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Identifying the major families of free-to-play items

Identifying the major families of free-to-play items Exclusive

January 18, 2012 | By Staff

January 18, 2012 | By Staff
More: Social/Online, Exclusive, Design, Business/Marketing

In Gamasutra's latest feature, experienced designer Pascal Luban turns his gaze to the free-to-play market -- and in this story, he lists the items players pay for.

While there will be more innovations, these are the most common categories of items players are willing to shell out for, Luban writes:

Game resources. Found in many free-to-play games. They allow a player to play longer (Treasure Madness), to get raw materials to build units or buildings (Empires & Allies), to speed up time (Edgeworld). Note that there are free-to-play games (such as Battlefield Heroes) which sell items that allow the player to double his gains, such as experience points, for a short period of time.

Customization items. Most free-to-play games offer some degree of customization. Management games sell unique and cool-looking items to customize your territory, home or store (CityVille, Pet Society). Strategy games let you buy unique weapons (Mobster, Empires & Allies). In avatar-based games, the avatars of non-paying players are designed to look bland and boring. Their customization quickly becomes a "must" that has to be paid for. Battlefield Heroes' shop is largely made up of that stuff.

Comfort items. They make it unnecessary to feed an animal (Poney Vallee) or water a garden every day. They can enable the player to delete certain avatar features or to go back to the character creation interface (IMVU). Advertising can be removed in Who Has The Biggest Brain? Comfort items also apply to action games. In SAS - Zombie Assault 2, an item allows the player to respawn near the point where he has been killed. In Battlefield Heroes, another item makes it possible to display the health of teammates. Note that some items can be specifically targeted at hardcore players, like the ability to name a game session (War Rock).

Game modules. You can sell new maps or quests, but they are not well adapted to the F2P model because these cannot be sold for a small amount, because of the amount of work needed to develop them. An intermediary solution is implemented in League of Legends, where players buy heroes. However, I expect such items to grow in popularity as traditional console games (sports, FPS, action-adventure, etc.) increasingly embed DLC in their design.

Collectible items. They contribute nothing to the game, but give the players the opportunity to make collections and exchange items with other players. The social dimension of free-to-play games is never far away. Treasure Madness pushed this system very far.

Affiliation items. These allow players to highlight their being a member of a guild, a nationality etc.

Luban's full feature draws deeper from the well of player behavior and currently implemented free-to-play design, and also takes a peek at future trends in the space. It's live now on Gamasutra.

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