Is free-to-play too much free?
Many of the MMOs that used to be subscription-based games, but at some point switched to a hybrid och free-to-play model have added various pieces to their names to indicate that they are really free, such as “Freedom”, “Free for all”, “Free forever”, “Unchained” etc. In an era where most MMOs were subscription-based, this perhaps made sense, to indicate that you really can try this game for free.
Nowadays, the subscription-only games are the minority and it is perhaps rather they who need to find some added description to their names – although I hope not. I would rather see that there is a perceived value in the product itself rather than trying to entice people with an added twist to the name of the product.
If one looks at the different subscription-to-hybrid conversions, one can see that they have struggled a bit to find a balance with what people pay for, either through the shop and/or a subscription fee. Some games which use to be somewhat restrictive have loosened their restrictions in order to get more players (and perhaps even paying players).
But perhaps is it a bit too much – reading some forums and commentary on a few sites there is a fair amount of people talking about how much of the game you can play without paying – but not always so much what is worth paying for. When I read questions like “what do I get for the subscription/premium fee” I see fairly often comments along the line of “you do not need to pay to do X, or you need to pay to do Y”. If the arguments is along the lines of “need” and “not need” then the company have really failed to display value to the customers in a good way.
If customers in general rather enjoy the game because they do not have to pay anything, or barely anything, then the game company have failed to show the value of the product. A successful model is where people get hooked and want to give the company money because they like what they see and they want to get additional value. But if companies focus on the “free” part rather than the value they provide when you actually pay, they will have difficulties in a market where almost everything is “free” to some extent.
One feature which I think some games are not handling well is the community aspect – the “free” player typically have a number of restrictions when it comes to chat, forming guilds etc. I can understand that from a perspective to avoid too much gold seller spam and similar, but it also takes away a key element that can make people attached to an MMO. I would prefer to see a bit more freedom in the community aspects of a game and perhaps less when it comes to content.