Content, Low Prices, and Listening! How to Make a Great F2P MMO
The last year has been an interesting one for the virtual world of online games. It seemed that the free-to-play mmo was going to continue to be the undisputed king, especially in light of games like League of Legends that rake in over a billion dollars. Yet a funny thing began to occur as many game companies began to realize that very few games will ever match the success of League of Legends. Newer titles like Overwatch released not as a f2p mmo but rather that of a buy-to-play online game. Other companies have switched from considering being f2p to having players purchase the game initially to play it. Some developers have expressed frustration on what is needed to make a game work by being free-to-play. So what are the best f2p mmo features? What can game companies do to make playing a free-to-play mmo fun and rewarding but still financially viable? We take a look at some ways on how to make a great f2p mmo.
The whole idea of what it takes to make a great f2p mmo came to mind when reading an interview with LawBreakers Lead Designer Dan Nanni. He said that the core gameplay of the game was impacted (and not in a good way) by trying to make the mmofps a free-to-play mmo. He said, "There can’t be a pay-to-win mechanic, there can’t be a grind mechanic, people have to be able to access the same exact content at the exact same time. After giving it a good amount of thought, we realized it probably made more sense to give it a premium price. That way, we don’t disjoint our users, we don’t force them into DLC purchases where some people have maps and others don’t. No, you pay one price to entry, get maps and game modes at the same time. Everyone is always playing at an even field." So, in what way can a game company make a great free-to-play mmo?
To my mind, there have be several key f2p mmo features implemented to make such a game great. The first is that the majority of the content has to be available to all players. This includes almost everything from level one to endgame. Players need something to do and walling off a majority of the game's content is a sure way to drive those players away. A gamer actually needs to be playing a free-to-play mmo in order to eventually spend money on it. Now, it's quite alright to charge for certain things, such as extra inventory space, character slots, and boosts for players. While I'm in agreement with most players that a game shouldn't be pay-to-win, there's nothing wrong at all with giving paying players a boost, such as being able to level faster or have greater chat capabilities.
Another aspect of creating a great f2p mmo is to keep prices relatively low. Having items that cost hundreds of dollars is sure to keep most gamers from even logging into the game in the first place. Most items should be just a few dollars, which retailers will tell you is great for impulse buys. Such tactics work extremely well with mobile games. They charge just a couple of dollars a pop for something, and they literally rake in the dough on a daily basis. A good example of an online game doing the same is DC Universe Online. This superhero mmo only charges four to five bucks for their DLC packs that introduce new features and quests. Lower prices ensure that players won't have to break the bank when they decide to buy something.
On a side-note to low prices, another of the key f2p mmo features that need to be implemented is for players to be able to convert in-game currency to cash shop currency. There has to be a way for players willing to grind to be able to convert the efforts of said grinding into being able to buy something from the game's cash shop. A number of free-to-play mmo games do this, such as Neverwinter and Star Trek Online. Another example is Guild Wars 2, even though that game is technically buy-to-play. A funny thing happens when players are able to scrounge up enough in-game cash to buy something: they might get hooked and be much more willing to open up their wallets in the future.
The last of our free-to-play mmo features to make the game great is for the developers to listen to their players. A good number of gamers are willing to drop a few bucks on a f2p mmo if they find something that they want or like. If players are looking for a bunch of funky new mounts for their characters to ride around on, then developers should focus on creating them. The same goes for items like cosmetic clothing. TERA began to really bring in the money when they decided to sell a bathing suit for the Elin race. What was done as a lark turned into a very profitable move, which then lead to the developers creating a rash of different outfits for Elin players to buy. Not every item will appeal to every gamer, but developers can quickly see what interests players or not by seeing how initial sales go when something is released. If there's interest, then the obvious decision is to make more things in the same vein and sell them. If an item doesn't catch fire sales-wise, then it's time to move in a different direction.
The point of these f2p mmo features is that they ensure that plenty of gamers will be interested in playing the mmorpg in the first place and that they are eventually induced to spending money. A game needs players in order to be successful, but the game has to ensure that those player numbers are eventually converted into some sales. A great free-to-play mmo entices lots of gamers to play and offers reasonably priced items for sale that the gamers covet, which generates some healthy revenue for the game itself. A well-designed f2p mmo is a win-win for both players and developers.