Free for All: Comparing the payment models of Second Life and Pocket Legends

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Free for All: Comparing the payment models of Second Life and Pocket Legends
Second Life and Pocket Legends screenshots
Over the last few weeks I have been taking a look at different free-to-play payment models in the hopes of showing just how much variety there is in today's market. The term free-to-play is open to interpretation, and every time I become involved in a discussion about what the term means, I come to the same point: Show me the game and I'll tell you how "free" it is. While more titles than not can be enjoyed completely for free, it's important to note that every game needs to make money, so every developer hopes some players pay for something.

We also must note that the term "free-to-play" is almost like the term "rock-and-roll." It is a general term that can be broken into many sub-genres. In other words, don't be so uptight about the literal meaning of the word. If you are not sure, check out the game in question.

Pocket Legends and Second Life screenshot
This week I want to look at two of my favorite game's money-making methods. Second Life and Pocket Legends are both successful games. They are both unique pioneers in their particular area of the gaming universe. There might be a lot that is misunderstood about both titles as well.

Second Life is not really thought of as a "game" by many. Lots of my articles about the game feature at least one comment that chides me for using the term "game" to describe the... the world, I guess. Again, gamers need to learn to accept some general terms as nothing more than a reference. Gamers are great at accepting nonsensical memes every time a new one is issued without questioning the literal meaning of the words. We need to loosen up on gaming terms as well and investigate if we are not sure. Massively doesn't cover only games that cost 60 bucks, so there'll be no harm done if a player has to take a chance on a title.

Second Life is also rarely thought of or referred to as a free-to-play title. I'm not positive, but I suspect the emphasis on owning land is responsible. Fans of the title have read about land barons making hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars per year through the land market. It's a rare thing to make any sort of living from Second Life, but this is what every popular article seems to talk about. World of Warcraft is always referenced for its addictive properties, and Second Life will always be referenced for its virtual sex and land sales (neither of which sums up all the game offers).

Second Life marketplace screenshot
The truth is that Second Life is a brilliant mix of free and extremely expensive. To own land, for example, you can either buy it from the system or other players or rent it. If I were to buy land from some random land sale on the main landmass, I would more than likely be buying something that was long ago purchased by an early player and sold on to someone else through the years until I took it over. I would have to pay a monthly tier fee that allowed me to hold a certain amount of land. The more I hold, the more I have to pay. You can also get a Linden Home included with a monthly subscription. At one point I was paying $60 for my land fees, but I was turning around and making about $60 back by renting out my land and selling items.

Now, let's say that another player bought a chunk of land or an entire sim (a private server) and rented out pieces for a certain fee. I could rent from that player and pay him either with in-game dollars or through PayPal, credit cards or other services. The great thing with renting is that you can pay with Linden Dollars. That monthly or weekly rental fee can be earned through gameplay; I can craft items, sell artwork, or pool my money with other players. In that way, Second Life land ownership can be free.

My account was created on May 26th, 2004. I even remember the first few days I played the game. Luckily, this OG status has allowed me to gain a free weekly stipend of in-game cash. I started off with enough money to get started with a career in the game. I could take 100 L$ and turn them into 300 or more. As I mentioned before, I could make an item to sell and start making my money that way. New free players no longer receive this free stipend of cash, but they can still find a way to make some money without putting any in. They can charge other players for a service (use your imagination) or create an item and sell it to a shop owner. As a friend pointed out on Twitter, however, this does take a decent amount of research, and by that point, a new player would probably have put some money in.

I'm barely scraping the surface of making money in Second Life, but the point is that the game can be very much enjoyed for free. You will probably put some money in if it becomes your main game, but that should be expected. Just consider it a subscription.

Pocket Legends cash shop screenshot
When I first started Pocket Legends, I was worried about how the game would be monetized. The developers decided to sell items in the cash-shop, virtual items like clothes and potions, and to sell access to different levels. I remember my wife purchasing a pack of new areas so she could play through them. The cost was minimal, and the game was a blast to play. Now, most areas of the game are free. Six of the possible 15 areas are accessible only with money. I wouldn't be surprised if the devs later make these free too as new zones are developed.

If we fast forward to now, we see a game that has grown not only in content but in the size of its playerbase. Spacetime Studios has talked before about how it didn't expect players to play for long sessions. After a while, the devs realized that their community was pulling down long hours of play, almost typical for a "standard" MMO. My playtime is usually measured in missions or dungeon lengths. I like to log in and complete a few quests and log out. I might purchase something in the cash shop and might check out Spacetime's other production title, Star Legends.

"Grown businessmen play it on their coffee breaks, college kids play it on their new Chromebooks, and of course, younger players love it on their iPods."

Recently both mobile titles were offered through the browser. This move has opened up the game to even more players. Although most free-to-play games would be lucky to break double-digits in percentages of players who actually pay something while they play, more players means more money. Pocket Legends is also attractive to a variety of players. Grown businessmen play it on their coffee breaks, college kids play it on their new Chromebooks, and of course, younger players love it on their iPods.

While it can be argued that both of these games are "freemium" titles, we should note just how much content you get for absolutely nothing. Second Life can be enjoyed and explored for nothing. Even land fees can be earned in game. The forced purchase of new areas in Pocket Legends definitely makes it a freemium game but one that is easy on the pocketbook.

There are many, many more examples of free games out there, games like Eden Eternal, MilMo, Glitch, and scores of others. For most free-to-play publishers, offering free gameplay is still standard. Will those same publishers make it very hard to resist throwing a chunk of change into the shop? Of course. The good thing is that contributing only helps to fund more publishing or the creation of more games.

That's always a good thing.

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!
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