Free for All: New changes call for new terms

As a writer for a large gaming website, I have learned to accept debate and discussion going off in quite a few directions, even if the original idea behind the article was not being talked about. This is a good thing, in my book, and will often demonstrate the concerns of the day better than requesting feedback more directly. If they can comment about certain subjects even in a comment section about opposite subjects, then you know that the issue is a really hot one. There are two subjects that can almost always pop up in any article's comment section, and these are:

  • The NGE: Star Wars Galaxies' infamous game-altering changes are still talked about, despite the fact that the game now is able to stand on its own two feet quite well. It's as though the notorious series of tweaks and changes were so traumatic to some players that no amount of time will ever lessen the burn, even if the game were to fade away entirely.
  • Free-to-play versus pay-to-play: I'm not confused about the appearance of the words; I'm concerned about the statements that pit the two payment models against each other, like the opposing sides of a presidential race. While I am all for comparing the two and do all the time, it has to be taken with a bit of humor in order to feel balanced. Even then, the discussions are soon pointless, being that both terms are slowly holding hands behind our backs. It turns out that free-to-play and subscriptions are smitten with each other.

So what do we do about this? I'm going to consider what it might mean for my column, since that it generally concerns free games. What do I write about when all games eventually have some element of free to them, or when all games feature cash-shops or unlimited trials? Do I change the title of my column to "For All?" Unfortunately, that day has not come yet. For now, the two methods of payment (or non-payment) are mostly complete, but that day is quickly coming to an end.

"Even then, the sheer size of some freemium games free content allow players to enjoy a long career in the game to the tune of nothing, further blurring the definition. "


Think about it. How many games that feature a standard box price and monthly subscription price, now also have some kind of item shop tied in with them? Of course, it might take a small stretch of the imagination to say that paying for a server transfer or name change is a cash-shop item, but then we are just splitting hairs. If anything, those standard services that appear in subscription based games, and have for years, are even more "game-impacting" than a shiny new mount or speed buff. I am not so sure that just because the item shop is embedded in a website and not accessible from in-game denies it the status of "cash-shop."

Now, see what I am doing? I am questioning, or broadening, the meaning of the word "cash-shop"!

Forgive me, but let me be excited for a minute. This is fun stuff to a game writer like me, these moments of clarification captured with virtual ink. This moment might never come again, so let's savor it. In fact, if you stop and listen, you can almost hear the thousands of keyboards being tapped on, or the familiar click of the mouse, all coming from the developers' desks. That's the sound of an industry changing, of entire teams of people trying new things. This switch to blurry payment models is a wonderful thing, even if many of them fail or sputter. The sounds of change are the sounds of an industry being innovative and trying to think for the future. This is very exciting stuff.

So how about some new terms? We need new ways to define these odd hybrid models of payment or of play. While many would tell you that free-to-play is also an indicator of low quality, that theory has been proven incorrect not only by several years of high-quality offerings, but also by the recent inclusion of many games that were once subscription only and are more than likely considered to be "AAA" titles.

What about "freemium?" That term might work for games that offer a very large trial essentially, but it also indicates that at some point the player would need to pony up or run out of content. Even then, the sheer size of some freemium games' free content allows players to enjoy a long career in the game to the tune of nothing, further blurring the definition.

I enjoyed a Tweet from a friend recently, in which he wrote that "Flexible Payment Plan (FPP) and Flat Rate Subscription (FRS)" sounded better. I like his thoughts on the matter.

Still, I think that we need to consider that all of this worry might be over a very few games. In other words, this entire article might be based around renaming the most uncommon of game types: subscription games. Like I asked you to do earlier, count up the games that now feature some sort of alternative payment option or that host a cash-shop, within or without the game. Then, to push the example further, count up the games that will soon be free-to-play or that will offer an optional subscription alongside a free version. After all that, count up the mind-boggling number of free-to-play games in existence that do not simply exist, but are enjoyed by more players than many of the subscription-based games that some consider more legitimate.

Like dial-up modems, the subscription-only plans are fading fast. They performed admirably, and at one point were the most updated item in your household. To this day many people still use a dial-up modem to get their daily news and to run credit card information, but I think my point is clear: subscriptions in their purest form are disappearing, or at least are being blended into other payment options. This is no knock at the pricing plan, but just an acknowledgment that the term is going to be about as common as "dial-up modem" is now. In a conversation about connecting to the internet, how often do you specify the "ancient" technology?

I like "FRS" myself. The only other gray area for me is between "unlimited trials/freemium" games and entirely free games. My bet is that I won't be concerned about those differences much longer.
This article was originally published on Massively.