Top 5 F2P/B2P Business Models
by Tyler Edwards, Feb 13, 2013
The MMO community tends to be a bit too quick to declare things dead, but if anything could be said to be on its last legs, it's the subscription only business model for MMOs. You could count on one hand the number of big name MMOs still clinging to their subs and have fingers left over. Many free to play or buy to play games are shameless cash grabs, making life miserable for players who don't shell out cash, but a few are much more gamer friendly. No game is truly free, but these games offer great gaming experiences even if you don't want to pay much, and lack any truly absurd cash grabs.
If you'd like to know more about what free to play MMOs are out there, check out our extensive listings of F2P MMOs. Each entry contains valuable info about the game, including just how free they actually are.
Vindictus is an action focused MMO dungeon crawler with a fairly unrestrictive free to play business model. All of the game's content is available for free, and cash only buys bonuses and conveniences.
Vindictus has been around for a while now, and none of the extra content added to the game has required any fee to unlock. Even the new characters - equivalent to classes in other games - are freely available to all players. This adds up to a huge amount of content and options available without the need to spend a single dime.
As one would expect, Vindictus supports itself through micro transactions. Some of the cash shop offerings are purely cosmetic, but others do affect player power and significantly cut down on the need to grind. It does stray into the "pay to win" realm a bit, but largely only at endgame, and more casual players may not find it an issue.
Vindictus is a fairly unique game with a lot to offer. It uses the Source engine, meaning it has both excellent graphics and realistic physics. Not only can you pick up objects and throw them at enemies, you can pick up enemies and throw them at enemies. While it's not a total paragon of free to play, it's still a pretty appealing option even if you never pay.
4: Guild Wars 2:
It's probably fair to say that Guild Wars 2 is the game that put the concept of "buy to play" on the map. You need to pay for the game, but once you do, the entire game is free to play forever after.
In theory, at least, but so far, ArenaNet has done an admirable job of making its monetization of the game fairly painless.
There was talk prior to the launch of GW2 of some content patches requiring payment to unlock, but so far, all patches have been free, even large ones. It's safe to say that players will be forking over cash for expansion packs before too long, but that doesn't seem unreasonable when you consider that even subscription games tend to require payment for such things.
The main source of money for ArenaNet is its cash shop. You can find less obtrusive cash shops, but GW2 avoids most of the more troublesome pitfalls. Most of the items are purely for cosmetics or convenience. There are a few things that provide a more tangible advantage, but player power is normalized in PvP, and PvE doesn't place much emphasis on competition between players, so what "pay to win" aspects do exist aren't enough to cause a problem.
GW2 does have the infamous lockboxes that can only be opened by keys from the cash shop, and there a few aspects of the game - such as customizing gear appearance - that can be irritating if you don't spend real money. Theoretically, everything in the cash shop can be acquired for free in game, but the grind required to do so is rather intense.
Still, overall, GW2 offers one of the most unproblematic subscription free business models around, and is an excellent game, as well.
The North American version of the angelic MMO Aion advertises itself as "Truly Free," and for an ad slogan, this comes remarkably close to the truth.
You do not need to pay anything to play Aion. It has neither box cost nor subscription fee. It's not even an extended free trial in disguise as are many other F2P games. There are no restrictions on your choice of race or class, and all content is open to free players.
Aion has been around for a while now and is currently in its second expansion, with a third on the way, so that's a massive amount of content available for free.
Aion gets its money from an extensive cash shop. The Black Cloud Marketplace offers numerous pets, mounts, cosmetic toys, player housing items, account services, and boosts. There are none of the dreaded lock boxes, but there is the "Wheel of Fortunerk," which allows players to gamble with real money for random prizes.
As to whether Aion qualifies as "pay to win," that depends on how broadly you define the term. The Black Cloud Marketplace does offer numerous temporary buffs and boosts, but they stop short of blatant advantages to paying customers. There's no selling of gear or mechanics that cripple free players. Purists may still be turned off, but most people would probably agree Aion is not an example of pay to win.
It's also worth noting that most cash shop boosts are available in game one way or another, though it's obviously easier to just spend the cash.
Aion is starting to show its age, but on the plus side, it's had years to polish and improve. It stands as one of the most solid MMO experiences out there right now, if not one of the most innovative. Considering how much it offers for free, it's most definitely one of the better values around.
2: The Secret World:
The Secret World, Funcom's story driven horror MMO, is the latest triple A MMO to lose its sub fee. Players can choose to become a member for a standard $15 a month fee and receive special perks for doing so, but players without a subscription can still enjoy the game quite readily.
You do need to buy the game, but it's only $30, and that upfront cost has the added advantage of weeding out trolls and gold sellers. Once you buy the game, all of its content - included content introduced in the first four patches - is available, and there are no limitations whatsoever.
The game has a cash shop, but the vast majority of its items are purely cosmetic. The few exceptions are largely just for convenience and saving time. There is nothing that would give a paying player a noticeable advantage in straight up power over a player who hasn't spent a cent in the shop, save perhaps at very low levels. The farther into the game you get, the more irrelevant the cash shop advantages become.
Going forward, Funcom intends to continue offering free content updates, as well as paid DLC story arcs. The first of these DLCs to be released, "The Vanishing of Tyler Freeborn," was priced at around $5 and has been universally acclaimed by fans as one of the crowning achievements of The Secret World, featuring thrilling gameplay and shocking plot twists.
TSW's new business model is still in its early stages, and things may change, but right now, there is no suggestion of "pay to win" or obnoxious items like lockboxes, and it definitely provides some of the best bang for your MMO buck around.
1: League of Legends:
While it's not exactly an MMORPG, League of Legends, Riot Games' mega hit DOTA game, boasts more players than World of Warcraft and is possibly the most played video game in the world, so it definitely qualifies as "massive."
It's also perhaps the best example of a free to play business model out there. There is no payment required to play LoL and no payment needed to be competitive with other players.
There's not even the suggestion of pay to win here. Riot's cash shop features nothing that would give you an unfair advantage over other players. There are some boosts to help you unlock new bonuses quicker, and you can pay cash to increase your selection of champions, but neither of those result in a direct statistical advantage over your competitors.
Otherwise, cash can only be used for cosmetics, such as new skins for champions.
The interesting thing is that, despite its lenient business model, Riot is raking in money hand over fist from League of Legends. The game has become such a massive success that everyone and their monkey is now rushing to churn out their own DOTA-style games in a series of clones not seen since the early days of World of Warcraft's success.
Perhaps there is a lesson here for all those miserly developers producing free to play games that are anything but. Maybe it's possible to be successful without gouging players or making life miserable for those who don't want to shell out a lot of cash.