Great Free to Play games are rare. Some are free because they suck, others are Free to Play but Pay to Win. But, they don’t need to be.
There are thousands of Free to Play games, especially when considering the mass amount hosted on sites like Miniclip and Newgrounds. They can range from amateur efforts to stellar titles that eventually evolve into paid titles.
Then there are Massively Multiplayer Online games; games with overheads like servers, maintenance teams and state of the art security systems, let alone the team responsible for constantly churning out new content. These things cost money.
Free games that need money can be prone to using underhanded tactics to try to force you to reach for your wallet. Some have enjoyment shattering long advertisements between missions, others only allow you to level up to a certain point before you’re not allowed to continue any further. They want you to feel invested, but then to pay to avoid the inconvenience or to continue.
The worst offenders are those that adopt the Pay to Win strategy. Free players get to run around in the game, sure, but they’re armed with little more than pea-shooters while the paid players are rolling around in tanks shooting nuclear warheads. Free players are the fodder, used to justify paying to those who want to feel elitist.
It’s all wrong.
I fully understand the need to make money. GrownGaming is a humble website by all standards, but we have server costs, time taken to research and write, respond to emails and tweets; receiving an income for those expenses and efforts would be nice. But, I’m not going to let you read half of an article before forcing you to sit through a 30-second ad or ask you to pay £10 a month to read the rest of the article.
MMO games have substantially higher expenses and require a super-human amount of dedication. The guys behind these games do deserve to get paid for their efforts and expertise – but it should be done the right way.
How Do You Make The Perfect Free MMO Game?
It’s about getting the balance between making paid players feel special, and making free players feel like playing is worthwhile.
The secret to this is in offering a complete experience to free players.
MMO Adventure games and MMORPG’s should allow access to the main quests – enough to experience the whole story. Allow free players to feel like the time spent playing was warranted, but make then yearn for more if they enjoyed themselves – because they want more, not because you didn’t let them finish what they started.
MMO Shooters should allow access to decent guns and armor. Free to play players should not exist to be massacred; they should be a key cornerstone of your community. This requires balance, something which Planetside 2 masters perfectly. In Planetside 2, weapons can be earned or bought with Daybreak Cash. The catch is, the extra weapons are no better than the free weapons. If they do more damage, they may shoot slower, have longer reload times, or only be good at short-range. The weapons exist to give a varied range of playstyles, not to give an advantage to those who grind forever or enter their card details.
So, That Sounds Good…But…How Do We Get Paid?
MMORPG’s have it fairly easy in this regard. Offer the core quest and side missions to all, sure, but by all means, lock a series of side quests and access to some Premium islands and further quests. Also, give certain customization options to paid players; maybe they have a wider variety of hair colors and armor or houses to add to? Don’t give paid players God weapons, but give them a way to stand out in the world you created.
MMO Shooters, once again, would do well by adopting Planetside 2’s approach; offer side-grades, rather than upgrades to everything. Everything can be earned, but everything can be bought too. Expensive items, such as armor, can make your soldier look badass, but are not required and offer no additional protection from bullets. Armour isn’t even SEEN, other than on your opponent’s screen when you take them down; this is a First Person Shooter after all. MMO Shooters could also offer access to exclusive member maps or expansions, but ensure you offer enough content in the free, core game.
Don’t give paid players an advantage; your Free players won’t stick around long enough to feel invested and want to pay for the experience you’ve given them. You’ll lose the word of mouth recommendations and, if anything, generate a reputation for the hollowness of your title.
Personally, I love these approaches. I’ve spent money in Planetside 2 to buy a different weapon and a pretty cool helmet because a/ I thought that helmet looked awesome, and b/ I’ve played Planetside 2 for over 120 hours and feel that the developers deserve my support.
Don’t force players to pay to experience your game. Create an experience that is so good, people want to pay you.