4 Things All F2P Games Need

Jason Winter
By Jason Winter, News Editor


Pay-to-win in free-to-play games ain't what it used to be – and that's a good thing. In most “reputable” F2P games, it's pretty much non-existent. Sure, there might be the occasional piece of “sidegrade” gear in the cash shop that offers -2 to this but +4 to that half the time – hey, that's a total of +2! It's pay-to-win! Sure, pal.

Still, P2W is something most developers are fully aware of, to the point that, when I interview someone about their new F2P game, they trip all over themselves to say, “We're not pay-to-win!” Like most 800-pound gorillas, it's pretty hard to miss.

But what else does a F2P game need to be successful? What are the less-obvious traits that separates a “good” F2P game from a “bad” one? “Don't be pay-to-win” is a fine starting point, but there's quite a bit more that can elevate a game from “also-ran” to “smash hit.”

Get off to a good start. Free-to-play games are really easy to get into – and just as easy to quit. If a game doesn't hook you in your first play session, there's a reasonable chance you won't come back. With a game you paid $20, $40, or $60 for, there's a chance you'll suffer through a couple of dreary hours to get to “the good stuff,” since you've already made an investment. With a F2P game, there's no investment, and it's ridiculously easy to just classify a subpar opening experience as a little bit of wasted time and move on.

Free MMORPGs – especially ones that started as a box+sub game – are the biggest culprits here. They want you for the long haul, want you to play your way up to max level and experience endgame, to the point that they make the leveling experience as simplistic and repetitive as possible, ostensibly saving programming resources for the “real game.” If the “real game” is endgame, is it a good idea to make you wait 30+ hours before experiencing it? Imagine an online multi-player FPS or MOBA doing the same thing, forcing you into single-player action for 30 hours before you could play the PvP core of the game? Would you stick with that game? Probably not.

An hour or two holding your hand and teaching you the basics is fine, in my opinion. But if I'm not entertained by a F2P game after about two hours, I'll generally quit it and never look back. There are plenty of other options out there.


Don't divide your player base. Some paid players don't like the F2P-ers encroaching on their space. The thing is, an online game has to include as many people as possible to keep providing active players for everyone to play with or against. Segregating free players from paid players, whether it's by zone, PvP maps, or other means, carries with it two massive disadvantages: The free players don't see what the paid players are doing, and are less likely to want to become paid players as a result; and all players have fewer people to potentially interact with, reducing the viability of the game as a whole.

Think of it like having a local group to play your pen-and-paper RPG. You and a few friends might have all the books, miniatures, dice, etc., and another friend might want to play but doesn't want to (initially) make that monetary investment. You wouldn't “punish” that player by forcing him to play a worse character or outright not let him play with you, right? You'd probably let him borrow your stuff and, if he enjoys himself, he'll maybe buy some stuff of his own.

And while it's true that some free players are jackholes, and might even be more likely to be that way because they figure their experience to be temporary and aren't afraid of consequences, it's not like players in subscription-only games, or paid players in a F2P game, are all saints. Plenty of people are idiots in the Internet, regardless of their financial situation.


Have a plan for gold sellers. Something that is more prevalent in F2P games is gold sellers, especially when a game is new. Being able to make an account for free means you don't have to worry if your old account is banned – just register under a new e-mail address and start over.

Stopping gold sellers is a complex undertaking, and new games probably have lots of other concerns besides stopping gold spam. On the back end of things, I don't really know what security measures or staffing requirements are most effective.

However, it always surprises me how many games make reporting gold sellers an arduous task. It makes sense that reporting players in general, for bad behavior, rudeness, harassment, and so on, should require a few clicks, and maybe some description of their acts, so that the game masters can get the right information to take appropriate action. But gold selling is a simple and obvious enough offense that it should have its own category, right from the start. Just right-click on a name and there should be the option to “Report as gold seller.” Make it easier for us to report these clowns and you'll have fewer of them in your game.


Limit the grind. I know, online games are all about grind. And every F2P game that has some sort of repetitive task – leveling, acquiring tokens for gear, PvP ranks, etc. – can be perceived as grind, grind that almost invariably can be mitigated with just a small purchase or two in the cash shop...

But there's a limit to how much you can reasonably expect people to grind and still enjoy themselves enough to want to keep playing – and, more importantly, spend money. Making the grind impossibly tedious without spending is the kind of negative reinforcement that drives people away from a game. You want people to spend money on things that make them like your game, not on things that they feel they have to buy so they don't hate your game.

