Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Freemium Isn't a Dirty Word

 Sure, I don't like Farmville. But that doesn't mean I think freemium games are the devil incarnate (although I still strongly dislike the word itself...)

This might be a little surprising to hear, considering my stances on stuff like Farmville or Mafia Wars or any other number of titles which I don't even believe qualify as games, but just to set the record straight: I don't actually think that freemium gaming is a bad idea. At least not when it's actually implemented properly.

I'm mostly writing this because it was pointed out to me that I've tended to come down quite hard on the freemium category of games. I won't deny that I seem to pretty much hate anything that Zynga churns out with a burning, vitriolic passion. However, that's more a case of hating the product, rather than the type of market service that it would set to represent.

For example, even though I don't play RPGs very much anymore, one of the last ones I played was an online one that used a model that could be constituted as at least somewhat freemium: The Kingdom of Loathing. This simple, quirky RPG where you can play as a Pastamancer or Turtle Tamer has a huge community, although the bulk of it is still based around singular questing. Most of the content is absolutely free. but there are certain items called Mr. Accessories that you can purchase with real cash. $10 gets you one Mr. Accessory which you in turn can equip for a nice little boost to all of your stats unless you're in a Hardcore run. However, Mr. Accessories can also be traded to the Mr. Store for items that change each month. There are weapons, armor, and familiars that are available for a limited time only, and while you can generally find them floating around on the marketplace after the fact it's quite likely that trading the Mr. A for the item you want will be the cheapest, most straightforward method to getting what you want.

Now, is this wrong, and unbalancing? No. Not in the slightest. The items are always changing, and while there is a limited window, there will always be copies floating around in the marketplace. Now, I bought a familiar that was originally a Mr. Store only item, I paid about 3.5 million in game currency for it. Was that years or farming for meat (yes, the in gane currency is meat. What, I told you it was quirky) not hardly, it was about a month once I had the items for a halfway decent setup.

Certainly some items go for a hell of a lot more, but if you don't want to pay the initial price but don't mind investing the time then there's not much else that can be done. However, I would emphasize that all of the items that you can get -- even the ones that grant access to unique locations or give unique powers -- aren't necessary to play the game. They can certainly make things easier, or put a fun spin on it, but you can fully enjoy the Kingdom without ever having to buy anything. And indeed if you want any of the truly fantastic items, you'll probably be doing runs that won't even allow those store bought ones to begin with.

Certainly that's not the only freemium game I've enjoyed either. I'd just think that talking about TF2 yet again would probably be my equivalent of beating a dead horse. What I am trying to get across here is that freemium in and of itself isn't horrible or great, it's the games that use the system that often reflect on how it is judged. The Kingdom of Loathing, Team Fortress 2, games that do the basic necessity of being a fun, playable game justice; when freemium gets added to those kinds of games it can work quite well, or at the very least not harm the base experience. Likewise, for garbage like Farmville, a freemium attitude only serves to make it how absolutely clear it is that the "game" is merely using you for your time, money, friends list, or all of the above.

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