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“I’ve been playing since beta, but I’m going to quit now because the devs killed the game!”




We hear that, or something like it, when someone has finally given up on his or her favorite online game. Often, it’s followed by a pages-long forum or blog post, explaining, in great detail, how the game went to absolute hell either gradually or because of one terrible decision.

And a fair amount of the time, that singular awful decision is “it went free-to-play.”

I’m not going to delve into opinions as to why free-to-play is good or bad or whether a certain game’s cash shop is fine or pay-to-win. Rather, I just want to look at cold, hard stats, and take some shot at answering this basic question: By going free-to-play, does a game do a disservice to a much larger group of older, paying players? In other words, are the “old timers” really the majority or just the “vocal minority,” like those “World of Warcraft was much better in Vanilla days” types?

I thought about this when I filled out a Lord of the Rings Online survey earlier today. I can lay legitimate claim to being an “old-timer” in that game, having started playing during open beta. Though I consider myself to be done with the game now, I answered the “How long have you been playing?” question with “Since launch (or earlier in beta).” LotRO went F2P just over four years ago, so I could assume any response of playing four years or less to be someone who started after it went F2P, while all other responses would be from people who started when the game had a subscription. (I suppose if someone started exactly four years and three months ago, that wouldn’t apply, but I’ll live with the slight discrepancy.)

You’d certainly expect any online game’s population to be somewhat skewed toward newer players; after all, they’ve just started and haven’t grown bored/disillusioned with the game like one who’s been in it since the start. Still, for all the talk on forums and Twitter that I see from long-time players, I guess I was expecting something other than a near 50/50 split:

LOTRO play time

To be precise, that’s 54 respondents who started four years or less ago and 56 who have been around longer.

Sure, this survey is small – 110 votes cast for this question when I answered it – and it allows people, like me, who are no longer playing to answer, so I wouldn’t put it down as any kind of hard, definitive statement on LotRO’s player base, or the player base of F2P MMOs as a whole.

But if it is at least semi-accurate, then only 50% of players can claim that “F2P ruined LotRO,” since half of them weren’t even around when the game had a subscription. And it’s probably fewer than that who would make that claim, since at least some of the former sub-based players were OK with the F2P switch.

ScreenShot02399

Me, I think LotRO’s F2P transition was fine, and injected some much-needed life into the game. It’s just that it was the only notable content update during a 15-month period in which we had a really unpopular raid as the top-end content. Having that, and only that, to do for so long slowly eroded away at my kinship and probably cost the game a lot of its core. But, if, as this shows, about half of the game’s players came around after that, maybe it wasn’t such a big factor after all and I’m just internalizing it as the reason I eventually quit playing (though I did hang on for another three years or so).

So, here’s my question to you: If you’re heavily into a game that is now F2P, but wasn’t originally – a game like LotRO or Rift or Star Wars: The Old Republic or Team Fortress 2 – when did you start? Before the F2P switch or after? If you started before, do you think F2P “ruined” the game? If you started after, was the F2P switch the reason you started, or did you just happen to stumble upon it after it made that change?

the author

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.

25 Readers Commented

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  1. Celfaranume on October 25, 2014

    LOTRO and SWTOR are not free to play they are force to pay!

  2. NobleNerd on October 21, 2014

    I sum up my experience with F2P games like this:

    When I do the math to purchase in game what I normally would get from paying $15 a month subscription, plus the box fee of a sub game… the F2P games on average equal out to be at least 100 times more out of my pocket for the same experience and features. So for me, when I compare apples to apples I choose subscription games to play regularly.

    I do play F2P games and have enjoyed them, but when my features and “quality of experience” needs upgrading I find my pocket and banking account likes the savings of a subscription over paying much more for the same options in a F2P.

    So….. for me….. F2P kills the game in most cases.

  3. ExHuman on October 21, 2014

    Awkward quotes like “ROCK IS DEAD“, “95% of the people in world are stupid“ or “X kills games“ are mere punnery and demagoguery. Addressing them is not worth time

  4. Danilo on October 21, 2014

    CRATE ANY F2P GAME Y GOT A LOT OF PLAYERS CRATE P2W GAME Y HAVE NO PLAYERS !

