Liberty can be scary
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 10 July 2013, 4:56 am
In a comment on yesterday's post Chris asked me a question which I'd like to answer with a full post:
"Is this not a logical progression with the F2P model? I'd really like to know your thoughts on who would be a good governing body for these types of games. Should we leave it to review sites to warn players of the possible pitfalls with this revenue generation model, or do we throw all of our trust behind the Blog'O Sphere to keep us informed about such games and practices?

It just seems like developers are getting a free pass when it comes to how revenue is generated under the guise of F2P, and I'm finding it quite distasteful because F2P is still being presented as some kind of saviour for the MMO industry, with little regard to how it's being implemented."
I must say I am somewhat surprised by a gamer asking for a governing body for any sort of games. There are a lot of things possible in games that have the potential to offend or hurt somebody, for example violence, sexism, or cyber-bullying. You can end up in jail for making a sarcastic remark in bad taste in a dispute about a video game. Gamers have been known to let their baby starve, or kill each other over a virtual sword. And all the time we have strongly resisted any sort of oversight by a governing body for games. And now we are asking for one because we are scared of Free2Play games?

If your hobby would be a stamp collection or a model railway, you would have no upper limit on the amount of money you could spend on your hobby. A few scare stories of somebody spending all his money on virtual junk don't make Free2Play games all that dangerous, seeing how easily you could have ruined yourself financially with so many other purchases.

I believe that for Free2Play games the same principles should be applied than for any other game content: Within existing law every game company and designer should be free to offer anything he wants. And if something is "unacceptable", people won't accept it, and the market will make these games fail.

Anything else is basically protectionism. The previous business models of online games favored certain types of players, and now these players are crying out in order to keep their privileges. Free2Play games are not a "saviour", but they are a form of segmentation which can get more money out of a given demand curve. A fixed price results in a consumer surplus for those who would be willing to spend more on a game, but as the price of completely excluding those who would only be willing to spend less than the fixed price. No business system is inherently "more fair". If MMORPGs had started out as Free2Play and suddenly companies started to switch to a monthly subscription model, a lot of people would complain about the unfairness of it, because the monthly subscription model has the players who play the least subsidize those who play the most. If you would organize a protest in front of a restaurant in order to force them to switch to an all-you-can-eat buffet instead of the "unfair" system where people who eat more pay more, you would look rather ridiculous.

After centuries of capitalism most people don't need a governing body to protect them from the pitfalls of capitalism. Today you are far more likely to get screwed over your mobile phone plan than over what you pay for a game. But while anything new has pitfalls, consumers quickly wisen up. Reviews and blogs and forums can help accelerate that process, but ultimately learning how to spend money wisely is just a normal part of human lives. There is nothing inherently illegal or immoral about Free2Play games, and while you might well question the wisdom of spending money on a virtual sparkly pony, you could also question the wisdom of spending thousands or even millions on a handbag. That doesn't mean the handbag trade needs a governing body to protect people from these sellers. And neither does the Free2Play games market.
Tobold's Blog



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