Chasing free to play populations

The conversion of Rift to Free to Play is the latest in quite a long series of such conversions; DDO, LoTRO, EQ2, Conan, Star Trek Online, Vanguard, The Secret World, SWTOR, Tera, Rift – the list goes on and on (disclaimer: not necessarily in chronological order!).

I have read on the blogosphere about a number of bloggers returning to Rift to enjoy the population boost (e.g. Bhagpuss, Liore). I’m left wondering how long this boost in players will last? I myself recently returned to EQ2 at least for the odd gaming session. I can well remember the crush of players on Freeport (when that was the only free server). Now of course all servers in the game are free to access and many other games have joined the wave of conversion. So the population isn’t looking so bustling anymore, certainly nothing like the hordes I see when I’ve logged into Neverwinter.

So with all these games, will any be the long term winners or will they all settle down to a “just above ghost town” levels of  stable population? This trend isn’t anything new of course, but server population has a subtle but powerful effect on my experience of playing an MMO. I want to have people to group with, want to see other characters running around the world and I want to have a functioning Auction House to sell my crafted goods on. Guild Wars 2 still seems very busy to me. Perhaps it is because ArenaNet are busy pumping out updates at a good pace or because the game encourages players to play together out in the open world.

I’ve read before about the free to play phenomenon encouraging a kind of ‘follow the herd’ player, jumping from one flavour of the month game to the next. If that is true then there’s also another kind as well – players like me who actually want to play in a populated world. I continued to play on Rift’s Argent server long after it became a ghost town (prior to Storm Legion’s launch). I’m not happy to be hopping between servers chasing the bigger population, but sometimes it seems like that is becoming more necessary whether it’s between servers in one game or between different games.

Open world content, public quests or similar, is still far from perfect in any of the games I’ve played but it does encourage more visible concentrations and interactions of the playerbase. Doing dynamic events in GW2 is my current favourite activity, especially the big flashy boss fights. I’ll be interested to see variations on this type of content upcoming games like FFXIV ARR will bring.

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2 Responses to Chasing free to play populations

  1. I too have sort of ‘jumped’ from F2P MMO to F2P MMO until settling on Neverwinter.
    Partially because the gaming style/art/mechanics are far more to my liking than many of the others – but you are right, also because there appears to be a fairly stable (at the moment) population level.

    The unfortunate thing I am finding about them all turning free to play, is that fact. Now no one invests money in their game and thus wants to get as much out of it as possible, and this lack of investment also gives the mentality of ‘i wonder what else is out there’ without having to worry about cost. I almost wish they were mostly still subscription based! Haha.

  2. Jonny 5iVe says:

    I was able to play FFXIV this weekend on both PS3 and PC (the latter being much more favorable).

    I have to say that it’s shaping up to be quite a solid MMO. It’s not without its faults, sure, but it certainly has a great combination of “regular”, scripted story quests, and dynamic events.

    This mish-mash of the two is reminiscent of RIFT in a way, but with the addition of dynamic event variation (and a huge increase in frequency), and also a much more involving storyline based scripted quest series.

    Combat did feel a little slow to me, but I’m pretty sure this is due to the more strategic nature of Final Fantasy combat, and my archers lack of moves at level 10. I also found the map left something to be desired. I can imagine new players especially trying to do battle with it to work out where to hand in their quests, but due to the small numbers of them being attained at any one time, this probably isn’t a major problem.

    For the sake of £20 to pre-order (including an months subscription (£8 value), I was swayed enough to order it.

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