Free-to-Play Alternatives

As I’ve discussed several time, a lot of Online Strategy Games employ the free-to-play model of monetization. For most players this means we get a great game and don’t have to pay a pence. For some dedicated players, it means they get to shell out a heavy amount of coin to get a lot of extra features, a good advantage over the rest of us, and keep the game company profitable, essentially paying for the rest of us. There’s an interesting article here that sheds further light on the concept.

The free-to-play model comes with some disadvantages as well, to both players and developers, and there are two issues that are quite prominenant specifically in OSG’s. First, the paying players gaining a significant advantage over everyone else. In a genre that’s so competive, a lot of players don’t like the idea of being out-spent instead of out-maneuvered. Second, since the players are always a potential customer (even the paying ones) some games tend to be constantly encouraging (or even begging) players to buy their in-game currency. This can grow very annoying if not done tastefully *cough*evony*cough*.

Given that game developers need to make a profit, are there alternatives to the Free-to-play model that might work better?

One-time Purchase
The most common strategy of a one-time purchase (just as with console games at the store, digital downloads on iTunes or Steam, etc.) could be applied to OSG’s as well. Instead of offering the game for free at all, OSG’s could require players to buy the game. Of course, a standard RTS has a much higher production value than an OSG, so this might be difficult to get players to buy in to and would have to be priced carefully. Further, as with MMO’s, OSG’s are perhaps more of a service than a product. Afterall, having “bought the game” does little good if the server has been shut down.

Alot of major MMO’s, specifically WOW, use the subscription model, which might work for an OSG as well. The most likely scenario would be that registration and the first week or so of a server would be free, but from then on every player would have to pay $5 a month or so to access his account. This would work better than the one-time purchase, since there would be no risk to the player that something they pay for is going to be shut down. Also, any single month of play would probably cost less than the one-time payment (attracting more customers) and yet still acts as a steady stream of income for the develor. Lord knows this has worked out well for Blizzard.

Another option would be to have an OSG be supported by advertisements. This is the way a lot of internet media works, and television uses this method as well. Granted, many games have banner ads on their site, but for a game to be entirely ad-supported it would likely require more prominent ads, such as a video commercial every time a player logs into his account or something along those lines. It would certainly be an annoyance, especially when trying to check quickly check the game at work, but if that meant all the plus-account features were activated and all players were on an even playing field, would it be worth it?

What are your thoughts? If you’re not a paying-player now, what method of monetization would you like to see your favorite OSG adapt? Would you “buy” an OSG to access the plus features forever and make sure everyone was at an equal level? Would you pay a subscription if it were priced right? Would you be willing to sit through a commercial each time you checked your account? Or would you rather leave things as they are and have a small group of players support the game and receive advantages? I’m looking forward to seeing what people think.


[polldaddy poll=3126085]

4 CommentsLeave a comment

  • I think I could handle being barraged by ads. I mean, in game advertising is everywhere these days, even in games you buy at the store.

  • Some web games do use the one time fee, like the games by Artix, but then they also have a in game currency. The problem with relying only on a 1 time fee is that you have ongoing cost in terms of server and bandwidth cost, support staff cost and ongoing developement costs.

    Most OSG games can not support themselves effectively with ads, ad revenue on the internet is difficult without both a very high volume of traffic, and a good conversion rate (ie lots of your users that click the ads also buy something after they click). Sure the large games like evony could probably make this work, but then they seem to be making more then enough money with the premium features and items.

    • I agree with your points. The one time fee is difficult since OSG’s are more of a service, with the ongoing costs that you mentioned.

      I think the ad revenue could work with some of the larger games, especially since there are already so many ads in these games (for the in-game currency) that could just be replaced with other items of interest. But yes, so long as enough players spend enough to make up for those that don’t pay at all, the in-game advantages might be the best bet for the developers…

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