The F2P bubble has burst. At least, that’s what I’m hearing people say in the wake of the announced shutdown of LEGO Universe, following as it is in the heels of the demise of F2P titles such as Alt1 Games’ Troy Online and layoffs at Gameforge and GamersFirst. Multiple F2P games shutting down, and companies that specialize in F2P games laying off staff must mean that the model doesn’t work, right?
There is a certain core of MMO gamers who want nothing but subscription-based games and revel in the news of any problems, perceived or otherwise, in the F2P market. This is where most of the negativity is coming from. But it’s a little premature to look at a sudden rash of bad news as indicative of any larger trend.
First of all, you need look no farther than CCP Games to find an example of a company that has nothing to do with F2P games that is facing layoffs and a multitude of other problems. While you’re at it, cast your eyes toward companies that have had success with recent F2P conversions, like Turbine and Funcom. When one of them starts announcing layoffs, I’ll sit up and take notice. Gameforge? Alt1 Games? No offense, but they aren’t even on the radar of most North American MMO-ers.
The point that I’ve made before and that I’ll make again is that F2P games – or P2P games, for that matter – primarily don’t fail because of their payment model but because of their quality, and I haven’t seen anything yet to dissuade me from that view. P2P games failed for years before the recent wave of F2P games hit, usually because of poor sales and subscription numbers. The Alt1 developers even said that they noticed “many bugs and errors” that compelled them to discontinue the game. LEGO Universe, at least in this writer’s opinion, was a dull grind that resembled traditional MMO play more than the highly successful LEGO video games it was theoretically based upon. (As an aside, if you haven’t read LU developer Ryan Seabury’s diatribe against the MMO genre, you should.) For the most part, these closures are just more cases of games being released too soon (Troy Online), being generally uninteresting (LEGO Universe), or being imported over from overseas with little effort given to Westernizing them (too many to count) – all issues that should be familiar to MMO players.
Then there’s NCSoft, some of you might think, which also laid offan undisclosed number of employees in its American offices last month. There’s lots of love for the games made by its development studios, especially ArenaNet (Guild Wars, Guild Wars 2) and, in the future, Carbine Studios (WildStar). But what about Paragon Studios’ City of Heroes, which just went F2P? Is this an indictment of its transition? Possibly, though I’d think it’s too soon to tell how successful that move is. Don’t forget, though, that NCSoft West is a subsidiary of the Korean company which brought Lineage, Lineage 2 (which just went F2P), and Aion to America, none of which have established much of a foothold, despite some impressive marketing budgets. It seems that NCSoft’s business decisions had nothing to do with F2P and more to do with general business, and possibly the worldwide economic situation.
That is, of course, the elephant in the room. While the gaming industry seemingly hasn’t been hit as hard as other sectors, the state of the world, and especially the American, economy has to be having some effect on things, possibly introducing a new strain that companies might have found manageable five years ago but don’t now. Maybe some of these same decisions in 2006 wouldn’t have resulted in layoffs or game closures, but investors aren’t as patient in 2011. Truthfully, though, I think this effect is rather minor and that good games will still do well, even in today’s economic climate, no matter how we’re asked to pay for them.