How should a "free" to play MMO be funded?

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Pay for ‘energy’ systems are universally hated.

Item trading for cash is disliked, see the criticism levelled at Diablo 3.

Selling shiny extra superficial content, like hats for player avatars, doesn’t seem to generate enough.

What would you think is/are the best way/s for a MMO to generate revenue while remaining free to play?

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There is always the content you can pay for. Don’t make them superficial, but limit the interaction between paid and non-paid items perhaps, to suit both paying and non-paying users.

For example, lets say you have a premium weaponry item. It isn’t fair at all if the system that you can use that in is person v person, unless the stats of the weaponry item are comparable with non-paid weaponry. However, in a co-op style system against a computer, it wouldn’t really matter if you mixed paid and non-paid weaponry. Everyone is working towards the same goal with the equipment each one has, with maybe a few benefits:

  • Less hate towards the paid items
  • Easy demo of paid items
  • [Friendly] Competition encourages users to buy items
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There’s always ads.

Also, superficial items (like hats) that don’t affect the game are generally well liked.
The only times anyone really has a big problem with microtransactions are:
When it makes the game pay-to-win
When it’s overpriced
When it involves an Energy system (Eg. Wait for two hours to do this one thing)

If you do include a real money currency ingame, it would probabally help to allow players to trade it (either 1 on 1 or in an exchange market) because it will most likely be traded on unofficial sites, phishing sites, and scams anyways.

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Also, superficial items (like hats) that don’t affect the game are generally well liked.

Problem is, they aren’t purchased enough, or so I’ve heard. ‘Useless’ items will only be bought by an incredibly small portion of your players. Much much smaller than your paid portion I would think.

When it’s overpriced

That is a hard line to find. Underpricing will hurt you as much as over-pricing will. And the content has to be worth the time that it would normally take the player to acquire OR be worth the value that the content gives to the game.

There is also another way to possibly do something that I haven’t mentioned yet since I hadn’t put much thought into it and might use it down the road somewhere. Friends could potentially be a powerful motivator. When you want to play with more friends, I think players would find it logical that they’d have to pay some amount if they wanted to play against a larger group. For example, if you have a FPS with servers that support 6 on 6 fighting, you could make a premium package to ‘offset server/bandwidth costs’ that would let them play on a server that supported 12 on 12.

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Don’t know why nobody has said this yet, but I know a few small F2P games that are run entirely by donations.

You don’t get any bonuses apart from a thankyou and the words “Donator” below your name in the forums.

I hate the idea of ads, they’re all so annoying and hardly anyone clicks on them

I don’t mind P2P items as long as they’re not too overpowered. Also the item should be able to be used by F2P players too, but F2P player would have to work for it. It annoys me when I’m told I can’t use/equip an item just because it’s a members item.

Well that’s what I think anyway.

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Just FYI:

If you do superficial items, make them f*cking awesome. The only example I can pull is League of Legends and their hero skins.

Being a necromancer is one thing. Looking like this at the same time?


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Watch your language on these forums young man.

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^ lol ^

Some systems which work as a F2P Model:
TF2, for one. You can purchase cosmetic items, or weapons, but the weapons are all balanced in that they encourage a slightly different playstyle, rather than just giving you x% more damage, or they have both positive and negative attributes. Also, player trading!!!

Games like perhaps Tribes, where paying can get you items quickly, but all of the items are available to F2P players, just that it will take them a lot longer to get.
eg. Your item sells for 100 premium cash (P2P), of 1000 non-premium cash (XP or something earned from playing).

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Skins for w/e item or even character looks (do give a decently large selection for free though makes the players feel welcome)
Experience/currency boosts (not free levels but more of “for the next 5 battles you’ll receive 150% of experience” and do give some of these for free to, again, make players feel welcome)
Events! They don’t need to be big let’s say christmas is coming so during 5 days you’ll have a special battle players can do once a day which gives them a cool santa hat or boosts

Allow players to have 2 item sets their actual armor then the vanity one, if a player has a vanity item then display that texture instead

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Originally posted by Kewry:

Skins for w/e item or even character looks (do give a decently large selection for free though makes the players feel welcome)

One of the things that makes LoL skins so much better is that most of them come with new model geometry. I.e. they aren’t just recolors, they’re entirely unique.

