Is TERA Going Free To Play A Good Thing?
TERA’s F2P shift comes as no surprise in an evolving industry.
It’s funny, just yesterday I was planning to write about the possibility of En Masse Entertainment switching TERA out of its initial subscription-based model, after the game experienced a surge in popularity following Korean Publisher NHN’s decision to make the leap. Little did I expect that the conversion was already on the agenda.
This morning, EME declared that the North American version of TERA would be going F2P with an optional subscripton fee starting in February, with Gameforge announcing similar plans from the EU version of the game nearly simultaneously. Despite happening quite a bit quicker than anticipated, the switch seemed an obvious direction considering the fading glamour of the game.
Despite graphics far superior than the majority of MMOs on the market, TERA is often criticized for its heavy emphasis on dated quest mechanics, repetitive gameplay and an endgame revolving almost purely around heavy gear/enchantment grinding. The game had difficulty gaining ground even in native Korea amidst a myriad of controversy involving both sexual content and a legal battle with NCSoft. While the former is arguably more of a concern for the West, it proved damaging to TERA’s image long before the game even made it to our shores, enough to warrant a modest amount of censorship.
It’s difficult to say for sure whether this move will truly save TERA. While some might argue that TERA’s population remained stable after a mass of server merges, it’s also true that MMOs of this generation are unlikely to survive on the modest numbers of older, easier to maintain games from nearly a decade ago. Further, the fiercely competitive nature of the market – due largely to the sheer amount of choices players have these days – makes it difficult for even the most successful MMOs to keep people playing.
A TERA censorship example.
Personally, I can’t help but feel this is a good move. While the overarching gameplay of TERA can be seen as shallow, this doesn’t necessarily detract from how fun it is; in short bursts, perhaps, but enjoyable just the same. While I feel favorably overall about the game’s graphics and combat, the nature of grind (and thus advancement) kept me from paying for a sub. I simply can’t take that much repetition; I grow bored quickly and end up feeling like I wasted $15 for a month of gameplay I’d only used a few days of. In order to make the most of my money, I force myself to play, which only makes things worse. Before long, I’m giving the game a massive thumbs down on Metacritic for wasting my time.
I don’t want to thumbs down a game. I really don’t. A lot of work goes into those suckers, and they deserve to be appreciated.
The F2P evolution of the industry has treated me very well, however. The move to F2P piqued my interest in games like Star Wars and Age of Conan; I was able to try the game before I bought it, participate in the economy and contribute to the community. I could run dungeons with people that, due to fading populations, ended up as excited by a new experience as I was. Populations blossomed, everyone had someone to play with, and suddenly the game was worth spending money on. Granted, there are probably ten “freeloaders” for every one potential customer, but that comes with the territory. To be perfectly honest, I’d rather be on a team of players who are effectively being subsidized by my money than have no team at all.
No, really. I’ve actually bought subs for friends just to guilt them into playing.… don’t judge me.
There’s another reason why F2P conversions practically get me salivating; I can pick up and drop the game whenever I like. Previously, when P2P was king, a constant payment toward membership dues was necessary to maintain access to your characters, despite however many years of subs and hours of work you already put into them. It was a constant reminder of just what a huge time sink MMO video games can be, and that’s bad for business. Don’t remind your customers that you’re wasting their time. They start leaving and being productive members of society and junk. Stop it.
Now, even if I’m not interested in a game enough to pay a sub, I can still jump in for an hour or two and help a friend out, or sell something on the market, or just stand around town facerolling emotes on my keyboard. Whatever. Point is, I still have a presence in a game, still have a way to participate in and foster the community, even if I’m not dedicated enough at that moment to pay a sub.
However, I will agree that F2P doesn’t always work out as planned. Sometimes the restrictions are downright painful and/or a cash shop is introduced that disrupts gameplay balance. That’s unfortunate, but a symptom of the business and industry, and not of the payment model itself.
I invite you all to take a look at TERA’s F2P FAQ and see just how surprisingly generous it is. There’s just enough to promote the membership to make it worthwhile, without punishing players and effectively ruining the point of F2P in the first place. Free players get access to all the content, all the races, all the classes, all the everything, subscribers get some extra wiggle room on the economy.
I’m not only surprised, but also extremely impressed with EME’s choice in payment model. I hope others follow in their footsteps.
See you in-game!