June 1, 2011

Enamored of the Free that Isn't

I find my game time dominated by a small portion of free-to-play (aka freemium, f2p) games that have all, surprisingly, earned money from me. No, I'm not talking about games on Facebook or even iPhone apps. These are huge games on the PC!

I still think the majority of Facebook and iPhone free-to-play games need to do more to entice me, both as a player and a payer. But, if World of Tanks and Spiral Knights are indicative of the future, I'm all for it.

World of Tanks is a joyful, World War II themed romp through the battlefields of Europe and Northern Africa from behind the wheel of a tank. I should say tanks (plural), because the game has a huge variety of German, American, and Russian light tanks, medium tanks, heavy tanks, tank destroyers, and self-propelled guns (aka Artillery).

The game is filled with fantastic moments, like desperate charges across the open desert alongside a platoon of tanks, or knocking over trees as you flank an enemy position. My favorite moment is when I zip past the enemy lines in my Leopard light tank to find their obnoxious, but poorly armored artillery. In that instant, I am the wolf amongst the sheep.

You can play as much as you want and acquire 95% of the tanks in the game at zero cost. By not paying you have reasonable progression and access to the best tanks in the game. You can compete! THIS IS KEY. But, by paying, you gain access to some premium tanks that are quite nice, you earn XP and soft-currency twice as quickly, gain access to slightly better ammo, and can team up and play in clans.

In summary, you can win and have a great time for the low price of free. But, you also gain some very worthwhile benefits by paying. So far (and I mean so far) I've spent $45 and played over 400 matches. Lord, save me.

Spiral Knights is a bit more of a traditional action RPG with plenty of things to differentiate it. The game supports the elegant control scheme one expects from a Diablo-esque game: Hold left-click to run, right click to attack, x to use shield, and the 1-4 numbers to throw some potions (really like elemental grenades).

Then it gets different. Instead of dropping loot, enemies drop heat (which you collect to level gear from 1-10), crowns (i.e. soft currency), and materials. These mats are used to craft the weapons and equipment that make you more powerful, because there is no character leveling in the game. It's all based on the quality of your weapons and equipment!

I'll admit, the system is a bit obtuse. So is the fact that they have tokens, which are rare monster drops, that are used to buy rare recipe materials. Furthermore, the crystals you collect in each level are sold to...customize levels? I have no clue really.

In fact, it doesn't matter!

What matters is that the game has great controls, is great fun for random co-op, has progression, and can be played in super short session.

Their monetization model is really fantastic. It gives you just enough every day, but makes it difficult to really dig in. Players are given 100 free energy daily, but this energy is used in a variety of ways. Energy is gone before you know it. It costs 10 Energy to play each level. A solid run typically lasts 8 levels, so 80 energy. It costs 50 Energy to craft an item. Within levels you have optional Energy expenditures, like spending 5 energy to buy a robot companion to help you, or to gain access to a challenge area that is super difficult but, when completed, rewards you with great items. Finally, reviving your character within a level costs Energy. In fact, it costs more every time you revive.

What this means is that you can have a great 30-45 minute play session, on the house, every day. Or, you can craft a few items really quickly and call it a day. But, for those who want to play more, get all the mats needed for that next great swords, well, it'll cost a little bit. After 7 hours of gameplay, I'm at that point. Unlike a lot of freemium games, Spiral Knights has a great starter package. Furthermore, whereas I pay $15/month for the majority of MMOs out there (even when I don't play), I choose when and how to spend my Energy in Spiral Knights. It's a subscription I control.

This is perfect, as I really only get to play on the weekends and occasionally during the week.

A lot of free to play developers talk about freemium being a great way to grow the player base.They note how it's better for the consumer as they choose how to spend their money. This tends to be true only some of the time, as most freemium experiences are shallow husks filled with grind and compulsory money sinks. Not so for World of Tanks and Spiral Knights. Give them both a spin...on the house.

I'm BlitzWalrus in World of Tanks and Herroh in Spiral Knights.

No comments: