In a new Gamasutra feature
, contributor Simon Ludgate examines how social game makers are tweaking the free-to-play model to maximize both player value and developer revenue at the same time.
Ludgate starts by examining the traditional MMO monthly fee subscription model, which left out players with lots of time but not enough money to devote to the game's fixed costs.
Many social games instead use an "energy" model, where players could play for free for a limited time before being forced to pay money or wait for in-game energy to recharge before getting more play time.
Ludgate points out that this model can lead to frustration for people who have lots of time but no money to activate further play, and lost revenue from players with lots of money but no time to play the game. Games on the "energy" model are often designed to be as inconvenient as possible, encouraging addictive, money-sucking play at the expense of fun.
But many free-to-play games are now moving towards what Ludgate calls the "convenience model," where players can play as much as they want and either spend time or money to advance in the game and get optional bonuses. This model allows players to spend whatever mix of time and money is optimum for them to get what they want out of the game.
"The successful F2P games of the future are going to be successful in the same way the bottled water industry is successful: they're going to operate on the principle of giving opportunities to people who want to spend money rather than trying to corner people into the position where they have to spend money," Ludgate says by way of analogy.
The full feature
goes on to look at what League of Legends
can teach designers about encouraging truly social gameplay in free-to-play titles, and how gift-giving can be a surprisingly profitable addition to a game's economy.