Free-To-Play: A Game of Numbers

Today has got me thinking.

With the news that Star Wars: The Old Republic is going free to play, it made me think about games and gaming value. Are the games we’re playing really worth the money we’re spending on them? Why does it matter the world to one person that a MMO has a subscription cost, but to someone else that same cost is utterly inconsequential? Multiple factors abound in this discussion, which is why it’s turned into such a polarizing topic. However, some numbers may help to explain it, at least from this gamer’s perspective.

Single Player Games

The single player genre is large and still in charge. Comparable to a summer blockbuster movie, it’s a big budget, years in the making game that starts out with a high pricetag. Generally $60. You’re $60 gets you admission to a fantastic story, awesome gameplay, and unrivaled graphics. Gametime will generally take about two weeks to a month to complete. Most gamers are left satisfied, and so these games take a long time to come down in price. I just purchased Skyrim during Steam’s Summer Sale for 50% off, a good 9 months after release. DLC now always comes later, but it’s 100% optional.

AAA MMO with Box Fee, Monthly Subscription, and Extra Cash Shop

Here is the standard we find with released MMOs today. If we say the initial box will cost about $60, then with a $15 subscription every month after, with a $30 expansion released after a year, you’re looking at figures like this: 1 month: $60, 3 months: $90, 6 months: $135, 9 months: $180, 12 months (with new expansion): $255. Throw an extra $25 for a sparkle pony from the cash shop, and you’re looking at a year’s total of $280.

When stretched out over the course of a year, it is a lot more palatable. I’m not one to be stingy. I am on a budget, and I do spend the money when I feel it’s worth it. Heck, that $15 monthly subscription fee is earned before I even fully wake up on the first workday of the month. But looking at the overall picture, $280 for a single game is a LOT to spend. As a comparison, right now on Amazon is a Playstation 3 for $250.

Free to Play MMO with a Strict Cash Shop 

Here is the next standard we find in gaming today, the Free to Play MMO. Under a F2P MMO, the developers of the game are set to task. They can’t just wing out some content every year or so and think that’s it. No, they are held accountable for every item in that store. Content, potions, storage, cosmetic items, ships, weapons, it’s all in there, and it’s scrutinized heavily. Not only is it scrutinized, but it’s pushed like a bookstore’s endcap with the latest best sellers. Annoying at times but here are my personal numbers: If I’ve invested a lot of time into a game, you’ll most likely see me spend about $20 or so every 2 or 3 months. This comes out to about $100/year.

With sales, and for people that must have everything in the game with multiple alts, this can vary wildly from player to player. Nobody is the same. A great majority buy nothing, and a minority buy everything. As we are being proved time and time again, though, this is a business model that works, and is why we’re seeing Star Wars: The Old Republic turning to head down this path.

MMO with a Box Fee and a Not-So-Strict Cash Shop 

My personal favorite. Also known as the Guild Wars model. You pay a large box price, about $60, and then there is a shop with fluff items. Costumes, extra storage panes, skills you can find in-game, etc. Now, I’m not commenting on Guild Wars 2 as it’s cash shop still has yet to be truly revealed. However, if it’s anything like the first Guild Wars, there is nothing to worry about, as it’s all cosmetic and fluff items. Nothing game-killing. Then, about every year, a paid expansion will come along, in the $30 range. So, in the course of a year, paying about $100 seems right.

This is very similar to my F2P spending, but the feeling is entirely different. That $100 is only for the first year, too. Every year after, it’s only the costs of expansions and cash shop fluff.


If every game went with the Box + Cash Shop model, I would be a lot happier. The box fee adds that gate that subscription MMO players crave so much to keep out the “riff-raff”, and the cash shop is there but far from being intrusive. The population is large enough to keep a stable community, and the best part: you can take a break from the game and come back later with no negative consequences.

So why did Star Wars: The Old Republic go Free To Play? Well, my guess is that they brought out the game, with a similar-feeling combat system to essentially be the next in line of the Knights of the Old Republic franchise, which is great, but players and Bioware seemed to treat it similar to a single-player game. Once one time through the story was accomplished or a month or two had passed, why keep it up? PvP? Raids? Only a small percentage of MMO players partake in them to begin with. Its nice to see them included, but it’s largely ignored. If SWtOR had the Guild Wars pricing model, it would’ve rocked the gaming world to it’s foundations. Now, though, after rounds of layoffs, Bioware and SWtOR will join the ranks of the already saturated Free To Play market.

Someday I may even play it, but most likely not.

\\ Ocho

P.S. – I’m sure you’ve noticed my lack of pictures this time around, I’ve decided to change my format to be a little more relaxed. The large pictures and huge articles was too much for me to keep up with. I found I stopped gaming, and thats the whole point! I was writing, but found little time to play. If I change to shorter (this one, actually, is not included in the shorter category) and less flashy articles, the pressure will come off and I’ll hopefully post more often. Casual Aggro, to me, is still in an experimental phase. Finding where I fit and where this fits in my time is proving to be a little tricky.

But overall, THANK YOU VERY MUCH for reading. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I truly enjoy writing it. 🙂

6 thoughts on “Free-To-Play: A Game of Numbers

  1. One small thing of why I like your standard single player titles and the f2p model. When I pay 15 bucks for a month on a game I sort of feel obligated to play as much as I can to “get my moneys worth”. With the f2p option I can can toss 15-25 bucks down once in a while and use it when I feel like it and not feel like I have to get my 15 bucks worth right then and there. The same goes for a single player title. I can play a while and if I get bored, stuck, or something else pops up I want to play I don’t feel the pressure that I am wasting the money I paid on it because well, I can come back to it later and its right there on the shelf(real or digital) that I left it on. It also comes down to what you mentioned…200+ bucks for ONE game is not my style. I like variety.


    • Absolutely. It may just be $15, but it feels like a collar and rope. My wife and I don’t have cable TV. Yeah, sometimes it bothers us that we can’t watch what it seems the world is watching… but then, we look at the offers. An extra $30/month for a laughable package with maybe 1 or 2 channels we want, $80/month for a decent package with channels we want and some perks, $120/month for all the channels we want, perks, and extra goodies. But woah… $120/month?! $80/month?! In order to make it worth it, I feel like I’d have to watch TV all the freaking time. Every night I hang out with friends or just read or play games, that’s a straight up $4 per day that’s being wasted. Its true, one of the biggest reasons to get away from subscriptions is simply to feel like you’re not wasting it by playing a new game. We’re gamers. The definition is pretty much that we play multiple games. ArenaNet seems to know this, and F2P is starting to come around to that as well.

      We don’t want to be guilted into playing your game, we want to play it willingly and be enticed to do so.

      Now if only F2P wasn’t so annoying with all the ads and money-grabs…


  2. Another factor is the gamer’s schedule. I played Final Fantasy Tactics Advance for 100+ hours, and paid $15 for it. Thing is, those hours were over the course of *years* in real time. There’s absolutely no way that a subscription game can compete with that value for my schedule. I’m pretty sure I’d happily sink a hundred or more hours in WoW, for example, but again… years. There’s no way it’s worth the *hundreds* of dollars that would cost me.


  3. Couldn’t agree more with both of you. I don’t have cable either. For something to watch for the kids I have netflix on the xbox. I ended up spending 5 years(with about 6 months off spread out thru the years) playing only wow. I missed out on so many games its not funny. Sadly I am glad to be broke of those chains. Heh my gaming time is valuable, gotta get the best bang for my buck and have a variety.


  4. Pingback: Do we need “F2P” really? « A ding world

  5. Pingback: Free-to-play or how to Spread Around $15 per Month | The MMO Compendium

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