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A really good talk/presentation that belongs here:

According to Kongregate’s studies:
Permanent Upgrades > Consumables & Convenience > Cosmetic Items & Content

I’m not sure if that last section means content on its own or cosmetic content. I’m leaning towards just plain content, because they explain a few slides later saying that content is hard to sell in a world of free and it only appeals to those who have finished a game.

That might not apply to items like weaponry which could be partially permanent upgrades.

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The problem with permanent upgrades is that if a free-playing person can’t ever get those items they won’t play. It’s called “pay to win” and “pay to win” is pretty much universally reviled.

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My question that I asked:

I was curious for in which category non-cosmetic Items would fall, since they are content technically but they aren’t only acquirable to those who finish a game as explained in the next side. Say, if a super awesome sword was available would that fall in the consumables category since it only is valuable for a certain time (until the player requires a better sword) or Cosmetic Items & content category (since its just a sword)?

Response from Emily Greer
A sword as your describing I would call a permanent upgrade as long as the character continues to use it. By content I mean level packs or additional modes. There are definitely some gray areas — for example, what happens in a situation where an otherwise permanent upgrade could be lost (say with permadeath in Realm of the Mad God). And consumables can have an indirect permanent effect which makes them more compelling. For example take a situation like Backyard Monsters, where you are buying speed-ups. Early in the game, when you’re mostly playing single-player, that’s just a convenience. But later in the game having something build faster may put you in a better defensive or offensive position at a crucial moment, and that will benefit your character/status long-term. That’s the type of situation when a player will see more advantage in spending. Players are rational, and are only likely to spend on something that feels like a good investment. The more ephemeral the advantage or value, the less likely they are to buy.
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Thanks for posting Matt. In response to some other questions in the thread:

@Draco18s I think just about everything should be earnable with enough time & skill, and an item purchased should never be instant-win, which wrecks game balance. As mentioned community is crucial to games and the presence/retention of non-payers is therefore equally important. A healthy game has a good mix, and does a good job balancing so that the time-rich/money poor and time-poor/money rich can both have fun playing together. And remember that the payer is important to the whole ecosystem, because they are subsidizing the existence of the game for the rest of the players.

On energy systems in general: yes, people hate them, and for most games it is not the primary source of revenue. But I think they play an important role in games even when they are not the vehicle of monetization as they form a constraint that makes play interesting. They also create a dynamic where players can’t binge on content and get sick of it — they leave wanting a bit more. And finally it incents players to return because otherwise they are wasting available energy, and getting players to return is crucial. Of course there’s a balance, and I think games often make their energy systems to tight, especially games that were designed originally for Facebook. One of our most frequent recommendations to games coming on to Kongregate is that they should loosen their energy system a bit, but never that they should get rid of it.

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In single player games, I feel that energy systems are generally just a way of forcing players to pay with real money to let them play more.

