Saturday, January 14, 2012

Last Stop, Everybody Off!

A couple of news items turned up in my reader yesterday and started me thinking. Rift decided to flag some servers for "large scale trial programs" and asked everyone on them if they wouldn't kindly mind leaving and Gods and Heroes went F2P. 

I've done quite a few betas over the years and I'd become used to having one or two icons on my desktop that offered me something for nothing but my time and goodwill. When it came to playing a game full-time and having ownership of my characters, though, I knew I'd have to put my virtual hand in my virtual pocket and come up with a credit card number. That had an obvious downside: I only have so much money so I could only justify subscribing to one or two MMOs at a time. Which was also the upside: the subscription fee acted as a kind of quality control.

Back when I began playing MMOs trying a new one meant buying a box and paying every month if you wanted to stick with it. That wasn't so much of a problem because there weren't that many MMOs to try and every new one that came along was something of an event in itself. It was worth shelling out just to say you'd been there when it happened.

Shadefallen - last Defiant out please turn off the lights
A few years on there were a lot more MMOs and few people would have wanted to stump up cash just to try them all. How lucky we were that free trials turned up, then! What a co-incidence! Free trials meant a week or two of low-level play to give you a taste of a game in the hope you'd buy the box and sub if you got hooked. That was better in some ways, because you knew going in you'd probably be done with the game before the trial ended and you wouldn't have wasted a penny. Still, there was the nagging worry that the new game might sink its claws in and you'd be stuck paying after all, which acted as some sort of a brake.

Millrush - lalala! We can't hear you!
Now there are hundreds of MMOs and most of them don't ask for any money at all. There's all kinds, too. Fantasy, Science Fiction, Super Heroes, Funny Animals, Crime. It's like being at the comic store all over again. And quite a lot of them are good. Good enough that once upon a time they thought they'd be able to sell you a box and charge you a monthly fee.  Only that didn't work out so well, or maybe it didn't work out as badly as all that but even so the other guys who'd dropped the fee were doing even better... Whatever, everyone went whaling.

Faeblight - There goes the neighborhood...
All of which brings me back to Rift and Gods and Heroes. Scott Hartsman nailed his colors to the subscription mast a long time back. In fact he pretty much scrambled up after them and nailed himself up there as well. I sense a retrenchment in recent months, however. It's going to be awfully painful if he has to pull out those nails and climb back down, but he's leaving clear wiggle-room with his "Right now, absolutely no plans whatsoever" reply to Eurogamer back in November when they asked if Rift had any contingency plans to move away from subs.

 Rift's done well with its subscription model, though. Can't argue that. If one day it does flip over and go Free to Play (and I'd bet it will although probably later rather than sooner) Trion can expect a massive surge of interest and publicity and a tsunami of returning exes. It's a solid gold game and it will be around for a long time. How it raises funds is the least interesting thing about it.

So? I can buy those and put them on a rat!
Gods and Heroes on the other hand never really got off the ground. I was in the beta and I could never even get the client to run. Sentiment was strongly against the game even being ready to launch when it did, let alone charging both a box fee and a subscription. When I saw the Massively article yesterday my first thought was "Is that thing still going?" Now it's free to play, will I try it? Well, there's a nominal fee for the client, so not yet. But even if that last barrier wasn't standing in my way, then no I probably wouldn't.

STO : You can walk about! Outdoors even!
Because I just don't have the time! This is the thing about all these great MMOs moving away from the old pay to play deal. Now I have all these extra games I could be playing but no-one gave me any more hours in the day. On my list of AAA F2P MMOs that I haven't yet even tried out yet there's Age of Conan, City of Heroes and Lineage2, with Star Trek Online due in a few days and Aion next month. Any one of those would justify a full month of concentrated play just to decide if it was worth carrying on.

Here's the thing. I'm paying to play Rift right now and I'm still not logging in. Forget Free-to-Play, I'll be happy if more games just go Free-to-Forget-to-Play !


  1. I'll be happy if more games just go Free-to-Forget-to-Play!
    You're saying games that charge when you do play, but should you not play for x amount of time, you're not charged? If so, interesting thought.

  2. Ah, but F2P also entails being F2F2P as well. ;)

  3. @Ahtchu & Winged Nazgul I was just going for the joke that WN got, but the other interpretation is very interesting. Not sure if anyone's tried that payment model yet. I'd be quite interested in, say, $9.99 for 30 non-consecutive days' play.


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