How a Free-to-Play Game Got My Money
EA resolution update: Still holding firm! On the one hand I am really not sorry I missed the Sim City debacle, but on the other I am sad to be missing out on the new Mass Effect 3 DLC, which has been getting rave reviews from ME fans. NO EA in 2013!
Last week TERA managed to separate me from some of my hard-earned cash. It’s not the first cash shop to lure me in — I, too, know the shame of owning WoW’s sparklepony — but it’s certainly the first time I’ve ever spent money in a free-to-play multiplayer game. I swore this day would never come, so what happened?
Don’t Nag Me!
You can ask my Mom or any employer I’ve ever had — I do not like being nagged and micromanaged. I was playing LotRO when they switched to the free-to-play model and even with a subscription I never could get past the coin symbols all over the interface. It was immersion-breaking for sure (and that’s coming from someone who usually doesn’t notice that kind of thing) and just felt like nagging. Did you know you could pay real money to take this horse now? Or try this quest? Or visit this zone? Or… GOD STOP TELLING ME WHAT TO DO, GAME.
Tera, on the other hand, puts its cash shop behind an icon in the main menu and otherwise never mentions it. Heck, the shop wasn’t even in the game for the first week of f2p. I appreciate that relaxed attitude. In fact, the closest TERA gets to nagging is reminding players how long they’ve played every hour, which is a holdover from its South Korean design roots.
Don’t Limit Me!
The most popular free-to-play payment model for online multiplayer seems to require limiting gameplay to prompt people to buy things. SWTOR has limits on how many dungeons you can run as a free player, EQII limits the quality of equipment that free players can wear, and Age of Conan requires people to subscribe to access last year’s expansion. It’s difficult to play many of these games for free without being made to feel like you’re a second class citizen. (“Please sir, can I have some more hotbars?”)
TERA, on the other hand, has a model closer to buy-to-play* titles like Guild Wars 2 and The Secret World, although you no longer purchase anything up front. The entire game, from 1-60, is available to free players. There are no limits on content, all races and classes are available, all dungeons, and so on. The result is that I’ve been able to get a thorough look a the game over the last month.
Instead of limiting free players, TERA and other positive F2P models add value for paid/subscribing players. Don’t remove access to content if I’m playing for free — give me bonuses. Elite (subscriber) level in TERA gives things like broker house posts with no fees, instant teleports, and a fancy pony, all of which are totally sweet, but my actual core gameplay changes very little.
Take My Money!
So the game doesn’t nag me and I can access all the content without spending a penny. Why did I spend money?
Convenience, certainly. Once it became clear to me that TERA is my new “dabblin'” MMO, I went for the time-saving measures of the Elite subscription. (Seriously, unlimited instant teleports to major cities makes my game-life a lot more awesome.)
Cosmetics are also a big draw, although I know that not everyone likes playing dress-up. I haven’t yet bought any costume gear, but I have my eye on a pair of black hipster glasses for my elf the next time I get the urge to spend money. Buying a month of Elite also gave me a shiny pony and a flaming halo that is totally useless for anything except looking awesome, and I am certainly not immune to looking awesome in games.
The final motivator, though, was just really liking their F2P model. I don’t want games to nag me. I don’t want them to create content gateways for freeloaders. I voted with my dollars, and me and my fancy halo regret nothing.
* “Buy-to-play”, or as we used to call it, “buying a game”. *roll eyes*