A corollary to this is the game that has a cash shop but promises everything in it can be earned through in-game action – so hey, the entire game is available without spending a dime! Look at how free we are! If it requires 20 hours of gameplay for an item that would cost about $5, though, or would take a subscriber about an hour to earn, then it's not really free. Make it achievable through reasonable means or don't claim that you're “totally free.”

Those are just my thoughts on some of the more subtle elements F2P games need. What are yours?

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About the Author

Jason Winter
Jason Winter, News Editor

Jason Winter is a veteran gaming journalist, he brings a wide range of experience to MMOBomb, including two years with Beckett Media where he served as the editor of the leading gaming magazine Massive Online Gamer. He has also written professionally for several gaming websites.

More Stories by Jason Winter

Discussion (13)

Merkadis 9 years ago
About gold sellers, there are some games that are fairly successful in:
1. Shutting them up.
2. Removing them from the game.

But it does require a good, solid plan and not half-assed attempts at one and even report system for players won't remove these pests completely.
Another thing for a company to understand is that the pests will diminish their profits, why? because usually most things in a game require - gold.
Also it is important to punish players that buy gold, as long as gold farmers get paid they will tirelessly attempt to gain what sells - gold.
"Limit the grind."

While i agree with some statements the problem however can be approached differently, make the grind - FUN.

john 9 years ago
make some game like brave frontier is good system. just when u need just buy the gem and summon. lvl is for enerny , the main for game is working hard to lvl character. all can have equal fight . this game really a good example for other mmo game to learn some trick to lure some gamer .

Shirazi 9 years ago
My biggest issue with any and all F2P games is access to Auction House, especially lately with Rift and Archage. I don't like PVP but I gave Archage a chance only to find out that you have to pay just so you can put stuff on market (auction house)? Publisher's excuse was to prevent gold farmers or gold sellers. Hate to sound stupid but gold farmers/sellers just needs 1 account to put stuff on market while 100 other accounts farm or used to transfer money around. Punishing F2P player based by not allowing to sell stuff on market in hopes to reduce gold farmers which can be bypassed is automatic turn away. That is why 17 of my gaming community friends stopped playing archage for that matter, aside from pay for housing and pay for faster Labor Points. Oh don't forget pay to "sell" your housing property.... Buzzz. Not touching any more games published by TRION.

Runes of Magic had very nice f2p micro transaction model. Wished more publishers followed that model, that is why Runes of Magic is still around even though it has gone through few publishers.

cacalipsnmouth 9 years ago
A lot of F2P games, that are true F2P, are ruined by bad mouthing people that can not handle mmorpgs. PErfect World International is best example. You can solo to end game, but grouping is better. End game and key dungeons require a group. As they should. Guilds help a lot. This game is very split down solo and group content. You stay solo, youll have strong solo build and slow build to dungeon. You can hop in pvp and be useful. But if you want full pvp, or full refined gear, figure it out and make friends.
IT requires "work" or played time. It is fun and has a deep story. Why did it get slammed as "the most P2W?" Sad trolls that get wattered down in GW2 / WOW stuff. I have end game solo all alone the whole time RIFT character...I prefer my "game my way" in PWI. It offers real challenges, challenges teenie weenies don't want and prefer to spend daddies credit card on lesser games.
When I bring this up, the trolls say: "P2W, PWI has gear in shop!" IT does not. Not a single gear sits in that cash shop. The only thing you can get is fashion and typical boosts. Boosts thtat will not do anything for you unless you are in a certain dungeon. There are charms, but optional. I hit end game never charmed (they auto fill HP and MP when low until spent). YOu also get massive gifts in level rewards and quests and events for FREE. I have trashed trinkets and charms because too many...
Screen shot. Nothing P2W, There are reifine stones, that increase your chances to refince gear. YOU get it for free, and most people refine without them. Doesn't stop you.

