Evil Genius of F2P

Saw this last week:

Unfortunately, Tobold actually already linked to this Demotivational poster before I could finish this post, thereby costing me street cred.

It is a fairly common statistic (if unofficial) that less than 10% of F2P gamers actually ever spend money in the cash shop. Most of the resulting commentary has focused on how this ~10% subsidizes the other 90%. This is not actually the case. The evil genius of F2P games is how the non-paying gamers subsidize the paying ones by simply being there. If you are playing LotRO “for free,” what you are actually doing is giving paying customers a reason to actually pay money.

Think about it. If 90% of F2P gamers don’t pay, then the game would presumably have only a tenth as many players if it were not F2P. Hell, the entire point of LotRO going F2P was how they would have shut down the servers otherwise. It did not matter that there were already paying customers; the problem was there was not enough paying customers. When the F2P switch is flipped, you suddenly get a huge influx of “freeloaders” who have a very compelling reason to buy items that make them stand out from each other. Meanwhile the already paying customers are happy because now they have the ability to keep paying for a game they enjoy, and a whole bunch of new people to do it with.

Facebook and Google aren’t doing you a favor by providing “free” social media services. As the Demotivational mentions, you are a product – in this case private demographic information, music tastes, favorite shows, etc, all freely updated by you on your own time –  to be sold. You may “get” some bit of value out of these services (else you presumably would not use them) but Facebook/Google/F2P MMO developers are obviously getting a lot more from the bargain. F2P and social media is honestly the biggest marketing coup since fashion apparal designers realized that people would actually give them money for the privledge of wearing advertisements, e.g. shirts with the company logo on them.

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Posted on October 4, 2011, in Philosophy and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. It’s always struck me as a nice quid-pro-quo arrangement between the free-players and the paid-players…the free players get a game which they presumably are enjoying for no cost, and the paid players have plenty of other people to play with. In some cases this can mean that the paid players get to beat up on the free players for a while but that depends on the game.

    But being one of those players that rarely spends money on F2P games (so far just $2.50 on spiral knights and $15 on World of Tanks) I’ve been having a blast….so it works for me.

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  2. Should we extrapolate from this to the idea that F2P games should be more group-centric than subscription-based games? So the free-players can become a more valuable product by providing groupmates for other players?

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    • Yes, indeed. I had been previously assuming cash shops were stocked with vanity items because that was basically all one could offer without crossing over to the Pay-2-Win realm. Through this prism, it is a crafty move by the designers to capitalize on all the warm bodies F2P attracts; akin to giving out free tickets to a sporting event, and then selling those big foam fingers.

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  3. Think about it. If 90% of F2P gamers don’t pay, then the game would presumably have only a tenth as many players if it were not F2P.

    By that logic LotRO should have grown to 10 times its size (or more) when they went f2p. Don’t treat the homo sapiens like a homo oeconimicus, he isn’t ;)

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    • Fair enough. There are definitely paying customers who were willing to pay for access to the world/quests, but also happy not paying when the option was given.

      I would like to point out though that LotRO went from 225k –> 575k over the course of a year, an increase of 64%. It has since dropped back down to 350k.

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  4. Of course free players are content to make the world more interesting. Daniel James of Puzzle Pirates fame (which has had microtransaction servers for years) noted that over at Penny Arcade a while back:

    http://www.penny-arcade.com/2008/9/29/

    Seems like smart business to me if you want your MMO world to seem alive and leverage the whole point of playing a potentially social game.

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