I’m So Gonna Pay For This…

July 1, 2011

There’s a new buzzword making its rounds in the MMO world these days, and it is “Freemium”. A portmanteau of “free” and “premium”, this business model is like a hybrid of the F2P and P2P payment models, brought together into one neat little package. A freemium game is free and there is no monthly fee, but if you want the whole shebang like extra character slots, more travel options, or bigger bag space, etc. you have the option to sub.

As for whether or not it’s a good model, well, that’s all a matter of opinion. Personally, I like the freemium model because of the choices it gives me — I can either play for free, purchase content piecemeal whenever I feel like it, or straight up subscribe to get all the benefits. Factoring time and effort, sometimes going that last route is even considered to be the most economical.

Still, I know plenty of people who play freemium games long-term and still manage to enjoy themselves by paying just the bare minimum, or not a cent at all. Just because you think you’ll be spending a lot of time in a game, doesn’t automatically mean you have to shell out for the premium VIP package. The beauty of the freemium model is the “free” option. FREE! is a powerful marketing technique that few can ignore, FREE! is always awesome.

My brain, however, works in funny ways sometimes. I think some perverse part of my mind still convinces myself that if I don’t pay I won’t play.

It’s not about the restrictions I wish to avoid, or about gaining the upper hand. It also has nothing to do with being suspicious of anything I don’t have to pay for, because I don’t buy the whole “free”-must-equal-“crappy” myth at all. I see freemium games and F2P games the same way I see any other MMO — if it looks good and I happen to be looking for something new to play, then count me in; I could care less about the business model.

Except it does kinda matter, but not in the way one would expect. I’ve looked back at my gaming history and seen that I’ve had a really bad track record of staying committed to “true” F2P games. Why that is the case has nothing to do with perceived quality, but has everything to do with the fact that little motivation comes from little investment. In other words, it’s not the games. It’s me. When an MMO is free, I put things off guilt-free and say to myself things like “I can always just play later” and “Hey, it’ll still be free tomorrow!” I say that again and again and again, and end up never playing at all.

This might sound strange, but I like P2P models sometimes…because knowing I paid $15 this month is a huge motivator. When I pay, I know I will play, as I am compelled to make the most out of my sub. It’s like my great desire to someday learn Latin. As much as I’d love to take the initiative and start on my own, uhhhhhh, it’s not gonna happen. I think the only way I’d ever get off my ass and do it is if I enrolled into and paid for a class. An MMO sub is sort of like that; just a little reminder each day that I should stop whatever work or messing around I’m doing to pay a little visit to my favorite virtual worlds, because I paid for it after all. Yes, I’m ever the procrastinator, apparently even with the hobbies I enjoy.

Anyway, games that offer the freemium model let me do that, but with considerably more choices. Despite what I said about P2P vs. F2P games, I’m definitely not an all-or-nothing kinda girl, and I still get excited when yet another MMO goes the freemium route. For the reasons I gave, most are games I’ll likely still fork over a sub to if/when I jump back in (like Age of Conan: Unchained), but sometimes simply dabbling is enough for me, and there are more than a few MMOs that I’d be happy to log in to for just a couple times a month. At least the freemium model allows me the flexibility to find a balance.


  1. Too true.

    I am the type that if I feel I am not putting in a requisite amount of hours per week in my subbed MMO…I unsub.

    Pay for play is a good motivator. But, really…the games going “freemium” really needed it…otherwise, no one would play them.

    • I think freemium is best for players and the developers. The company still gets the sub money from those willing to pay, and players get to play anytime and choose to pay however much they want or not at all. I don’t mind paying a sub if I like the game and if it helps motivate me to play, so if you’re going to go the free route anyway, I like having the freemium choice left for me.

  2. How do you feel about life time, where you get in on the ground floor paying a large sum up front never having to sub again?

    Would you still feel compelled to play regularly or would motivation wain after a few months when you’ve recovered from the shock of spending that lump sum?

    • It’s hard to say because I actually don’t know…I’ve never gotten a life time sub, because I was always indecisive and unsure of the future of a game. I’ve also only stuck around long term for a couple games, making me always wonder if a LTS would be worth it.

      I imagine I would be motivated though, since LTSs are usually around a couple hundred bucks, and it’d probably motivate me to stick around for the long haul.

