With all of the post-DragonCon stuff that I have to do, I almost missed this news bit. Dungeons and Dragons Online (DDO) is now free!
Now, I know a lot of you are WOW players and don’t think much of the other MMOs out there but, honestly, this is great news. Yeah it may have a hint of “look at us” desperation, but it also proves that there is money to be made by giving your base product away. It is a trend we are starting to see more often from the gaming community. Give the game away, but charge for perks.
This trend seems to have started with the advent of smartphones and social networking. It then moved to the “big boys” with games like EA’s Battlefield Heroes.
Personally, I have been playing BF Heroes since it came out of beta and it is a blast. They make the free play compelling enough that there is reason to want to buy some of the add-ons (if only to show support of the game). As a result, I have spent over $30 on acquiring BattleFunds for things like increased XP rate, unique uniforms, and special gestures. The important thing is that the “paying” player doesn’t have an advantage over the free player. The difference is not in damage, weapons, or skills – it is in the exterior appearance and the speed of leveling . The point is, you don’t HAVE to buy any Battlefunds, you WANT to buy them.
So while I think it is super-cool that DDO is now free, I have a couple of issues with the way DDO is doing the free play.
First is limiting the classes you can use as a free player. I have only a small issue with this (and in fairness , I have not logged into the service to see what classes are available vs. not), but if any of the classes that are limited to paying players have a distinct advantage over the free classes, I call BS.
The next issue I have is with limited chat/mail/auctions (again to be fair – I have not logged in yet). If these changes give the paid player an unfair advantage then boo!! I also find it weird that the communication channels (chat) would be something you would hamper. I would think you would want free communication between everyone, so that ‘freebies’ could hear about the cool crap they don’t/can’t have yet.
Lastly (and the one I have the biggest issue with), the message boards are mostly limited to paying players. The free folks need to be heard too. Yeah, maybe you have an “exclusive” forum for the paid masses. But, if you segregate the free and paid you diminish the voice of the majority of the players of your game.
Here is my short list of what a good “free play” game should have to be successful:
- Compelling game play (Duh!)
- Level playing field for “cash” players and free loaders. For example: you should not be able to buy a +5 damage weapon when the highest “free” weapon is a +3. Instead, do things like renaming equal weapons and enhanshing graphics for the paying players.
- Give a nice variety of clothing and weapon options to the free players, but expand the line for paying players.
- Free players and paying players need to face off against each other. The only way to convince a free loader that they want a particular item is for them to see it everywhere.
- Don’t lock free players out of the discussion (I’m talking to you DDO). Their input is just as valuable as the paid players. The job of the game company is to convert the free players to cash players; you don’t do that by ignoring them.
I should note that I bought D&D Online when it first came out (some years ago) – my issue was keeping up with my friends that had way more time to play than me. I could not stand forking out $10 a month for something that I did not play that often. The game IS fun and you can easily burn away an afternoon on it but, for me, it was not worth the $10 due to time constraints.
So if you haven’t checked out DDO – go do so now. It’s free – warts and all.