Where they have their place, I think, is in multiplayer games (especially strategy). Something like Astro Empires springs to mind, for me. Not a strict energy system, per se, but a game mechanic based around time. It takes time for you to build buildings/units, time for the buildings to produce income and time for the units to travel. The time mechanic helps to even the playing field for people who spend all day playing and people who can only spare a few minutes here and there. All it takes is to quickly add a few things to your build queue and you’ve fully utilised your time for that day.
Of course, people can spend extra time scouting out enemies or places for extra bases, but these actions, while beneficial, do not provide such an enormous benefit that the game becomes unbalanced.
But then, this system doesn’t leave too much room for monetisation, you would think, but there is a well designed subscription model built around it. It doesn’t provide the players any immediate benefits (like extra money, units…) but instead allows the paying players to progress further in the game by removing some of the limits associated with free accounts:
A free player has a limit of 9 bases they can build. This number is certainly enough to enjoy the game for a long time, but with more bases comes more income, more units…
Bases have a number of slots, which are occupied by buildings. The free player has a limit of how many of the same building he can build on the same base, whereas paying players do not. As more of the base’s space is occupied, the player can choose to build structures which increase the space available. For a free player, the space is limited when they have purchased all the space icreasing structures to the max level, but paying players can effectively build a base of unlimited size.
This freedoms might seem overpowering, but they are balanced by the fact that each higher level building/base costs more than the previous level, so that a player can’t reasonably build thousands upon thousands of structures on the same base without investing enormous amounts of time.
Lastly, there is the combat system which encourages players of similar levels to fight each other, rather than the strong dominating the weak. There are restrictions such that, below a certain level, a player cannot be attacked at all, below a certain level, a player can only be attacked by players close to their level, after that point, they are free game. The combat itself also encourages fair play, because the easiest way of gaining fast income is to destroy an enemy fleet and collect the debris. A high level player with a full combat ready fleet isn’t naturally going to attack the base of a low level player with only a couple of fighters, because it isn’t worth it for the incredibly meagre returns.

Although this model may differ somewhat from the traditional Kong flash-game energy model, for me, it still shows how making players wait can be beneficial. Of course, without a good game behind it, this model just falls flat on its face. People aren’t going to come back later if your game isn’t worth it.
Anyway, that’s my fair few cents, if anyone is still reading…

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Pay for boosts, cosmetics, and fluff.

Pay for power is bad, but boosts are fine. Nothing wrong with someone paying to earn exp faster. That’s how you balance people with more money that time vs. people with more time than money.

Some great examples to look to are League of Legends and Lord of the Rings Online.



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Perhaps referring to incentives as permanent upgrades is part of the problem. Upgrade explicitly refers to something that’s better. Instead of better, focus on providing different.

Let’s imagine a hypothetical MMORPG taking place in a high school. Two genders. Stereotypical character classes: popular jock; science nerd; weirdo loner. Is the game completable with just these three classes? Of course. Not everyone will identify with these character classes, though, so you can make a pay option to unlock either another class of the player’s choice, or another tier of classes. Greater customization that matters to the player because it’s their game persona reflecting how they see themselves. Those pay classes aren’t better. They’re simply different. How many freakin’ classes does D&D 3.5 have? Forty? Utilize this.

One can also (slightly) monetize the community aspect as well. Can the players pool together and create “Clubs” (guilds)? Of course. Should there be extra perks and add-ons and recognition for those “clubs” who pay their one-time dues to the “Student Activites Board” to become an official Club? Definitely. Those F2P players who want to make their furrynarutoRP guild can do so while the “serious” P2P players who want to legitimize the seriousness of their guild can do so as well.

No one (I hope) goes to bed at night with a smile on their face because they blew 100 “gems” on a shiny hat with a feather in it. People pretty much buy those cosmetic things to show them to other people. To hear/read the words, “Oh, you’re in a chicken suit! Cool!” Without that community validation, they have no reason to buy those things. They’re not bad items to sell, but I feel they can do well when done right. Second Life would be a prime example of this.

Lastly, think about velvet ropes, either literally or figuratively. An MMO is not supposed to end, because the larger objective of an MMO is to interact, as has been said above. The stories and campaigns are simply a device to enable this interaction. Once one story ends, it’s time to begin a new one. As such, consider providing quests or stories (or even entire worlds) limited to those who either have paid or, for example, are of a certain (pay-for) class. These quests aren’t easier. They aren’t better. They don’t provide a leg-up. It’s simply additional content to thank players who have contributed monetarily.

Don’t provide upgrades—provide perks.
Don’t bribe players—thank them.

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Easily They Can Just Make Every thing for Real Money and Ingame money but you can get it allot harder by the ingame money, so the people that pays real money gets Items much faster than normal Players + VIP that adds allot of other benifits like bonus Gold ,Bonus Exp, Etc….
Sorry For My Bad English :D