PlanetSide 2 and Doing Free2Play Right


A while ago Star Wars: The Old Republic went Free2Play, and it prompted me to go on a small rant about how they were doing a terrible job at getting me – the customer – to want to give them some of my hard earned cash-monies. I’ve since loaded up the The Ol’ Republic, and was immediately turned off by monetisation strategies blocking the player from the most basic of features, including hiding my hat and access to extra Quick Bar slots.

But this post is not about Star Wars: The Old Republic, even though I could rant about that bad-boy for another 700 words, no, this is about the game that has successfully convinced me to pay them about $80 – PlanetSide 2.

There are a lot of Free2Play models floating aound, some strategies have been more successful than others. Your model largely depends on your audience. You can’t just take the FarmVille model and apply it to the Call of Duty crowd – the markets are completely different. The core gamer is generally adverse to anything that blocks game progression, and certainly doesn’t like the idea of paying to win.

So what else is there?

How do you convince James to enter his PayPal details and buy your in-game currency?

It turns out you to it by making a good game and I actually want to play, and also a game I can play without needing to spend anything.

PlanetSide 2 monetises using the “Pay for Convenience” model. When the player start a new character, they get a basic gun unlocked for each class. Everything else must be unlocked using an in game currency called “Certs”. Certs are earned by playing the game, and also passively over time. If the player want to unlock a gun, they will need a few of these certs in the bank, but for smaller unlocks (scopes, weapon modifications) the price is much more obtainable through regular play. The end result is two tiers of purchases – those which require a substantial amount of play to access (the guns), and those that you will earn through regular play (mods). You can circumvent this all together and just buy the weapons outright with Sony’s cross-game currency, StationCash. The weapons unlocked aren’t necessarily better than what is available for free. Maybe the gun will be better at close quarters combat, or have an additional fire mode for single shot at a longer range. It’s not a case of giving the player a sub-par weapon and expecting them to pay to be competitive – they pay to have more options.

Surprisingly, the player cannot buy weapon modifications with Station Cash, only Certs – meaning paying real cash can only go so far. This has an interesting effect on the unlocks – they don’t feel like “Pay2Win”, which is a real danger when you’re letting the players pay to access new weapons. Even if the player does buy a gun, they will still need to unlock modifications to improve their weapon. Maybe they want a forward grip to reduce recoil, or a laser sight for better accuracy when shooting from the hip – well, get out there and earn them solider, you can’t just buy them outright.

PlanetSide 2 does manage to monetise weapon modification process however, but not through direct purchases. A player can buy a “XP Booster” which increases their progression rate, which in turn boosts their Cert generation. These aren’t grossly unfair bonuses –  50% increase in XP gain, not 500% – just enough to just take the edge off, but not make it feel like a requirement – a player must still earn certs through skilful play.

There is also very little obfuscation of price – you don’t have need to do the math to figure out how much something costs in real cash. It’s simply this – $10 will get you 1000 StationCash (SC). A gun will be between 250SC and 700SC – so each gun will cost between $2.50 and $7. For somewhere between a cup of coffee, and the price of lunch, a player can unlock a weapon they can spend hours playing with and improving. It’s an amount that’s very easy to swallow when I’m enjoying a game.

What I don’t think works very well is the subscription option. I’m not even sure why it’s there, but it doesn’t get in the way of regular play. When I look at the benefits of paying a monthly fee of $15, it’s not enough to completely cover any potential expenses. A subscription gives you a slowing increasing XP bonus, moving from 25% to 50% based on the length of your subscription. You also get yourself 500SC a month, and early access to some items. Nice, but not really enough to satisfy my weapon lust. If a subscription model is to be appealing, it really shouldn’t leave me wanting to spend more.

So basically, if you want to monetise me, this is the tl;dr; version:

  1. No pay-walls blocking my progression
  2. Transparent pricing
  3. Nothing outrageously expensive
  4. A way for me to pay for convenience
  5. A game I actually want to play

This is one of the few Free2Play games I’ve played that has successfully convinced not just me, but other I know, to start spending money. Clearly they are doing something right, I hope other Free2Play games are paying attention.