Procrastination Amplification: Punditry on MMOs and games in general.

Memoir:44 – not-so-free-to-play

Nils posted last night about a post on Mind Bending Puzzles discussing the payment model of Memoir:44, a game labeled as free-to-play on Steam.  As it turns out the game isn’t actually free to play (surprise!), as you have to pay for each game you play after a certain amount of free games – a demo if you will. There’s absolutely no way to continue playing without paying after you used up your free games, so this is essentially a model of selling game time cards. But what if there was a way to earn free games by playing?

Clearly the developers need to make sure that most people can’t play indefinitely for free or they won’t make any money, but the chance to do so would probably increase the attractiveness of the model quite a bit. This is essentially how Magic: The Gathering Online works (ignoring the whole card-collecting aspect for a moment.) Playing in tournaments costs you a certain amount of digital product (booster packs, event tickets, or both) but the game also pays out some prizes to those doing well in a tournament. This allows really good players to “go infinite” by winning at least as much as they spend on tournament entry fees, while still offering an incentive to worse players to keep on playing and spending money.

Personally I tend to be almost at the infinite level in Magic Online, but not quite. That means that from time to time I go broke after a streak of bad tournaments and I have to spend money to continue playing. At all times, though, I still have the hopes of only having to invest a little to get started again and then being able to finance myself from my winnings. I’m pretty sure that I’ve spent more money on Magic Online than on any other free-to-play game so far.

So it would probably be a good business move for the Memoir:44 guys to include some way to win free games into their system (not that I know the game, I don’t know how well something like that would fit), but how would it affect the game?

You probably know that I am not a fan of F2P systems at all and think that they tend to make games worse due to the inherent incentive to implement artificial barriers into the game in order to make people pay more. In this case though, I’m not sure how taking the game from the pay-to-play for that it currently has to the “potentially free to play” form I suggested could possibly hurt the game. As long as additional games are what people are paying for, the developers would be incentivized to make playing additional games desirable – which should, at least in theory, mean that they need to make the game more fun to make more money. That’s what I would call a win-win situation.