  3. Any argument to keep my P2P games alive and kicking sounds like a good argument to me. I don’t want to have my full game experiences torn into little pieces and re-sold to me under the guise that I get all this other stuff free. Or developers having to start designing around the fact that there’s a cash shop. DDO when it went free was the piss in my cheerios. So much segmentation…

    Them winds of change are blowing though. These game companies are less about the game and more about the company these days. Which means more about my wallet and less about the guy handing out the cash. I do not appreciate feeling like a wallet.


    • For that reason I’m not big on cash shops and pure F2P games. Sooner or later I always hit a roadblock which makes me feel like I have to shell out, and the worst part is not knowing how much it will put me back. At least with freemium packages it’s on my own terms and a sub is like a flat fee and i know I’ll be getting most of everything I need.

  4. I think LOTRO has the winning formula so far for the F2P, Premium and Subscriber system. At least, I’ve had no complaints that couldn’t be remedied by a quick purchase of a few LOTRO points in the cash shop. I definitely appreciate the “pay as you go” style as opposed to the “pay whether or not you play” type that the MMO world started with. I feel guilty when I’m paying to play a game that I just haven’t felt like playing for a while and F2P games make me feel much less guilty.

    • Yep, if anything, F2P makes it so that I get to try out MMOs that I never would have otherwise, if I knew I had to pay a sub in order to play. Or games which I have stopped playing but am still interested in, if I had more time. AoC, Champions, and LOTRO fit that category.

  5. I have the perfect analogy! Ok, maybe perfect is too strong a word. But still, what do you think about this:

    it’s like a gym membership


    • That’s a great analogy! Though once I start playing a game I get into this groove and start enjoying myself. Working out is something I know I should do more, but I never really enjoy myself 😛

  6. Your post mentioned it and I think the mentality people have towards F2P and all the jazz is a little stunted. It’s a hard thing to deal with what you had in the past towards a new model. Before we were playing mostly with a monthly fee and updates along the way towards now its F2P and you play along the slippery slop of what you want and what you think you need. Everything has it pros and cons and I believe we have to go into it with nothing and gain an experience from there.

    • I think in a way I like freemium models because their premium packages usually retain the status quo. I hate the slippery slope and try to avoid it in general, which is probably why I’m so averse to games which practically require me to spend money in a cash shop. $15 a month for a premium membership at least gives me the whole package and lets me know there is a limit to what I’ll spend.

  7. There is no doubt that a paid subscription carries with it a stronger desire to get the most out of your dollar. If you’ve paid for 2 months of game time, but only play 5 or 6 days, that’s $15 that could have been better spent on something else. It only makes sense to put more time into something if you paid for it with your hard earned cash.

    I have not found one f2p game that I have ever stayed with for very long. I don’t know if that is because of the f2p system, or for various other reasons. I just never stayed with them as long as, say, WoW, which I paid to play. It could also be the lack of truly high quality expansion content that only paid sub games can provide. In a f2p game, it is all too easy to eventually run out of content (that you are interested in playing). For that reason, I usually wandered around the MMO-verse like a locust, devouring the content I found before moving on to another MMO, or else to a platform title.

    In the end, I think I just have more faith in a p2p game to continually provide quality expansion content, at least more than I do in a f2p to do the same. Maybe more inspired content, too (you would be surprised — or maybe not — how much harder developers will work when hard cash is on the line, especially when the alternative is making content for customers that may never advance beyond the f2p side of their “freemium” model).

    • You bring up a good point with paid sub games delivering quality expansion content, and I think that’s a part of it too. Knowing my sub goes towards developing top-notice updates makes it worth it to me as well.

      And no, I’m not surprised at all because it’s true, a full audience who pays a sub would expect their money to buy them the best, which in turn motivates developers to give the best they can, which is the way it ideally should work.

  8. It’s funny; I have heard that explanation before, but for my husband and I, paying to play the game has the entirely opposite effect for us.

    This is actually what initially killed our subscriptions to Rift (though our playtime had seriously dwindled a couple of weeks in): we would say to one another, “you know, we should really log in to Rift… we are paying for it, after all,” and immediately get a knee-jerk annoyed recoil like, “forget that! they won’t make us play until we’re good and ready!” and yet another evening would pass with the icon left unclicked.

