Monday, March 23

F2P MMO's are the spawn of evil

Over at A Wall of Text there's a very interesting "Drieluik", a three part issue titled:
F2P MMO's are the spawn of evil Part 1, Part2 and Part3 and they're a good read.
Below is my reaction about his statement that F2P launches are cheaper for the developer, in the case of his F2P case (Runes of Magic) that's Frogster, a company I have some familiarity with as Publisher/Distributor for The Chronicles of Spellborn for parts of Europe and are spearheading getting it launched in Korea, Asia. Check out his posts before reading on, otherwise it's probably a bit hard to read as it was written as a comment originally.

I agree that digital distribution is the way to go, however I'm missing something in the post.
Of those 50 bucks you pay for the box, $5 go to retail/distribution, $5 goes to the developer's Live Operations Team (CS, Server maintenance, acocunting e.t.c.), $10 goes to the publisher and the last $30,- go towards the developer for paying of the investment. With 700K boxes sold at launch that means you can break even on a 21 Milion investment. 28M if you're your own publisher and can get $40,- per box to go to you rather than middlemen.

Having people pay $15,- per month for 3 months (let's say 350K subs on average to show declining numbers) gets you another 1.5 Milion to play with.

Compare this to a F2P that cost say 15 milion to develop Launch digital download brings in exactly $0,- to pay off that investment. You don't have to pay off $5,- per box to the middlemen but your Operational costs are about $2 higher due to more intensive networking needs. (A good thing people don't get as upset about a 12 hour download for a F2P game as they would for a game they just paid $50,- for.) In the F2P setup, Frogster is its own Publisher and their Live Operations is done by wholy owned corp Yusho so they can keep those costs relatively low. However a $7,- on average per account isn't that ridiculous by comparison.

So RoM's 700K launch costs Frogster 4.9M as opposed to AoC's 14 Milion, which is substantially cheaper I agree. However, not a penny was spent towards buying off the investment at this time. Now I don't know How much Frogster had to invest, but I expect this to be in the 5-10 Milion range. It's not impossible to get that investment back even with a bad launch 9which RoM isn't having from what I can tell) but it's more of a long term scheme, and that's something that isn't 'done' in the US.
Probably because to many people from Hollywood and the cinema chains are getting into the branch. A 80 Milion movie not grossing 3 times that during opening weekend is considered a flop.
An F2P launch is more like the first Shrek movie, which was exceptional in that it was understood and accepted, that it would not make a profit on top of return of investment during the first weekend of its showing. But a slumber hit is generally considered undesirable for being unpredictable.


  1. I think there is almost a generation gap issue in play here. I still prefer to buy a CD over downloading a song or two from iTunes. And the same applies to P2P vs F2P. The problem with F2P is that at the start you have no idea how much it will cost you, or how much you will get out of it.

    When I pay the $50 + $15/month I more or less know what I will get. I know the developer has put in content worth that kind of money. Or at least it will get there over time. With a F2P game you have no idea what will be there for you. I don't want to invest my time in a game that either turns out to have no depth at all, or which requires me to invest later on.

    But I think a lot of players like the sampling joys of a F2P. To convert that to CDs vs iTunes, they just buy one or two songs, listen to it a few times, and they are off to the next thing. They will play them again some time, and maybe even buy a third song from the same band if they see it on youtube.

    From a money making point of view F2P might very well be a lot more profitable. But as old school MMO player I am not buying it.

  2. Aye, I know what you mean.
    I much prefer the physical product of a CD myself. I never really bought singles (except twice) and MP3's never really caught my heart, not even during the Napster craze.
    I do have a substantial 80's collection somewhere from that time, which I burned to 8 CD's which I rarely listen too.

    But I don't have the same need for a physical product when it comes to games. Mostly because games, today, are more cumbersome and the physical product becomes less practical the longer you own it. While a CD more or less stays the same, a game that hasn't had atleast a minor patch 6 months out is rare.
    That's why I like Steam. I got about 20 games on that account. While I still have more games on discs due to historical reasons I also have a quite a few games I can't play anymore because there's scratches on the disc or because my hardware is to fast for it.
    Some I could repurchase in Digital Distribution style from Good Old Games, some I had to illegally download in order to get a playable version.

    If I uninstall a boxed game, there's a chance I won't be able to reinstall it at a later date, not through EA's draconic DRM ideas, but simple wear and tear. Not so with the Steam games.

    So, practical reasons overcome the desire to own that shiny disc, when it comes to games anyway. The plethora of audio formats and distributors have kept me away from going digital downloads in the music department. Besides, I hate the pushiness of iTunes on my pc. Can't even get QuickTime without it.

    So, I actually like DD for games.
    I completely and utterly share your thoughts and concerns about budgetting MMO's and how this is harder with F2P games. That's the bussiness plan behind them. On average a single F2P account generates more revenue on a monthly basis than P2P games. However, it's more susceptible (sp?) to conjuncture than P2P subscriptions.

    Regardless, I'm slowly downloading RoM to take a look at it. (Slowly because it's using a low-cost Torrent system (you get what you pay for, at least some of that $50 for the box goes to bandwidth) and my ISP doesn't like that, mainly because I'm interested in the game mechanics which seem to have been carefully culled from Western and Eastern MMO's of the last decade

  3. Interesting read and an issue I thought alot about. During those dark bug filled days of no AoC and boredom with GW and WoW I went off to try all sorts of things from the LotRO trial to several F2P games, sadly I missed the Hello Kitty beta by just a few days.....

