Why Buy-to-Play is the Future for MMOs

By: - 12th Jul 2013
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While many people think only of the “Free-to-play” and “Subscription” based services in the world of MMOs, it is the middle-ground that will emerge victorious.

There are three distinct common MMO payment models: Subscription, Buy-to-Play and Free-to-Play. Subscriptions requires a monthly fee, Buy-to-Play requires a one-time fee and Free-to-Play requires none, and any payment is optional. Below rests a list of reasons why Guild Wars 2′s model, Buy-to-Play, is the future for MMOs.

Lack of obligation

World of Warcraft

World of Warcraft: the long-term titan of the subscription MMO world.

I am a gamer. My main focus – when I actually get the time – is to play games, believe it or not. However, with all the latest releases funneling out in close proximity, I know I may not get around to many of them for months, or maybe even years!

So, if you apply a similar situation to someone who also plays World of Warcraft or some other subscription MMO, you lose even more time to play those new releases, because you feel like you must play to get your money’s worth of that monthly fee. I certainly have suffered from this when Lord of the Rings Online originally launched.

This lack of obligation is so refreshing that I have stuck by Guild Wars 2 since launch. Sure, I may not have played it everyday, and there have been a couple of weeks where I have stopped completely to pave the way for other games (ahem, Bioshock Infinite). I don’t feel like I have to be there every day because there is no bill lingering over my head, and that is a breath of fresh air.

Well, apart from the bi-weekly updates… but that’s a whole other topic.

Pay when you want, for what you want

I have to admit, the instant I saw the Quaggan backpack on the Guild Wars 2 store, I threw in my debit card details at the speed of light. You can see what I mean by watching the video above!

The idea that you only pay for what you want to is just far better than paying a sum of money to a game for nothing in particular. This is my pet hate about subscription fees – many titles do not get updates monthly, so why am I paying for content that was already there?

For example, before The Old Republic  went Free-to-Play, updates and releases were extremely sparse. So, in those months in-between content releases, why am I paying for content I should have paid for when I bought the box? And why do I have to continue to pay for access to that content?

Such seems a little unwarranted to me. I paid £35 for The Old Republic, and then a £8 subscription on top of that. The original fee should be for the content that was present at release, and my monthly sub should contribute toward new content, not as a payment to retain access to what I should have already paid for.

Buy the box & that’s it


The restrictive Star Wars: The Old Republic.

The Old Republic joined the Free-to-Play masses late last year, and unfortunately, it didn’t do it well. The game punishes you for not paying; you are consistently restricted in every single way unless you pay up for an “unlock” of said restriction, or become a monthly subscriber. Hell, I wasn’t even allowed to hide my ugly helmet because such required an unlock!

The aim of any Free-to-Play game should be to impress the player with a fantastic title that they wish to keep playing, and once they are encompassed by the actual game being good, then they should look to the cash shop to buy cosmetic items, boosters and other items that do not actually change or improve the game in any way, or make you better than someone else, but just give you a reason to spend money on the damn game!

If a game is truly good, and you’ve played the majority of it for only the initial cost, then you will eventually vote with your wallet. Whether it is a new armor skin, weapon skin or a “lockbox”, these minor purchases slowly rack up. I know for a fact that I have spent more on Guild Wars 2 than I would have on any subscription MMO, because I have enjoyed the game and looked for something to buy. What is actually available doesn’t matter – if it looks interesting and promising enough, I’ll end up grabbing it just because I play and love the game. I have plenty of friends who also feel the same, and have also spent more on Guild Wars 2 than they ever did on World of Warcraft.

So, reverting back to the heading of this section, buying the box is excuse enough for a game to avoid The Old Republic’s dire “you have to buy something” attitude, because you already have bought something! This gives the developer an instant source of income after release, and has (so far) prevented horrid systems alike what we see in The Old Republic.

Further avenues of income


Often overlooked, The Secret World is the most unique MMO in years.

People like expansion packs. Hell, they love them.

If, for example, Guild Wars 2 announced an expansion now for £20 or even £30, then no one (apart from that guy) would complain. Even though many people are spending in the cash shop, the fact that there is no monthly cost makes you feel as if you are spending less. An expansion, then, sounds like an even better deal, rather than the alternative of forking out £30 to then continue to pay your subscription.

The Secret World also has an interesting system here – the game is Buy-to-Play, and then you can pay around £5-10 for each of its downloadable content. I like this idea!

The amount balances around to the same as a subscription, but the most important part is that you do not have to pay it if you do not want to. Having the choice between paying or not just makes it so much better – you buy what you want. If a large content update includes stuff that is of no interest to you, then don’t buy it! It makes perfect sense.

An open, welcoming system


The game in question: Guild Wars 2.

Let’s not forget the fact that we like our MMOs to grow. Having to pay monthly can put off a whole lot of potential players, but I also agree with the argument that Free-to-Play titles – on average – have volatile communities (ahem, League of Legends).

How about the middle-ground? Having to buy the box for £30/40 means that people interested in playing the game grab it, even if they are unsure about MMOs in general. If it was £30 then £10 per month, a lot of skeptics are quickly turned off – the risk of them not enjoying it is now far more expensive, and these people could have been your future guildies and friends.

Not “Buy to Win”


A throbbing example of pay-to-win: Allods Online.

Many of the Free-to-Play games suffer from their own design; in order to get people to spend money on their game, they implement a system where paying money gives you a clear advantage over those who do not. I think we can all come to a consensus and say “this sucks”.

No one wants to lose their head to some 15-year old with their daddy’s credit card, who’s decked himself out in the “n00bkillaz” armor set.

This type of system usually comes into play because games cost money to make. They do, I swear! And thus, developers have to implement ways for the public to help them break even.

In a Buy-to-Play game, the boxed sales already help the game break even! Any further cash shop sales are done in good faith, and is simply ‘extra cash’ for the creators.


Just to state, many of these games above are not bad games, they are just plagued by poor payment systems. I might seem like I hate The Old Republic above, but that isn’t true – I enjoyed the game to an extent, but simply hate the money-grubbing husk it has now become. The game behind all that mess is a pleasant one, alike all the others here, but what you have to wade through to get to such makes it hard to recommend.

So, there are my personal reasons why Guild Wars 2′s monetary system takes all the cake. It is flexible, enjoyable, welcoming and financially successful, and the way MMOs should be headed. There is no strong argument as to why Buy-to-Play is a terrible idea; Guild Wars 2 has proven it works, and can be very successful. My favourite part is that the quality far exceeds many MMOs; huge game updates are released every two weeks (which I have personally never seen in an MMO) and a fantastic community.

It seems that those “subscriptions” are no longer a means of paying for quality…

How do you feel about the different types of MMOs, and what are is your favourite? Let us know, below!

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