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Why did free-to-play Tribes Ascend add a buy-to-play option? Exclusive
Why did free-to-play  Tribes Ascend  add a buy-to-play option?
February 14, 2013 | By Mike Rose

February 14, 2013 | By Mike Rose
More: Console/PC, Business/Marketing, Exclusive

Earlier this week, Tribes: Ascend studio Hi-Rez announced it was adding a single purchase option to its free-to-play multiplayer shooter -- although the reasoning behind this was left unknown.

As you'd expect, this led to much speculation regarding whether the free-to-play model was working out for Tribes, or whether the new payment option is being included to combat declining free-to-play sales.

Gamasutra put the question to Hi-Rez COO Todd Harris: Is this new payment option a means to pull in those players who may have been put off the fact that the game is free-to-play, or is it a response to how the game has been selling as a free-to-play title?

"The first," he answers. "There are some people who are still put off by free-to-play, or fear a long grind will be required to access enough weapons, or fear pay-to-win. We wanted to remove any and all of those perception issues."

As for the game's in-game item sales, Harris tells us that the game is "selling as expected." (Within a month of launching as a free-to-play title last April, the game had been downloaded 1.2 million times. More recent numbers are under wraps.)

tribes ascend 1.jpg"In general for free-to-play downloadable titles, you tend to see around 10 percent of players choosing to purchase in-game items with real money transactions," he adds, "and Tribes Ascend is in that same ballpark."

Tribes Ascend was released last April, meaning that Harris now has a much better idea of how free-to-play works with triple-A multiplayer shooters -- and he's still very happy that his studio went with the model.

"Thanks to free-to-play, Tribes: Ascend reached a much larger audience than all previous four Tribes games combined," he notes. "So it has treated Tribes well.

"That said, we think additional payment options could support even further growth," he adds.

And Harris suggests that studios currently in the midst of building a multiplayer online game should definitely head down the digital download route, rather than wasting time with retail.

"The digital distribution model allows a studio to communicate directly with players and also to update the game more frequently," he explains. "Tribes Ascend has certainly improved over time thanks to community input. We recommend giving the player choices around how to pay -- and free is still a popular choice."

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jin choung
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absolutely. i hate free to play. i have a brain in my head and eyes to see and can see the cash grab, grinder that these things are.

so much of modern gaming gets the essentials wrong. i will never play f2p and MMOs.

Lewis Wakeford
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I think it has a place. Well I don't think, it's proved itself stable enough that I know it has a place. I wish we'd see more of this pay retail price -> get retail quality though.

In a game like, for example, Blacklight Retribution or Planetside 2 the pricing is set up so that if you shell out £50 you are still stuck in the same progression grind as everyone else, you'll slightly dent it but won't really be free from the treadmill. Putting down that much cash should really make it so you don't need to worry about item unlocks any more.

The concept behind F2P is that if you play for free you get an inferior experience, but you can choose to improve your experience by coughing up some dough. In most F2P games out at the moment though, you need to pay as much as 2 or 3 AAA standalone games to get to the same level of quality (where you don't have to play for months on end to get new toys). The players that are willing to shell out $100+ will probably be happy, but the guys who only want to spend $20 - $50 are either going to buy an item and feel ripped off, or not buy anything at all because it isn't worth the minor improvement in game quality.

I'm not saying you should be able to buy everything in the game for $50. I'm saying that putting down a moderate amount of cash should yield a decent quality increase. Maybe then the "middle class" of gamers might actually spend more money in your games.

Then again, the statistics might suggest that focusing on the big "cash whales" is more profitable, in that case I can understand why they work this way. Still don't like it though.

Kyle Redd
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"In a game like, for example, Blacklight Retribution or Planetside 2 the pricing is set up so that if you shell out £50 you are still stuck in the same progression grind as everyone else, you'll slightly dent it but won't really be free from the treadmill. Putting down that much cash should really make it so you don't need to worry about item unlocks any more."

You're right, putting in that much money for these types of games should allow players to not have to worry about grinding or progression anymore. Unfortunately, the way the F2P business model is structured ensures that that sort of common sense can never really work.

As Harris notes in the interview, only about 10% of F2P players end up paying for anything, so the publisher has to extract enough money from that 10% to support the operating costs incurred from the other 90%. This is the "whale" model that depends on the 10% of players paying far more for a "free-to-play" game than the included content justifies (compared to what a similar "pay once" game would charge).

In this situation, I think everyone loses. The paying players are being fleeced by the publishers for overpriced content, the free players are stuck in an extended grind before the game actually becomes fun, and the publisher itself has to design the game in a way that encourages the most in-game spending instead of ensuring the most enjoyable experience for all.

Lewis Wakeford
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You are right of course, but I'd propose that if the pricing was more balanced then more than 10% of players would actually bother paying.

There should really be purchase options aimed at all types of player, using a typical FPS as an example. There should be little mirco transactions for the players that genuinely can't afford to spend much at once (couple of bucks for a new gun), bundles for the mid-tier players that unlock large chunks of gameplay-effecting content ($30 for most of the guns) and then some "premium" items for the big spenders (expensive skins or other cosmetic options).

Until they start doing that everyone loses, as you said.

Kaitlyn Kincaid
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I mentioned this before, but this seem an odd time to come out with this model (especially for the Tribes IP).

Tribes has a very dedicated following, it's not huge, but considering Tribes 2 still has active players, one can not say that it is not dedicated. When T:A came out, there was a LOT of hype, as Todd said, 1.2 million downloads (and I wonder how many were during beta like myself). Right from the start, players were begging for a buy to play (b2p) option.

Since then the population has... well, it's gone down. Balance issues, server issues, lag issues have all taken their toll. The players who are left are the real T:A diehards. The players who are still playing will have little desire now for this package since they will most likely have either a) already spent more than that one the title already, and b) have most of the items they want already unlocked.

New players, who would be interested in this kind of model, are unlikely to want to spend full retail price on a year+ old game with the above known issues (though I do hear that most of the server issues will be fixed in this upcoming patch).

I love the Tribes IP, but I question if this is simply too late.

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