    The game I played the most from the F2P games stable was probably PWI (perfect world international) which was the American localisation of the Chinese game Perfect World. From a visual point of view PWI is prettty nice amd from a gameplay point of view it is a pure grindfest that only gets worse the higher you level UNLESS you spend some real life cash in the item shop to make leveling faster, dieing less, your mount faster and give yourself enough storage space to get by. I have a lvl 42 character in there somehwere....Now happily I didnt spend a penny but as I was in the CB we got a gift of something roughly equivalent to £15 to spend in the item shop, it went rather quickly.

    I made a few aquaintances in PWI alot of who'm spent way, WAAAAY more than the expected price of £10 per month on a subscription model.

    The beauty of the free download, as long as you have the good enough ISP, is yes you do get to test these games out with no money spent the problem is of course is do they provide enough to keep you enthralled and make you spend money on items?

    I've tried PWI, Atlantica Online, Requiem, Dungeon Runners and RoM (runes of magic) none of which I would particularly recommend to any of my gamer friends beyond 'if you have nothing better to do'. The biggest problem being they are all localisations of asian grind based games, now whether any developer can create something different within a F2P model is the big question, personally given the development cost limitations I would probably say no.

    Which has the potential to make more ? Probably the F2P which because of it's free download no obligation model will hook people in to buying the necessary goods to have a competetive edge, longevity of retention of players is probably a very different question with the subscription based games more likely to retain players over periods of years rather than months. F2P I suspect is more about volume and a fairly fast turn over.

  4. Lani - a word of warning about the RoM patcher - it is very, very annoying! After applying each small chunk it closes and restarts requiring action from you, it took hours, not because of downlaod speed but purely because of the never ending restarts, whether they bothered to fix it I don't know, just be prepared.

  5. Although it is nice to have the shiny disk, it is more about having the whole package for me. Digital download, especially with Steam, works quite well. And if downloading and auto-burning a CD would work easier I would probably do that for my music as well. (I am not advanced enough to have a MP3 player)

    But iTunes and other music downloads are all about short term joys and mini transactions. In the youtube world we live in it is all about short term action. It only makes sense that a mass media game like an MMO will go in that direction too. F2P is the way to go!

    A game developer could spent $50,000 on developing a snazzy iPhone or browser game and sell it for $1. If it is good millions of people will buy it.

    Why would any invester risk spending $50,000,000 or more in the hope that it will get its money worth?

    But maybe investing $1,000,000 on a F2P is not a bad idea. If it is good enough more content can be added later on. Each new zone brings in 1,000,000 times $5. I could see that as a nice investment.

    But on the other end is me (and with me the millions of other 30 years+ players that are the main MMO customers), and we want our full CDs. We don't dig the youtube world. Money is not so much the issue as it is that we want a good quality full package deal.

    "We" are a huge market. I am just not sure if developers and investers want to cater for it, or just try to make as like youtube.

  6. Thanks for the heads up Geek!
    I had it running overnight, but my ISP was playing silly buggers so I had to re-apply for a DHCP lease every 20 minutes.

    The client got me to 1 GB out of 3.5GB without a manual restart before it hung. It then asked me where to Dl stuff to, which had a "Runes of Magic date" subfolder now, so I clicked that and it tried to DL the whole bloody thing to a sub-folder of that...

    I'm not radcially anti-grind anymore. VG has its fair share of that. But it is the one defining element of most Asian MMO's that has me get bored with them. RFO and Archlord were F2P asia games converted to P2P here in the West. They failed simply because they were boring, then became F2P, but remained boring. Especially Archlord.

  7. Aye, I agree with the both of you.
    Still saying I prefer the Steam distribution over buying a box at a retail store, maybe in part because most box art is aimed at 14-16 year olds rather than 'we' the over 30 gamers. I still have a few game boxes in between my book collections. Most of these are eighties boxes. I threw out nearly every nineties box and every naughties box I bought. Including the GW Prophecies collector's edition.

    Making a Subbed MMO for 50 Milion makes sense if you can sell 10 Million boxes and keep customers for a while.
    It's boxoffice calculus.

    One other thing that always bugs me about F2P is that it's the drug seller's approach. First time's free and all that. When you're hooked is when you start paying through your nose.

  8. Here's another take on less-than-perfect launches for Boxed games versus free to play.
    When the game-client of an MMO I just paid $50,- for shows a black screen upon startup and nothing else and the support pages come in German or English with mal-parsed C# code through it, the investment I made makes me look beyond the basics.
    With an F2P game like Runes of Magic however...
    For starters the way it uses three applications "ispanian", "Client" and "launcher" which work together in such a way that an heuristic virus-scanner will think they're virii. I had to put all three into the highest trusted group before I could run the client without alarms going off. Then finally it starts up to a 1024x758 resolution black screen with a shiny new mousepointer and some music.
    The "configuration" utility has one setting only, language.
    (English) support pages are up to quality levels that I'm used to from Yusho Gmbh, it's a good example of 'you get what you pay for'.
    In other words, I haven't gotten RoM to actually run yet, and I don't much feel like troubleshooting it with the crappy tools available. So I won't be spending any money at all on this game. Free to Play can also mean Free to let Pass if there's the slightest hurdle. Am I upset about it? Not really, I was just curious and I can live with my curiosity unsatisfied, about this anyway :-)

  9. You really aren't missing much, you get everything from RoM and so much more with Vanguard anyway :)

    The crafting system in RoM was ok but required alot of grind for the resources, the 2 biggest turn offs for me was the inability to zoom out far enough to get a sense of being in a big environment, the world felt small because of it, the second big turn off, which was the same for PWI, over sized main cities which required running large distances just to find your NPC, cities even had teleports dotted around to get you from one section of it to another, there really is no need to make a city so cumbersomely big....a transparent, frustrating time sink, no other reason.

  10. Yeah, but I wanted to rant about all that first hand :-)

    Now all I got to rant about is that their DirectX initialization sucks, probably cause I'm dual-heading but not using both screens for the game.