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tolshortte 9 years ago
f2p games can be fun for a while, and in some cases good enough to get some people to drop some cash on em. for the most part though they don't do much of anything new. I was waiting for AA hoping it would the new f2p direction, but I was severely disappointed.

people have to spend money for any game to survive. f2p games can only allow you to play for free for so long before making it inconvenient to get you to pull out your wallet. if you go to a restaurant with a free salad bar, they are only going to let you eat so much salad before they ask you to leave or buy a meal.

too many f2p gamers simply never plan to contribute to the game. so these devs have to create reasons for those willing to pay to do so. cosmetics only go so far, so they include feature, zone, class unlocks etc as an enticement for you to pull out your cash. I don't think there will ever be a 'perfect' f2p scenario. even if a game creates a AAA quality mmo the resources and servers these never paying f2p players soak up would prove to be a detriment. when you have a good game, 'more players' becomes less of an issue to begin with.

Razer 9 years ago
"If it requires 20 hours of gameplay for an item that would cost about $5, though, or would take a subscriber about an hour to earn, then it’s not really free. Make it achievable through reasonable means or don’t claim that you’re “totally free.”
Too true. As soon as I see that a game fits this description, I uninstall and never look back.

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Saiyer 9 years ago
I agree with this article, but all of this is sadly common knowledge that isn't taken very well into practice. When I sit down to play a new free-to-play, I expect the experience to be unique and rewarding rather than the same old thing with new textures. An example of a great game of this would be Mabinogi. As this point in time, it's not nearly as polished and it shows it's age. But back when it first came to the NA it felt like a breath of fresh air. Even to this day I still consider it unique and different from your standard free to play MMO, but time has taken it's course and the game runs as old as it looks and Nexon takes poor care of it both in and out of game.

I have nothing to say about player base dividing. I couldn't have said it better myself.

One system I've seen work decently is an in-game captcha. It's annoying to real players, but it actually keeps the number of bots much lower. Less bots, less gold sellers. Have a GM be around in heavy traffic maps/areas and have them ban hammer the gold sellers. Lately in most older games, a gold seller will spam for hours before being smited...or longer.

Grinding is an mmo's blood, and this is very true in free-to-play games. It's a "you get what you paid for" deal. The game is free, and you should expect that level of content and service. Some games try to avoid or cover up the grind, but it's just something that will continue to exist. All I can say is that the only 'fun' grinding I've had was SWG pre-CU(Yes it's not a free-to-play, but grinding is an issue in almost every MMO) . I felt like I was actually working towards personal skill goals and not some linear path of a single class.

A cash shop should always avoid stat related sales even if it can be obtained in-game after farming. I understand some people want a quick way through things, but don't let people gear up just because they have more money than everyone else to throw at the game. The only cash shop I fully agree with is cosmetics and gear that is slightly fancier in looks but offers no real boost compared to it's free equivalent.

Runescape, Archeage, etc...there are games that I find to be very restrictive and I personally don't like freemium. Make it either pay to play, free to play, or buy once to play. Otherwise it's a needless divide between your players and puts too much pressure on whoever isn't paying for the game, despite it being called "free-to-play".

I'll put money onto a game that I like and has been good to me. I won't put money when I'm pressured to or I miss out on the full experience. Everyone has their opinions, and this one is mine.

ShinigamIan 9 years ago
Completely agree with the article and only would add one more thing. I'm a PVE player and one of the things that makes me stay on a MMORPG or not is dungeons. Not talking about level design or bosses balance, but how to access them... how to make a party for it. Dungeon finders where you queue and the game matches you with other players and teleport automatically are always welcome (Tera, Rift). Or maybe you like the old style where you gotta go walking and find the dungeon entrance, in that case a tool for grouping for that purpose would be more that needed, like in Aion. A cross server matching for dungeons is very useful (more people to match, less wait for assemble a party), and even cross faction like in Rift. Actually this is why I quit playing Allods, I think it is a great game, hooked me from the beginning, liked the skills, animations, art style... until I got to the first dungeon, I couldn't make a party or join one, no dungeon finder or tool for party assembling, went to the chat window and every body were speaking different languages... oh well, like you said, "There are plenty of other options out there".

Emp 9 years ago
"If it requires 20 hours of gameplay for an item that would cost about $5, though, or would take a subscriber about an hour to earn, then it’s not really free. Make it achievable through reasonable means or don’t claim that you’re “totally free.” " Hello there Archeage? :D

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zakena 9 years ago
Great article !
But you know im waiting for a game / company that when they release a f2p their way of making income should not affect players negatively.

most of the problems above are associated with companies whose roots are in Asian or European countries which cause lack of communication due to poor choices made by HR team to hire bad employees who fail to communicate well with Asian or European developers.

Digital Extremes company that's has done it and is still doing it right!

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