It sounds paradoxical to say, but playing games for free usually comes with a cost. While many a developer claims that their new MMO will be free-to-play, most gamers know better. But to be fair, developers cannot be blamed for wanting to make money through advertisements, microtransactions, freemium software or otherwise. After all, without revenue how would they sustain themselves?
Not surprisingly, the new revenue models for online games have gone over quite well with fans. Consequently, subscription based models are rapidly becoming obsolete, replaced by ones that cater more directly to each player’s specific gaming needs. These fresh models are also more amenable to casual gamers, thus changing the way the average person perceives online games.
Think of freemium games like a feature-light demo. Players are granted access to a restricted version of the game. Those lured in by the title can opt to upgrade to the full-version, which will require them to pay a monthly fee. There are no obligations and no real risks beyond an initial time investment. In other words, freemium games encourage more speculative gamers to give the product a go. Many former subscription based MMOs, such as Everquest II and Anarchy Online have gone this route to moderate success.
There is a stigma associated with freemium games claiming that any subscription based MMO that fails at launch should switch over immediately, should they hope to succeed. Gamers should be wary – some freemium MMOs are downright awful.
Perhaps the most misleading model out there, games featuring microtransactions are theoretically free-to-play. However, advancing far in the game will almost require that the player purchase multiple items. Granted sometimes these items are mere novelties, but the vast majority of them are necessary for advancement.
Although players are never forced to make purchases, those that do not will be subject to an exceedingly compromised gaming experience. The more manipulative developers will allow gamers to play a large majority of the game only to make a late game boss battle nearly impossible without a particular set of gear or legendary item. Because the player has already invested so much time on their journey, they unwillingly fork over cash in order to advance further. Developers would do well to be more upfront with their target audience. Manipulation tactics may work in the short term, but fans who feel cheated are unlikely to purchase future products from that developer.
They’re sort of like microtransactions except instead of purchasing an in-game item players will have to download something from one of the game’s affiliates or take some sort of elongated survey in order to acquire points. These points are used to make in-game purchases. It’s an arduous process at best that either makes the gamer waste time and/or money on things they don’t necessary want to be bothered with. Generally speaking, try to avoid games that employ this model unless they’re really awesome.
Advertisements are an old standby. Because so many games are now free-to-play advertisements show up nearly everywhere. Popular games like Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja have employed this model to great success. MMOs are starting to do the same.
Advertisements are good for exposure – most gamers are willing to deal with annoying pop-ups if it means they can try out a game for free. They’re especially useful for fledgling indie teams who value establishing their brand over immediate monetary returns.
There is no best revenue model. Some work better than others, but generally speaking a quality MMO can succeed using a number of different approaches. It’s usually the poorly crafted ones that resort to more desperate measures designed to cheat players. Make good games and they will come – it’s a simple concept really. Just avoid the offer walls – they suck.