Not to mention the fact that most people have payed way more for rare hats from other players.
Valve isn't the only major company adopting F2P formulas recently, Microsoft is also considering F2P games for the Xbox 360 market place. It is also well known that several major MMOs such as Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons & Dragons: EU have turned F2P, and even Age of Conan is adopting the same structure. Is F2P the way to go? Does this method really confer more money than Pay to Play models?
There are too many MMOs out to name that have had the F2P model from the beginning, and despite some being quite terrible they still rake in a ton of money. When I was younger I thought F2P MMOs were a godsend because they offered me the opportunity to play such games when I had no disposable income of my own. I've even spent some money on micro transactions for such games, like 5-10 dollars at the most, but I could never afford the monthly fees for P2P games. Perhaps the popularity of F2P and micro transactions can be the result of online game marketplaces providing smaller game titles and DLC for cheap. It could also be contributed to piracy... If people are going to get their games for free anyway at least you could provide in game stuff that you can't pirate.
Let's attempt to break down and discuss the pros and cons for the F2P model:
Cheaper for players.
Of course being free is cheaper since it is literally nothing, but even if you cough up the money for premium items or subscriptions it is much less costly than a monthly subscription cost. Compared to World of Warcraft, which has a $15 per month subscription, you could buy an array of EXP or item drop boosters and maybe even some cosmetic items from a F2P game's premium item catalog, and at least if you can't afford to pay for a month you're not completely denied game access. Additionally, several F2P games offer permanent upgrades, so you could spend as much money as buying a retail game to gain full access to a F2P game's features, and at least this way you've tried the game out before making the purchase.
If P2P games were to compete with this they might need to consider cheaper monthly subscription fees. To use WoW as an example again, with the same amount of money you pay for it's subscription you could buy 1-3 new games on Xbox marketplace, PSN, Wii/DS Ware or Steam every month, buy a used or older retail game every 1-2 months, or a brand new released game every 4 months (and these games would provide you with at least a year of entertainment). and that's not even counting the game's retail price and cost of it's expansions! With simple number crunching you can see how asinine WoW's prices are, and how alluring F2P can be.
Attract a larger player base.
Being free is a good enough incentive for players to play a game, even just to try it. Since MMOs pretty much thrive on the size of their player base, paying or not, this is a good idea. MMOs are built around player interaction, so low player numbers means no fun, so even if an MMO is spectacular in quality if it doesn't have enough players it will soon die out. Making a game F2P means more people to play with, so even if most do not pay for premium content, you are still providing people and entertainment for those players who do pay.
A good example of this is Global Agenda, which used to have a simple trial period plan that allowed you to play up to a certain level before making a one time purchase of the game. Due to their dwindling player base there weren't enough people playing to make the game entertaining for payed subscribers, so they switched to a F2P model. Their new model allowed free users to level up to maximum level, but received half experience, item drops, and in game money than premium account holders. They also provided micro transaction cosmetic items and boosters, but they still balanced it so that even a free player could be as strong as a premium player, it would just take them a lot longer. After this transition their player base nearly tripled, providing more people for veteran players to play with and attracting more paying members.
It is also good to note that more players gives the sense of popularity within an MMO, and that alone can improve the attraction of a game. It's similar to the practice of some dance clubs paying people to stand in line outside their facility to give the illusion of popularity, making it more attractive. This seems to have evolved into a cure for most failing MMOs such as the ones I've mentioned before (D&D, LOTRO, Conan, ect.). In fact, the main reason why WoW is number one is simply because of it's player base... it is popular simply because of it's own popularity, like some sort of social mobius strip. People play it because their friends play it, and with a type of game built around player interaction it is a very good thing to have.
Bots & Hackers
Since F2P means there is no cost to play, it also means you can create as many accounts as you have e-mail addresses. This causes a rather common issue with "gold spammers", an if a game's administration doesn't deal with it, it can cause some major problems for players. Additionally, this also means hackers only risk being banned instead of losing access to a game they payed money for, and if the game's security is shit they can simply create another account and use a proxy to gain access again. This problem alone has brought down several F2P games.
However, this doesn't mean this problem is only found in F2P games, hackers and bots aren't unheard of in P2P games, it is simply easier to conduct these actions in a free game rather than a game that requires payment and personal information. Also, this issue can be easily resolved with a decent hacking prevention tool and in game moderation, so most F2P games have eliminated if not reduced it to a manageable level.
Not Enough Income
Servers cost money to maintain, and if player population is not providing enough money to pay for costs you have a problem on your hands. While it is easy to do so with P2P as every player provides money, with F2P games servers can easily be overstuffed with non-paying payers and simply not make enough money to maintain that much bandwidth. This can lead to the game simply outright failing at making a profit or resulting to overcharging for premium items and/ or providing game-breaking premium content.
There have been rather nefarious methods that some games have done to promote the purchase of premium content, such as making the EXP rates exponentially more tedious to sell EXP booster items, but we will discuss those later (perhaps in another blog post). This also means that a rather large amount of company resources are dedicated to creating premium content like cosmetic items instead of actual game content.
The fact is it is much more difficult to regulate a micro transaction economy than providing a simple subscription rate or retail purchase in order to cover server costs.
The MMO market continues to favor the F2P model, but I am unaware of the profit statistics of either F2P or P2P to compare which one would make more money. But as a player it is rather convenient to have so many free games to try, and perhaps this transition can be for the best as long as these companies are able to maintain such a system. I would love to hear other people's opinion on the subject so I implore my readers to please post your own thoughts on F2P versus P2P options in MMOs in the comments section. Thank you.