  5. phreeak on October 21, 2014

    f2p not killing games. Most of the games got safed thanks to the F2P option like SWTOR. 2013 it had an revenue from over $160m and is on Place 4 the biggest sub-based (and hybrid f2p-f2p) games behind WoW, Linage 1 and Tera. 2 Games in the Top4 who went f2p and are more successfull than before.

    F2P only kills a game, when ppl getting greedy and make it really hard Pay 2 Win or with the lack of content, bugs etc… Not always… Maybe some ppl knew Silkroad. This was really Pay 2 Win. literally (15-20$ a month minimum to be an top player). And in its peak between (would say between 2006 and 2010) it had around 30 Servers with 3.5k players on each server and there was always a Queue.

  6. Pennlion on October 21, 2014

    People who say F2P killed a game are the same idiots who label every F2P game as crap and P2W.

  7. Annonymouse on October 21, 2014

    F2P does not kill games.

    Subscription games that try to make the transition to F2P games are usually not well done simply because the game wasn’t built from the start to be a F2P game, thus devs tend to go the easy route (with good reason) to monetize the game. Some do it better than others but I can say with a high degree of certainty that if the games were built from the start to be F2P they would most likley be a better final product.

    F2P games that are pay2win are signing their own death certificate. This isn’t the concept of F2P itself that is killing the game, merely poor decisions are made by people that don’t understand the communities they are trying to server. However, in the short term these types probalby make buckets of money.

    F2P games done right are a lot more profitable than a lot of people think. Some people think that F2P means less content/quality due to decreased revenue, but if you look at warframe for example they bring in about 30 mil /year in revenue, 10 of which is profit. The revenue is pretty comparable to Eve online when you take into account the player base, and 1/3 profit margin is excellent I don’t think any dev studio/publisher would complain about that.

  8. Bane on October 21, 2014

    Question is more likely does F2P kills fun in games who had gone that way? We all know many sub-based games have gone f2p but question is why? Some would say because publishers wanted to make more money, others would say it was losing players and had to go that way to recuperate. One or the other game had gone that way but for players who are custom to paying sub and having game with less limitations it probably is less fun, since they had known the game before it was like that. On the other hand games that are f2p since launch are designed to be played that way and people can’t say it was better before so is bad now.

  9. Merkadis on October 21, 2014

    “DOES F2P “KILL” GAMES?” – NO.
    This statement is a complete and utter nonsense and anyone who claims it to be true doesn’t know what hes talking about.

    First of all any game rides on popularity and going F2P only increases popularity.
    Second, F2P as been statistically proven is far more profitable than any P2P model so how does gaining even more profit could possibly spell the doom of a project? thats ridiculous.
    ———-
    What really do kill games:
    1. P2W
    2. Generic and uninventive games kill themselves way before they even born, they kill themselves inside boring minds of boring developers.
    3. Terrible communities.
    4. Terrible managements.
    5. Hacks, bugs, glitches, lags, bots, gold spammers, etc – all of this, sometimes even coupled together can really annoy you into quitting any game, even one made of sunshine and rainbows.

  10. Lolki on October 21, 2014

    Lol only a retard would think it does not kill games. free top lay games = game built around money. if the game is free to play then it is a grind game in 99.9% of time

    • DesertFox on October 22, 2014

      free to play doesn’t kill games. it’s the pay-to-win cash shop model that does. By your logic, LoL, Dota 2, and Team Fortress 2 are bad games.

  11. Android on October 21, 2014

    °PAY TO WIN killing games! And every pay to play game wich after become f2p is walking dead games wich going down, game should be f2p from the beginning.

  12. Android on October 21, 2014

    star wars online is FAKE free to play game, with locke characters and content and its a dead game theres no players becauuse no one like liars! soe games ar scam!

  13. Essedess on October 21, 2014

    I don’t think going bad itself, but some of the restrictions placed on f2p players are the major problem. Come on game companies you can still make a shit ton of money without being so harsh to free players….or players that used to pay but now don’t for that matter, I’m talking to you SWTOR. (locked me out of all my characters and made me choose 2) Limiting to 2 character slots is a personal peeve of mine. I am probably speaking from a sort of self-ish point of view because its what I would want. I think one slot for each original non expansion character class would suffice, or in the case of games with a branching class system like Ragnarok Online where there are many variable classes at least 4 or 5. But that’s just my opinion, treat it as such.

