Friday, April 15, 2011

Free to Play or Pay to Win?

So as a Gaming/Politics/Father blog I figured I'd get started on one of the big topics in online gaming, the Free to Play model.  As a father my gaming time is limited, as is my gaming budget, especially when compared to pre-fatherhood. (Let alone single life!) So the idea of playing a game for free is always appealing, then again when I hear that this revenue model is known by its detractors as the "Pay to Win" model it makes me cautious and curious all at once.  I have recently been playing two different games that use the F2P model: Battlefield Play4Free and World of Tanks.

First up, Battlefield Play4Free:

The idea is quite simple, lets play Battlefield 2 or Bad Company for free!  But is it really free?  Let's dig deeper:

Instead of the standard pricing plan of the Battlefield games you don't spend an up front $40.  The game is web based, requiring an online connection at all times and it uses a browser plug-in and download to play.  As this is a multiplayer online game it's not a big deal to be online all the time.  The web interface is a bit odd and clunky to use, since all it really does it loads up the game program I'm not sure of the need for the web interface.

The gameplay itself is very much Battlefield, though one where YOU CAN'T GO PRONE! I'm sorry, but I started out in Battlefield 1942 and I have no clue why a game that came out what? 10 years ago allows prone but not this one?  Still, it's a fun FPS with tanks, jets, helicopters, and all the Battlefield stuff you expect to pay full game prices for just a few years ago.  That's the thing, I wouldn't buy this game today since it does not play as well as a modern shooter.  Then again the game is kind of a big ad for Battlefield 3 so it makes a certain kind of sense.

So how does the F2P model fit in?  Well like most F2P games you can buy coins (or gold, or credits, or what have you) which are used to buy guns, outfits, XP bonus, credit bonus, and character slots.  You read correctly, guns.  This is where they "Pay to Win" name comes in, as folks see guns available for sale and think you need those to win or that they'll give you an unfair advantage.   Having played the game I have to say higher levels and better guns doesn't change the fact that you can kill everyone in the game with some well placed shots.

Don't get me wrong, having a SAW is a great gun to have, and looking different than everyone else would be nice, but at the same time I have never seen ANYONE in game with one of these special outfits.  Seems the only money they're probably getting is from guns, XP bonus and credit bonuses.  The game isn't pay to win, but it is Pay to get better faster, or Pay to get a gun forever.  You can get along just fine in this game without dropping a penny (I haven't) the guns just have a time delay (1 day or 3), after which you default to the basic guns which do the job, but not as well as some guns you can buy.  All in all I have to say Battlefield Free2Play really is free to play just remember it is basically a glorified ad for Battlfield 3.

Next up: World of Tanks!

Now full disclosure, I've played this game a LOT.  I've been in since the European Beta and I have seen what having a lot of gold can do so I know the ins and outs of this "Pay to Win" game.  That's no typo, World of Tanks IS a "Pay to Win" game because of the huge bonuses and such you get from paying.  Is that a bad thing?  You be the judge:

As a free player you can use every standard tank in the game.  There are about 9 "premium" tanks that can be bought that aren't better than the tanks of their tier (or level) but have low maintenance costs which make them good money making tanks.  You can't start a platoon but you can play in one, only the leader has to have paid.  (A platoon is a group of three tanks all playing on the same team.  Basically a group of friends.)  You have access to all upgrades but some consumables have better gold versions.  It is expensive to run higher tier tanks and it is very very hard to earn this money without premium. 

As premium you get a bonus to XP and Credits every fight (Making it almost impossible to lose money in a fight), you can convert left over XP into "Free XP" usable on any tank, you can buy money (converting Gold paid for with real money into credits), you can buy special ammo (that's not really that much better), and you can buy extra tank slots. 

Basically buying gold lets you have lots of perks.  Can you play without paying anything?  Of course you can, you can play all you want and get every non-gold tank in the game.  You're just going to be playing for a REALLY long time unless you're really good.  That said I think it's a fair model I just with they had a "Lifetime premium" option or something where I didn't have to pay for premium every month.  Then again MMO's require a sub to play at all so I think it's fair.  On the other hand World of Tanks isn't an MMO, it CLAIMS it is to warrant the pay model but World of Tanks isn't any different than Battlefield 1942 in that it's just a matchmaking service connected to servers all running different 30 man fights.  It could have easily been like Team Fortress 2 and made client/server set-up.  Then again the money probably isn't as good for a small developer that way, plus those games are going away more due to piracy. 

So why is Free to Play a good model for Dads?  Simple, we don't get to play often or regularly.  Or if we do play regularly it's for an hour a night or on our weekends.  The Free to Play model lets us play no matter what and pay nothing, but if we want to catch up or the family is going away for the weekend so you get a gaming weekend, then you can pay for it.  For instance you can buy a single day of premium for 250 gold (about $2) and have a day of it, a three day weekend for 600 or a week for 1250 and a month is 2500. So month is about $12.50 which is line with monthly MMO subscriptions.  Though if you don't want to waste time you can buy lesser amounts for more per day cost, but you know you'll get to use it.  Also being able to spend $6 to get a bunch of in game money to buy tanks and gear goes a long way as well. 

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