Free For All: Ten misconceptions, two opinions -- part two

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Free For All: Ten misconceptions, two opinions -- part two
Recently I had an idea to send my counterpart, Richard Aihoshi, an email requesting his input into my column. He has been very helpful and informative, and I am glad to say that he has taught me a few things. We ran through some ideas and decided to discuss 10 common (and undying) misconceptions about free-to-play games. He posted the first half of the discussion in his weekly column which can be read here. He has also written for Beckett Massive Online Gamer magazine and is the former editor of RPG Vault.

After the jump you will find the rest of the discussion points. I would like to highlight that, while the following points are commonly brought up to both Richard and me, more and more players seem to be accepting free-to-play as what it is: an option, and nothing more. These points are not an attack on subscription-based games or their developers, but are simply an attempt to butt two heads together in the hopes of clearing out the fog a bit. After all, we both receive many comments and emails regarding these misconceptions, so this list was shockingly easy to make.

  • All F2P games are grindy.
Beau Hindman: I think this is quite true in many (though not nearly all) cases, but the issue is not native to only the free-to-play market. Grind has been around since the beginning and shows no sign of stopping. While some games do favor it as the preferred method to gain experience (or whatever is similar), many of those same games offer not only quite a few other activities, but activities that have no grind at all. It's also a style choice, and it represents normal variables in the market. For every grindy game, there are some that would be considered a breeze. There are so many free-to-play games out there that any player could find at least a few that might fit into his idea of fun.

"In America it is very popular for us to go to a local cafe with our laptop, so it's not much of a stretch to see millions of us renting PCs if they were available."

Richard Aihoshi: This characterization carries the tacit implication that subscription games aren't grindy. This is ridiculous. As Beau noted, saying all MMOGs are [grindy] would be more accurate; it's really a matter of degree. Are free-to-plays significantly worse? Some yes, but it's still a huge leap to generalize across hundreds of titles from selective examples. Also, shouldn't the context of a player's full subjective experience factor in? When a title delivers more fun as a whole, the same amount or duration of repetitive activity isn't likely to feel as grindy.

  • Free-to-play games are usually embedded with anti-spyware software that, ironically, puts spyware on your PC.
Beau: From my experience, the embedded software that players have issues with is usually a tool for prevention, and nothing more. Yes, some of it will cause issues with your spyware detector -- occasionally setting off an alarm. Any time this happened to me, I researched the software, made sure it was from a secure site or developer and then allowed it to do its job. I have not run into one yet that could not be worked around, or with. Any scan with most spyware programs will bring up potential threats that are often harmless or even necessary -- it's important to know exactly what you are dealing with.

Richard: While this does come up from time to time, I can't recall ever seeing it presented in a credible manner where the person reports in full what he or she did, what actual problems arose, what research was then undertaken, and what remedies were attempted. And despite installing perhaps 200 or more MMOGs over the years, the only issues I've had were a few false positives, which I occasionally get from other software too.

  • Free-to-play games are popular in Asia because they are cheap to make and cheap to play. The players over there cannot afford a subscription.
Beau: There might be some truth in this statement, but I wouldn't know to what extent. Also, it is very possible that many "foreign" players simply prefer a cyber cafe/rented computer setup, or that it is just the normal way people access the internet. In America it is very popular for us to go to a local cafe with our laptop, so it's not much of a stretch to see millions of us renting PCs, if they were available. There are chains that offer rentable banks of PCs, and they do pretty well. Gaming, while surrounded by humanity, might not be such a bad choice.

Richard: This one is kind of condescending and possibly desperate. It uses a rather insulting stereotype to support the contention that subscription is somehow superior by implying free-to-play players would switch if they only had a little more money in their pockets. In fact, MMOGs are a highly affordable form of entertainment anywhere. And renting PCs by the hour, which is prevalent in the world's largest market, China, tends to make the total cost higher, not lower relative to the standard of living.

  • Most F2P games are filled with spam bots and gold farmers.
Beau: This depends on the game, but over the years I have found that the subscription model (or lack thereof) has no bearing on gold spam. Popularity seems to affect it more than anything, and even then developers take steps to combat the spam. For example, I see more gold spam in Star Wars Galaxies than in any free-to-play game. World of Warcraft has had its issues for a long, long time with gold spammers. Again, I see it pop up more in subscription-based games than anywhere. Often, the fact that a free-to-play game has a cash shop or purchasable goods that can be sold in game, can prevent gold spammers.

Richard: It seems my gut feel here largely mirrors Beau's. Gold spamming definitely isn't tied to any revenue model, and may even be at its worst in certain subscription releases. This claim also exhibits a possible inconsistency when placed beside the common one about cash shops being packed with uber-gear not available through free play. If I'm going to spend money in an free-to-play, why wouldn't I just do so there? And if that's the case, where's the market for the gold sellers?

  • Ftp games are updated less often than subscription-based titles.
Beau: It depends on the game. Blizzard releases WoW expansions once every blue moon, but they are game-changing and huge. Smaller games like WURM Online see smaller patches, but that's taking into consideration the one-man team. Mabinogi seems to fall somewhere in-between: large-ish patches that are very, very frequent. Many free-to-play games seem to update more often, perhaps because of the fact that players could simply leave without losing a dime if the game weren't updated enough. It could be argued that it is indeed harder to maintain a loyal playerbase in a free-to-play title, simply because the barrier to entry (and exit) is so low. Think about it: if you paid nothing for a game and it wasn't updated to your liking, what would you do?

Richard: I have to admit I don't have much of a feel for this one way or the other. That said, if forced to, I'd probably guess free-to-plays tend to be updated more often. Beau mentioned the greater need to keep fresh content flowing since the barrier to exit is so low. In addition, there may be less motivation to hold things back to increase or maintain the size of expansions since they're given away at no charge anyway.

Thanks again to Richard, and thanks to the readers in supporting both of our columns!
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