The Gamer Dollar: An Idiot’s Guide to Payment Jargon

When the impenetrable language of the internet involves your wallet, it's worth understanding the gibberish.
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As games developers experiment with an increasing variety of payment models, players are left increasingly bemused by the bewildering minefield of payment options. Player confusion may be further compounded by the use of assorted cryptic acronyms and abbreviations thrown around without any explanation*.

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What follows is an at-a-glance attempt to clarify your F2Ps from your P2Ws and your L2Ps.

Pay-to-Play (Subscription)

The traditional payment scheme for Massively Multiplayer Online games [MMOs], involving a regular payment, usually monthly, which entitles the player to full access to all game features. Of all the available payment options, the subscription game requires the most customer commitment. Often accompanied by a one off purchase of the initial game, the subscribing player is more likely to remain active in-game to get his money’s worth, which leads to healthy, persistent communities and fiscally-enforced brand loyalty.

Examples: World of Warcraft, EVE Online

Buy-to-Play (B2P)

The payment model more commonly used for single-player titles has found increasing success with MMO titles. Customer buys game, customer plays game – no further transactions required. This has the benefits of encouraging some player loyalty due to investment without the off-putting demands of a regular subscription. Optional downloadable content [DLC] and vanity items may be available to generate additional revenue through micro-transactions [MT].

Examples: Guild Wars 2, The Secret World

Free-to-Play (F2P/Freemium)

The Free-to-Play model provides the player with unpaid access to the game environment. Whilst no financial commitment is required of the player, there are often advantages to making use of micro-transaction or premium account options (after all, development and maintenance costs need to be met somehow). Although the F2P game is initially more accessible, potential pitfalls arise from potential pay-to-win (P2W) concerns and transient player bases, making it harder for communities to form. See also: Shareware (a popular distribution method in the 90s, used to deliver a demo portion of a game with payment required for full access.)

Examples: Planetside 2, World of Tanks, Team Fortress 2


Whilst technically not a payment scheme, it could be considered as such given the increasing interest from established studios in using what began as an indie start-up support scheme. Kickstarter projects ask for payment from individuals interested in the idea behind an unreleased and undeveloped game. This requires the biggest leap of faith from consumers as it is essentially a Buy-to-Play scheme without seeing the finished product. Great for startups, but the big guys are using brand loyalty as leverage.

Examples: Godus, Star Citizen

These definitions are by no means set in stone, the lines between the payment types continues to blur as the online game industry evolves, but I hope this has provided some clarification for those poor souls bemused by the lexicon of the modern gamer.

Oh, and if you think I’d forgotten about L2P, you really should learn to play.


*I’m still bitter (and mildly embarrassed) that in the 90s it took me months to figure out what the hell an MMORPG was.  


Sources: Wikipedia



Title Image: G4TV

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Mat Westhorpe
Broken paramedic and coffee-drinking Englishman whose favourite dumb animal is an oxymoron. After over a decade of humping and dumping the fat and the dead, my lower spine did things normally reserved for Rubik's cubes, bringing my career as a medical clinician to an unexpectedly early end. Fortunately, my real passion is in writing and given that I'm now highly qualified in the art of sitting down, I have the time to pursue it. Having blogged about video games (well, mostly EVE Online) for years, I hope to channel my enjoyment of wordcraft and my hobby of gaming into one handy new career that doesn't involve other people's vomit.