But I work at Massively. We're a website about, you know, games, and not just games, but MMOs, some of the least understood of all games. People and even developers seem to confuse what MMO means, and they especially confuse what a free-to-play MMO should offer. Once again I am going to take a crack at it, but not just because I am nosy. Mainly I want to clear this up so people will know what to expect from a title and whether there is going to have to be any money involved.
Click past the cut and let's have at it!
Already this is getting confusing, and it's starting to sound a bit like a scientific paper. As I noted before, though, it's important to be able to let people know what to expect, financially, when they are thinking about trying a new game. Let's soldier on.
Freemium, unlimited trial or velvet rope model games are games that allow players to play to a point in the main storyline or bulk of content, but then the games ask for some form of payment before letting the players move on. In other words, at some early point, players will hit a toll gate. Sometimes, in a game like Ryzom for example, players will pay not early on but somewhere closer to halfway. Still, it's "pay the toll or don't go any further." Wizard101 and Free Realms are freemium games.
"Technically they might not be blocking a player from playing from level A to level Z, but they are offering so much more to a paying player that many might see it as forced payment."
While I know it sucks to see another player with cooler armor or weapons than yours simply because he plunked some real-life money down, allowing the purchase of exclusive items or weapons does not always stop other players from going further without the items. One of the common arguments I hear against free-to-play is that it rewards those rolling in real-life cash with wonderful, time-saving gear. Meanwhile, the regular slobs have to hack out their stuff in the old fashioned way... by playing the game. The existence of such wonderful items takes away from the hard work of other players, removing their ability to get the best items in the game without paying for them. To some players, this means that the game is not free.
I'd love to say that when it comes down to it, players should not care about whether or not there will be a fee at some point. After all, MMO gaming is still dirt cheap even with all the bells and whistles. The truth is that it matters to me, so why shouldn't it matter to anyone else? I don't like a payment model that divides up content in such jarring ways. I don't want to run into a wall, usually one covered in "JOIN NOW" advertisements, especially so early in a game. If the developer wants us to subscribe early on, just give us a limited trial and we'll decide at the end of the two weeks. Thanks to the popularity of Western takes on free-to-play like LotRO, EQ2X and Free Realms, I now run the risk of not knowing what playing a game might entail for players' pocketbooks. Sometimes I am not clear on the nuances of a game's particular payment system simply because I have not played to the point at which payment is absolutely needed. That's why I value the input of my readers so much, and other readers should help each other out with information.
So in the end, I am still relatively confused. Basically let's sum it up as this:
1) Free-to-play games allow you to download, play and grow in their worlds without any form of payment required at any point. Now, if you want to grow faster or look cooler... then you'll pay. Experience potions, healing salves or nice-looking armor are the staples of the free-to-play payment plan. At least you will know that you can reach the "end" of the game for free, even if it is slower than some players.
2) Freemium, unlimited trial or velvet rope games will force payment on you at some point. Granted, in a game like Wizard101, you can consider housing, gardening or minigames as free content and be perfectly happy becoming a master at those things. However, if you play through the main storyline or participate in the main selling point of the game, you will have to pay to get to the end.
I hate to use such broad terms for so many games. This is a market of evolving payment models. There is definitely some sneakiness happening in the name of both free-to-play and freemium, so we as consumers need to send a very strong message. That means that next time you ask me for a recommendation for a "free" game, you need to assume that I have no idea what you like to do in a game and what you consider "free." It is also important to remember that playing five, six or even a dozen games from either payment model does not even make a dent in the sheer number of titles out there. So keep exploring, and remember that there are examples of good and bad on both sides.
Each week, Free for All brings you ideas, news, and reviews from the world of free-to-play, indie, and import games -- a world that is often overlooked by gamers. Leave it to Beau Hindman to talk about the games you didn't know you wanted! Have an idea for a subject or a killer new game that no one has heard of? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org!