like my brief sojourn in LotRO), I was certainly left with a bad taste in my mouth too.  But right off hand, I can name three games that have done nothing that made me feel miserable because I wanted to both play a game, and I wanted to do so while spending less than I would on a subscription game: League of Legends, Glitch, and Tribes: Ascend.  Although only one of those is an MMO, I can also say some of the “freemium” models, the ones that make things take longer or limit new players without offering to sell items that address each inconvenience separately, are rather excellent.  Fallen Earth’s free to play conversion comes to mind: crafting takes longer for free players, and free players are a bit limited, but the solution is to subscribe.  The freemium models do not nickel and dime — they simply are unlimited trials, a way to get a taste and then some from a game before deciding if it is your new online home.

But I don’t buy the bad community bit.  Or at least, not that it creates a worse community than that available in a subscription model game.  Thirteen year olds with access to mom and dad’s credit cards can be just as annoying as thirteen year olds without that access.  Hell, maybe even more so — the ones whose parents pay for them to be there feel entitled to make you miserable — the ones who just downloaded a game on a whim are just taking advantage of a possibly fleeting opportunity.

I also feel that many games have quite effectively removed gold spam while allowing anyone in for free.  Since many of my readers come from Glitch, and as I’ve recently noted many Glitchen are not gamers and gold spam has (thankfully) not yet found its way into Ur, let me explain (gamers can totally skip this paragraph, but might not want to since everything I write is guaranteed to be earth-shatteringly awesome). Gold spam is a phenomenon in which organizations—sometimes made up of players, sometimes actual businesses in places like China, sometimes rumored to have nefarious ties to terrorists, and probably all of them are haters of puppies AND kitties—gather in-game currency or goods to sell for actual cash using an outside website, usually directly in violation of the game’s terms of service.  They then spam high traffic locations in the game with advertisements for their sites.  If you buy from them, and you’re lucky, you might actually get what you paid for.  Even if you get what you paid for though, you’ll probably also end up with a wonderful new friend known as the keylogger, hiding in your system, stealing your passwords for games.  A frequent follow up to such a financial interaction is that the buyer finds their account has been compromised, and someone has logged in and redistributed the player’s virtual wealth into their own hands, with the intent to sell your stuff to yet another sucker and continue the cycle.  if you’re like most gamers, you’ll cry to customer service about how you got hacked, even though you actually got phished,  and you probably deserve to be buried alive in an unmarked grave before you can breed.

Back to the point, there are free games that have put protections in place to identify and ban gold spammers.  And in my extensive MMO experience, the most trouble I ever had with gold spammers was in a sub-only game that had no free trial.  So apparently gold spammers can find enough suckers to make paying for a new copy of the game or paying the sub fee every few days after each time their accounts are banned completely and absolutely worthwhile.  These costs don’t stop them.

And let’s flip this on its head: what exactly are you getting for your $15 a month in a sub only game?  Unless you are playing Eve or Rift, it’s my general feeling that the only thing you are getting is screwed — which would be nice if it was coming from someone of your preferred gender, but generally sucks when it’s coming from a business.  Rift and Eve are the only two games I can think of, off the top of my head mind you, that consistently put out content on a regular basis, justifying the subscriptions.  Rift, as far as I can tell since I’ve never played, seems to put out significant content at a slightly greater than once a month clip.  Eve does not release content as often as Rift, but Eve has also never once in its entire lifespan declared new content an “expansion” and forced players to buy yet another full-priced box.

WoW, on the other hand, does not release meaningful content at anywhere near the same clip as Rift, and whenever they do have a large content release, they package it up and make players pay separately for it.  That’s right, full box price.  More than once — in fact three times and coming up on the fourth.  Without even counting in subscriptions, someone could have theoretically spent over $200 on WoW if they purchased the game and every expansion at release.  But hey, apparently that’s not enough to keep the lights on over at Blizzard, so cough up $15 more each month or they won’t let you play anymore.

So why is f2p an insult?  It isn’t.  There’s simply some players who have been thoroughly conditioned to think the minimum needed to keep an MMO running is $15 a month from every player, so that any MMO asking for less must be providing less.  Frequently, the opposite actual seems to be true.  This isn’t 1998 anymore — the original EQ probably legitimately needed that money from its small (compared to WoW) player base just to provide the bandwidth needed to log in.  But as long as WoW has high numbers, there’s obviously some players out there convinced that just being allowed to play is enough value for their $15.  That doesn’t fly with me — if I buy your game, you damn sure better provide me content at least once a month, preferably twice a moth, if you expect me to pay just for the right to play  the game I already had to pay for.  And don’t even think of making me buy the game all over again with a new box if you’ve been charging me $15 a month since release.

So thank you, stanger from the internet I have decided to write about, I will have fun in my free to play game!  And I’ll get a hell of a lot more value per dollar spent than you will in your subscription game, more than likely.

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