Let's Talk MMO: Subscription or Free-to-Play Cash Shops?

Forking over the monthly charges or being nickel-and-dimed to death? Which is preferable, really?

Tale as old as time...There's a right way and a wrong way, but which is best? var adunit_index = 4000; if ((adunit_index != 1000 & adunit_index != 1001) || (adunit_index == 1000 && device_category != 'MOBILE') || (adunit_index == 1001 && device_category == 'MOBILE')) { if (active_ad_units_pw[adunit_index] != undefined) { console.log('Dyn Unit Legacy PW', active_ad_units_pw[adunit_index], adunit_index); googletag.cmd.push(function(){ var adunit_index = 4000; if (typeof(pubwise) != 'undefined' & pubwise.enabled === true) { console.log('Dyn PW'); pubwise.que.push(function(){ pubwise.renderAd('div-sjr-4000'); }); } else { console.log('Dyn Direct'); googletag.display('div-sjr-4000'); googletag.pubads().refresh([gptadslots['div-sjr-4000']]); } //googletag.pubads().refresh([gptadslots['div-sjr-4000']]); }); } } You won't make it far through the bowels of the internet without stumbling across one grand-scale argument or another about the whys and wherefores each time a new game has risen to and fallen from the great dizzying heights of fame and glory... which comes, generally, of hefting a banner labeled "the REAL WoW Killer."And while you can cite the lack of enjoyable endgame, the terrible economy, or the sheer lack of WoW factor, eventually you will see someone call it: "this is going free-to-play in less than six months."Usually it does, too.But is that really preferable?Which is better, really?You remember those days when you could buy a game... and then play the game?It really was like that once upon a time. Honest.We can't all expect the good ole days to last of course, and it looks like that same day is dawning for the subscription model as well. No one wants to keep paying a monthly subscription for the games they want.No matter how big or pretty or how long you worked on it with blood, sweat, tears, and billions of dollars (*cough* SWTOR), it does not buy you the instant success with the subscription model. Would-be players cheer every time they see a subscription modeled MMO fail and fall back on free-to-play crutches to hobble along in a new direction, trailing behind their long-shattered dreams. Now they'll play it. Now they won't be bilked out of their hard-earned money!But is what's left honestly worth playing?In the transition from paid subscription to free-to-play, you lose something.I like to call it class.This is not to say every MMO does this. From what I've seen so far, TERA has managed to make the transition without making every little aspect of the game an opportunity to nickel and dime you to death. They may have made some questionable class-balancing decisions and garnered some grumpiness over PVP, but aside from the understandable shiny hat and pretty dress, they keep their micro transactions pretty tame as far as I know.In SWTOR,however, you're hard-pressed to find anything you don't need to pay for. You know. The ability to sprint. Craft properly. Teleport to base. Hide your headslot.Seriously? Is this a game that honestly considers itself playable for the the non-paying player? I'm sorry LucasArts, your desperation is showing. To me, I think it comes down to this.You're more likely to try a game if it's free... but you're more likely to stay with a game and be a whole lot less irritated at a game that makes most of its money from you in a flat subscription. What do you think?

Featured Columnist

Avid PC gamer and long-time console lover. I enjoy sneaking, stealing everything not nailed down, and shooting zombies in the face. I'm also a cat.

Published Jul. 11th 2013
  • Ashley Shankle
    Associate Editor
    I vastly prefer the communities P2P titles tend to harbor. Generally the people who continue to play love the game, and the developers are encouraged to keep pumping out content.

    I have played a huge chunk of what's to be found on the F2P market, in terms of MMORPGs. Either publishers get greedy with their cash shops (and withhold standard QoL features/items), or the community is just a bunch of chumps who aren't looking to connect with other players. For someone like me, who likes to take their time and forge relationships with other players, the F2P options are rarely ever adequate in the long run.

    Your average MMO-playing adult will be spending money on F2P game's cash shop. Isn't it just cheaper for the individual to pay a monthly subscription? It blows my mind to see adults with full-time jobs complain about dishing out $15 a month, then turn around and spend $50 on cosmetic junk they'll tire of in a week.

    I've already bunkered down and decided I'll be subbing to FFXIV on release next month. The community planning to stick with it is really nice, and the game feels to me like an actual Final Fantasy game -- among other things. I'm just tired of the F2P windmill of disappointment.

    Sorry for the long, untimely comment Somehow missed this article a few days ago.
  • Stephanie Tang
    Featured Columnist
    Quite all right! I agree with you on all these points. That's definitely a thing I missed out on writing about in the article body, there is definitely a distinct lack of community feeling in most F2P models. P2P will have their unavoidable cliques and fear-inducing PVP guilds, but it's not impossible to talk and make friends. That just doesn't happen in F2P.

    I think it's just the usual disconnect between being faced with upfront costs and not realizing that you pay more on F2P (unless you make a policy simply to never pay, which can be hard to stick to even in a reasonable cash shop) in the long run because they're broken up into microtransactions when they happen. It's just tricking yourself.

    I haven't had time to look into FFXIV but it looks loads better than before the restart. It's something I'd look into if I had any time. Ever. ^_^;
  • Lui Galletto
    Columnist
    I think a game that charges you to play sets a standard for itself to follow through with. It is offering a product and cant slack off or it will disappoint paying customers. F2p is lazier as they dont really need quality as much as purchasable quantity to entice players to stay.
  • Stephanie Tang
    Featured Columnist
    I like to think it's just a question of quality over quantity, but I don't know if people always see it that way. I think the question often comes down to just how high the barriers of entry are. Without actually being able to try it out yourself, you can watch as many YouTube videos as you like, but in many ways it'll still be like buying a pig in a poke.
  • Tankerbawlz
    Contributor
    I can't agree with you Lui, I bought Starwars: The old Republic... It started out as a sub-MMO and because of that I thought they would introduce content fairly quickly. I ended up getting to cap level (50) and it was like they gave me two choices, PvP? or Hardmode dungeons, they had no endgame content like raiding or continuation on the storylines and it broke my heart cause the game was really fun to level through.
  • Stephanie Tang
    Featured Columnist
    I know, that's how I fell out of love with SWTOR. But to be honest, the leveling portion of that game was, in my opinion, wonderful. I loved the story quests, the leveling didn't feel like that much of a grind, and it was great taking such an interest in a game either with or without being teamed with someone.

    So up until endgame, I think it did meet expectations, it just couldn't hang onto us because they didn't think much further ahead. If SWTOR had managed to come up with decent endgame activities, I think Lui would have been right in saying it'd keep to our standards.

    Alas. :( Pushed out too early to be perfect, I guess. But after all that money, you can damn well expect some need for recoup.

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