If you’re like me, you think of many free-to-play games as free trials. If it’s not something you’re hotly anticipating or something you’ve just recently heard of, you’ll try a game out to see if it hooks you in the first few hours. If it does, you’ll stick around and maybe spend money on it. If it doesn’t, no problem – you’ll just move on.
So doesn’t it seem odd that a F2P title would make a fundamental part of its gameplay unavailable until you’ve spend dozens of hours in the game?
As I was reading a description of the Frontier System, Dragon’s Prophet’s large-scale PvP system, I thought it sounded pretty neat. There was some mention of housing instances being involved – though not to the extent the author of the piece would have liked – and a kind of mix between free open-world and scheduled battles.
I toyed around in the Dragon’s Prophet beta for a while, but didn’t see much that grabbed my attention, at least on the PvE side. This, however? Even with its limits, the PvP action sounded interesting, especially if it involves flying around and blasting other players from the back of a dragon. As I read, I came up with the notion that I might give Dragon’s Prophet a shot as an exclusively PvP game.
That was until I read the closing paragraphs of the article. The Frontier System doesn’t open up until level 30, and even then, players will be “have significant difficulty surviving” until they reach level 60.
In other words, if you want to play this cool PvP at all, you’ll have to spend hours grinding out mostly PvE content until you reach 30, just so you can get one-shotted by higher-level characters for 30 more levels.
Thus ended my already-limited interest in Dragon’s Prophet.
It’s another take on the “the real game starts at max level” mindset that was a little more acceptable in the days when pay-to-play and subscriptions were the norm, but makes much less sense in a free-to-play game. When you paid $50 or $60 for a box game, it was going to be something you were willing to commit to. If the “fun” stuff didn’t start until level 30 or higher, you had less of an issue with it, since you were going to be there for at least your free month, and maybe longer if you bought another month or three right away.
Free-to-play games don’t usually have that luxury. Like a TV series, they have to hook you almost immediately, and if they don’t, it’s easy enough for you to turn away and find something else to entertain you. Putting a super-cool system behind a “time wall” that relatively few people will bother “paying” is just as bad as putting it behind a real-money pay wall.
Dragon’s Prophet isn’t the first game, of course, to take this approach, and probably won’t be the last. When TERA introduced instanced PvP, you had to be level 50 (with a max of 60) to participate. The game had a subscription back then, granted, and since going F2P TERA has added Corsairs’ Stronghold which scales players to level 60 regardless. Even so, Stronghold isn’t available till level 30. I also gave up on Aion before the point where PvP was unlockable.
It’s just a bad idea to make such important and well-loved parts of your game available so late in the leveling process. You could argue that raids are like that, but those are really just bigger versions of dungeons, which most games initially make available in the level 10 to 20 range, so you at least have a taste of what a group instanced PvE activity is like.
Even the few pay-to-play MMOs left – nearly all of which have free trials – tend to try and give you a taste of everything early on to get you hooked right away. If you take advantage of World of Warcraft’s “Free to level 20” trial, you’ll get access to most of the basic gameplay, including dungeons and PvP – enough to at least decide if you want to keep playing.
And before we get too far into the “You need to be high level so you know how to play your class” – it’s not that hard to get a basic idea of how to play your class, at least in one simple fashion (tank, healer, DPS) after five to 10 hours.
I’m not suggesting people have access to pro-level, ultra-serious ranked PvP, just as I wouldn’t suggest level 15 players have access to tough endgame raids. But if you’re going to promote something as a major feature of your game, let us derp around for a while and have fun – remember “fun”? – and see if it’s something we want to keep doing. And, you know, maybe give you money for.
By Jason Winter