Most massively multiplayer online role-playing games are free-to-play, which is deceptively attractive to players, who in the end, come out feeling nickel-and-dimed.
The game companies tell their players their game is free, but the players find out that it’s free only if they want to exist in the world as second-class players, so greatly restricted from game features that they are there more to boost the game’s account numbers than to find a game worthy of enjoyment. Not all the games are equally guilty of the misrepresentations of their games.
The most audaciously greedy free-to-play MMORPG is “Lord of the Rings Online,” which sells in-game currency (turbine points) for players to unlock features and purchase items. The top-tier currency package costs $200, which is roughly equivalent to the cost of playing a subscription MMORPG for nearly two years. To buy even two more equipment bags costs $14. Players who use free-to-play accounts with “Lord of the Rings Online” are treated like garbage until they pay up: In-game support is limited, community forum access is limited, in-game chat is limited, mail is limited, gold is limited, and queues to play the game are lengthened. However, lest the gamer thought all was lost: The in-game background music is unlimited.
But being treated poorly in “Lord of the Rings Online” isn’t reserved for only free-to-play accounts. Full accounts also have limited things that can be expanded by spending turbine points: subscribers also have to buy premium classes, extra legendary item slots, shared bank space and even extra character slots. A game isn’t complete if gamers must pay on top of subscription fees. Playing “Lord of the Rings Online” is a waste of money. There are games in the genre with much more value.
“Star Wars The Old Republic” is better about treating its first-class players — subscribers — but it offers equally bad treatment to its second- and third-class players, semi-free-to-play and free-to-play accounts. The latter two gain experience slower, receive mounts at later levels and many other restrictions that can be alleviated with their in-game currency (cartel coins), which is also tiered and maxes out at $40. Players interested in this “Star Wars” game should subscribe and save themselves unnecessary hassle.
Of all the MMORPGs with free-to-play models, “Aion” is one of the friendliest to players. The biggest restrictions are on dungeon re-spawn timers, which are much longer for free-to-play and former-subscription accounts. But there are no quest limitations, no equipment limitations, no player-versus-player limitations and no crafting limitations. On top of that, the game doesn’t force an expensive in-game currency on its players, who either get a feature or don’t. To get that feature, like extended gathering, the player must subscribe. The “Aion” model is similar to Blizzard’s “World of Warcraft” preview account, which has many more limitations than “Aion,” but they are also unlocked only if players subscribe.
There are worse free-to-play models, too: “Everquest,” “Everquest 2” and “Dungeons and Dragons Online.” Players should avoid those games’ free-to-play accounts. Non-MMORPGs seem to execute free-to-play models more effectively, but in some cases, more cruelly: “League of Legends” players should expect to pay at least $500 to gain quick access to every hero and at least another $150 for good runes.
MMORPG game companies trying to revitalize floundering games think a free-to-play model will expand the game’s player base, which it might. But the model also compromises the trust a gamer has with a game company: Offer players quality content at a reasonable price, and the players will flood their server. Companies who try to seize every penny from its players will end up closing servers.