I had an interesting discussion with a colleague the other day, after we were discussing the free-to-play game design models at length. After tossing around the obligatory annoyance for the differences in monetization, we started talking about what it really was that bothered us about F2P games in general. Was it the fact that not everything was included in a game? Was it having to pay for things multiple times? Maybe just that gamers are, by and large, cheapskates? Or is it the lack of meaningful compensation for the player’s money much of the time?
Our ideas went all over the place, and though it wasn’t a discussion with any particular goal or agenda, we did start discussing something interesting that I wanted to write about.
Every time the annoyance at F2P gaming comes up, someone will, inevitably, bring up League of Legends. Now, that’s not without merit – League is easily one of the most high-profile and profitable free-to-play games in the world, and they’ve not only survived, but thrived on F2P, generating revenues rumored to be upwards of $100 Million per year.1
This is even more staggering when you consider that the game has largely avoided the derision that has seemingly attached itself permanently to the F2P moniker, eliciting groans from gamers when they hear the term. Instead, League has proven to be very popular, and I’m consistently curious why that is, but that’s a discussion that’s being had all over the place, and not really what I wanted to bring up.
(Though, I will say, the next point was brought up in conjunction with an aside comparison between Diablo 3 and Borderlands 2 which, owing to their perspective top-down and FPS views, may have had some influence in the conversation.)
I came to a realization last night as I was talking with my friend, and realized that, if you pull back to a high level, the Champions in League of Legends are no different than choosing a different “gun” in Call of Duty/Battlefield/Planetside 2, etc. Fundamentally, the “playstyle” of the weapon may change, but the “purpose” of the weapon is essentially the same, in that the player is contributing his/her skills to the completion of the overall goal.
The value difference between a LoL champion and gun, however, is notable. When you purchase a champion, you’re gaining an entirely new way to play the game. Four new skills, a new strategy, a new playstyle, and an individual narrative backstory and character round out your purchase, resulting in something that’s well-worth your initial investment.
By comparison, a gun, well, shoots stuff. Maybe reloads faster, or has a faster fire rate, more damage. But that’s it.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately over different games, and how others might better utilize the free-to-play space in ways that don’t feel cheap or lacking value for the player, and it feels like there’s something here. When a purchase is meaningful, it offers something unique to the player. Unique enough to change the way that the game is played, but still familiar enough that the entirety of the game that they’ve been enjoying is not different just because they made the purchase. (Borderlands 2 has done tremendously well with this strategy. Not in a F2P model, of course, but in their DLC. Topic for another day.)
So here’s the thought that I wanted to share today – How can we make the purchase of a gun, or really, anything in a free-to-play experience, have the value that a champion in League of Legends does? If we can figure that out in our own games, I think the benefits will follow.