Free-to-Play model in depth
Of many ways of distributing and monetizing games, Free-to-Play model seems to be the best for both users and developers. Many games based on this business model have recently emerged on the market. This article covers in depth analysis of Free-to-Play model, its advantages and disadvantages.
Basics of Free-to-Play model
Free-to-Play model (F2P model) is a way of distributing and monetizing games, that provides free access to the game, while the additional ingame content is subject to payment, it being the main source of income for the developers. The content subject to payment may include both the “cosmetic” items, which don’t influence game process, and the items and services, which foster the game process for those, who don’t want to waste much time on the walkthrough.
The following games have F2P model: Quake Live, Team Fortress 2 (since 2011), Dota 2, Hearthstone, Heroes of the Storm and League of Legends. HotS and LoL differ from Dota 2 in that they sell not only visual alterations of the heroes, but also the heroes. Furthermore, both games use 2 currencies: ingame (virtual) currency and real money. Ingame money is provided for the victories or fulfilling the game tasks. The process of saving money for a hero purchase is rather long. In order to save time, a user can buy a hero with real money. By the way the model, popular in the market of mobile games, is freemium. Despite apparent likeness to F2P, this is a completely different way to distribute games. Freemium provides a limited version of the game for free, whereas full version (called “premium”) must be purchased.
F2P model is practically the only successful answer to the piracy. The systems of copy protection, CD-keys and online authentications has proven to be inefficient and failed to stop the pirates. The developers suffered substantial losses, especially as concerns the beginning studios. That’s why a new way of product monetization was required. A simple and effective solution to this problem was soon found. The developers made their product free of charge. In such a case distribution of unlicensed copies was senseless. Furthermore, the companies didn’t have to spend resources developing new ways of software protection. Instead they could focus on developing a better product. This was very important, since after the release of game, the developers were to continue their work on the game, adding new content for those, who are ready to pay. Holding customers is an important aspect of F2P games distribution.
MMORPG developers were the first to use this model, since piracy servers were very popular. MapleStrory by South Korea developers is worth mentioning. This multiplayer online game is free of charge and has a Cash Shop, which sells virtual goods and items (e.g. coupons to change the appearance of a hero) with real money. Apart from that, MapleStrory has advertisement. Furcadia and RuneScape are one of the first MMORPGs to use F2P model. RuneScape was divided into 2 parts, the first being paid version, the second being a free-of-charge demo. This means that anyone who liked the game was to buy the full version.
The advantages of F2P
As any deal between the buyer and seller, Free-to-Play model implies the agreement between two participants: the user (potential buyer) and the developer (seller). That is why, when speaking about the advantages of F2P, we can analyze the model from the point of view of developer and user, in order to understand the deals they participate in.
Let’s begin from the developers. The main advantage is the success in a battle against piracy, since nobody would sell a free game. Furthermore, the free access to the game will enable to attract larger audience of gamers. This is great since the large audience enable to attract more advertisers and establish higher ad prices (in case, ads are provided in the game). The developers collect and analyse data about all the transactions made by users. First of all they are interested in the reasons, why a user decides to make the first purchase, and the parameters, which enable to analyse effectiveness of the new introduced products. This is profitable for both developers and users, in that the company can focus on developing the content, the gamers are interested in. Moreover, statistics provide information about interesting regularities, e.g. most purchases are made in the night time.
F2P model provides many advantages to the gamers. First of all, it gives an opportunity to try a game for free. It used to be a very big problem in the past, when users bought games, not knowing what they really are. Second, F2P model enables the users to pay for what they want to purchase. Third, the users aren’t forced to pay. Any transaction is based on the comprehended and rational decision of a user, though some developers do resort to tricks to make the users pay for the products.
The abovementioned advantages explain why F2P model is so popular now. Still there’s another side of this coin, and our analysis wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the disadvantages of F2P.
Many economic issues are inalienably interconnected with human psychology and understanding of how human thinks and makes decisions. Many researchers tried to determine the connection of psychology and economy, which resulted in many economical theories. There’s a number of key issues, these theories are based on. By what is the person guided, when he or she makes a purchase. Is his or her choice rational and deliberate or does a person relies on intuition? Can the choice be deemed rational, if it bases on the information, available to a buyer, while this information is often false? The research of these issues resulted in many economical theories, which merge such disciplines as economics, psychologies and sociology.
We mentioned psychology deliberately. The developers smartly play with human psychology, encouraging users to make purchases. It looks as if nobody forces users to pay, and the decision to buy ingame items is based on the rational reasons. However, not always does a user make an independent decision, despite he or she might think so. For example, developers might arrange the game process in such a way, that a user would feel discomfort without a particular item or service, which simplifies game. Companies also stimulate user for purchasing items by making the process of upgrading heroes very long without those items. There are plenty of options, which are limited only by the developers’ fantasy.
Minecraft creator Markus Persson thinks that F2P model is pretty similar to addiction to drugs or gambling.
There are less obvious means to encourage user to make purchase. For example, there’s a rotation of heroes in League of Legends (as well as HotS). There’s a number of heroes available free of charge during one week. On the next week the set of heroes free of charge is changed. If a user likes a particular hero, he or she will most likely buy it in order to continue playing the hero. A hero can also be purchased with virtual money, though a user would need to spend much time in the game to earn them.
Furthermore, some developers, seeking profit, are ready to provide advantage in the game to those users, who pay. Such offer is based on important psychological feature of human, as we all want to be better than others. By making a small money contribution, a user gains an advantage over those, who didn’t pay. On the other side, not everyone can rejoice over the victory he or she didn’t actually deserve. Speaking of mobile F2P, the developers try to encourage users to share their ingame successes in social networks in order to advertise their game for free.
The appearance of a hero doesn’t influence the game process, but a person needs to underline his or her individuality by dressing up his or her online toy
The abovementioned disadvantages of F2P can be avoided, if the developers will seek loyalty and the trust of their audience in the first hand. F2P is a very flexible model, which provides plenty options, which enables to organize it in such a way, that users enjoy the game and the developers gain profit they deserve. The examples of a successful implementation of F2P are well-known.
Eloveana 29 August 2015, 14:03 1695 0