  14. Urs-00 on October 21, 2014

    ofc f2p is not a reason for a game to die, successful games like LoL are proof that the system works
    but there is a correlation between a game dying and f2p, it is that most publishers use f2p as a last resort, when the developers already had to cut costs in development and support… that’s why you see p2p games that goes f2p and dies, is not the model itself, it is how much they delayed this decision… TF2 is a great example on how f2p can improve the revenue, Star Wars and Tera are great examples of how you can save a game with the f2p model

    • Padsoldier on October 21, 2014

      Pretty much this plus the addition of bad free to play models (which are usually pay to win or extreme grinds for free players).
      Some games (HoN, DotA2, PoE) are doing free to play extremely well and have no (or in the case of PoE, virtually no) difference in gameplay between paying and free users, so it’s also not impossible to create and maintain a fair F2P model.

  15. LMAO on October 20, 2014

    To many games to play, to many choice to make > end up moving to different game every time but the company who’s ruin the game cuz they do mass produce GAMES, lol
    No1 can stay in 1 or 2 MMORPG cuz 100+ release aday ….

  16. Berney on October 20, 2014

    I played Aion at launch. Didn’t make it to level cap because I was younger and had a short attention span, but I remember it fondly. I recently picked it back up because i had the “MMO withdrawal.” Seems like it has just as many players, and the cash shop isn’t bad at all. I don’t think F2P killed this game, i feel it helped it survive in this “action combat or bust” age. My main like for the sub model is that you can get ANYTHING in the game with in-game currency or loot drops. You could get super cool wings in Aion if you could grind up enough money, or whatever currency. I haven’t been able to check, but i’m assuming that because its F2P now, you can only get the really cool wings in cash-shop. But dev’s have to get the money somehow.

    • Kess on October 20, 2014

      To answer your question, as a former Aion player who spent plenty of money in the cash shop, the coolest wings can either be earned or bought, but it’s generally considered more worth it to earn them in-game rather than spend like $30 just for the skin. Not only that, but the BEST wings were only in shop for a short amount of time and based on player votes. Aion is pretty good about letting everyone get cool stuff just by working for it.

  17. Curst on October 20, 2014

    There are only three reasons why online games die:
    1) low quality;
    2) strong competition;
    3) bad management.
    Now, bad management may include a poor choice of initial payment model and untimely and/or poorly executed transition to another payment model. But in the end it’s bad management that is to blame and not payment models themself.

  18. Mad Martha on October 20, 2014

    I joined DDO not long after it had gone F2P, about 4 years ago.
    I’m not in a position say whether F2P made it worse or better.
    What I can say is, that after leaving WoW I was *looking* for an F2P game though.
    As we know MMO’s are “slow burners” and I felt I couldn’t fully know if I’d play a game long term after just 4 weeks of playing.
    Basically , I didn’t want to pay money for something I’d end up ditching.
    Tried many games, only 2 that have stuck with me since are DDO (I’m now subbed and play regularly) and for some strange masochistic reason RFOnline (presuming there’s servers up and running).
    [MM]

  19. Razer on October 20, 2014

    Current MMORPGs are stagnant grindfests, regardless. Adding F2P to the mix is like puking on top of an already rancid slurry.

  20. D-Keeper on October 20, 2014

    I played LOTRO for about 2 months after it went F2P. We left that game because we were getting bored running the same thing over and over again. So my friends and I switch to another MMO. After bouncing around we settled into Rift for about 1.5 years and left that game before the F2P went into effect to go play SWTOR. We continued playing SWTOR until it went F2P. Couple of my long time online friends were having a some money problems and went to the F2P option. That was when the trouble started for us. Suddenly they could no longer go on raids with us without spending time grinding mobs for credits to buy the operation unlocks. After about a month of this we decided to call it quits and started looking for a new home. We still haven’t found anything yet that is holding our attention for long.

    • legit4lfe on October 20, 2014

      if you guys want try archeage it is free to play but it is fun but its up to you.

      • Sinsitral on October 20, 2014

        its fun but there is no raids its all about crafting and pvp

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