    Conversely, knowing that I’m free to enter a game anytime at all makes me so much more likely to open it up on a whim, thinking, “oh, heck, I have an hour to kill, let’s see what’s up with [insert game here]!”


    • Definitely for those with MMO wanderlust, f2ps are perfect 😀 I go through phases where I either bounce from game to game or stick to one and pour all my attention into it. I’m doing the latter now, but I’m thinking if I got the wanderlust again I would be having a field day with all the choices out there.

  9. @ Oakstout – I know this wasn’t directed to me, but I have a lifetime subscription to LOTRO, and I really relished the ability to log in whenever I liked, and never felt compelled to play regularly or a certain amount.

    However, I ended up not caring for the model of play in the first place, so I never play LOTRO anymore, hehehe. It was just a bad investment in that particular game on my part, though, and not the lifetime sub itself that I have a problem with.

    Of course, given that my favorite MMO and most-anticipated sequel is sub-free (or, if you like, has a lifetime sub fee of $50 including the box price ;)), YMMV!

    • I always fear that would happen to me too, which is the reason I’ve been reluctant to buy life time subs and why I haven’t yet.

  10. […] I’ve looked back at my gaming history and seen that I’ve had a really bad track record of staying committed to “true” F2P games. Why that is the case has nothing to do with perceived quality, but has everything to do with the fact that little motivation comes from little investment. — MMOGamerChick […]

  11. I’m with Randomessa. A subscription is an obstacle for me as a player. Given that I’m traveling a lot now, committing to a subscription (especially after buying a box) seems a bit much. A free-to-play game means I can go away for a month and not really care about missing out (although I do miss some guildmates!)

    Another thing I like about free-to-play games is that I find it easier to control my spending. I know exactly how much i’ve spent in the year or so I’ve been playing DDO. I can only guess at how much WoW cost me over the years, certainly more than I’ve spent on DDO… just for the boxes. 🙂

    • Oh for sure, payment model preference would have a strong correlation with lifestyle. If I traveled a lot too, I’d be loathe to commit to a subscription, not knowing when I’d get time to play. In that case, F2P would be perfect for me as well.

      My thoughts differ on the matter of spending control though 😛 With box price and sub, I can calculate how much I would spend in a year, whereas I think the slippery slope of cash shop spending/buying content piecemeal would be more dangerous for me. 😀

  12. I’m probably going to get hated on for saying this, too, but some games as a free-to-play or freemium model actually have turned me off from them. One example would be the recent change to WoW, and another is the model used by Champions Online.

    I think if someone decides to go one of the above routes, they need to make sure that they are actually making the experience good enough to get you to want to pay for some things, not drive you away.

    I have no issue paying for a game like RIFT, and I figure that I can always unsub when I don’t wish to play anymore.

    On the other hand, though, I hate when games like STO get greedy…STO not only had a subscription fee, but they also had premium items you could buy. The bottom line is that the game wasn’t good enough to warrant all that, and the only reason I bought some of the premium stuff was to enhance my RP experience and the experiences of those I RP’d with.

    Guild Wars and the upcoming GW2 though seem to be great examples of just how good a F2P game can be since I would argue that GW1 is still superior to many of the paid MMOs out there.

    • ^^^ I’m with that right there. While on one hand STO is a great game for it’s context, which is the context of having my own Captain, my own crew, my own ship and style……i’d have to pay even more JUST to have a Klingon Captain, JUST to have a specific outfit.

      On one hand, STO would be great if that was that, and it was f2p, because people will buy stuff from the C-store anyway, but to pay, or be duped into a lifetime sub and STILL end up shelling out cash is like kicking someone while they’re down.

      The very thought is what turns me off from f2p anyhow. Because if everything worth having is something I HAVE TO BUY, then it’s really not worth playing.

      Conan is a little different in the respect that i DID wanna try the game out, but even then, only 4 classes and certain things that’re pretty critical to the game are held out for the “Freemium” peeps. That’s disparaging.

      • I agree totally. Like I said, F2P works for games like Guild Wars and a few of the Korean MMOs (a topic to itself), but if I’m going to end up buying things for a game, I’d prefer in that case to simply pay the monthly fees and get all the goodies.

        I would prefer a game go one way or the other: be totally driven by micro-transaction and remain F2P or forgo the stores and go subscription. All this middle-ground stuff really bugs me.

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