Sunday, August 09, 2009
Free at Last
I've just finished the free audio-book version of Chris Anderson's Free: The Future of a Radical Price. While there is a fair amount of controversy regarding the book, free is the baseline price for most Web-based games, like ourWorld, Yoville, Club Penguin, and pretty much everything else in our category. In other words, we're neck deep in free, and living with the necessities, benefits, as well as the pitfalls of it.
Because free is the default base price for all of our games, the gaming public takes it for granted that the games will be free. In fact, we use the 'freemium' model, where the minority of players that do pay are supporting the vast majority who are playing for free.
The book relied most heavily on Maplestory for its gaming examples. In Maplestory's case, everything in the game could be achieved with effort. The non-free items save players time, but do not provide access to anything that the non-paying players can't achieve given time.
In ourWorld, we certainly sell items that save player time (subscribers level up 2x faster, and an assortment of non-free items can increase that multiplier even further.) In addition, there are items that the highest level players can earn with out paying, but players who don't mind paying can get whenever they choose. Unlike Maplestory, however, we have hundreds of items that only paying players have access to. These items don't do anything but impact how the avatar and living spaces look, but as looks and image is what ourWorld is all about, it's socially rewarding to have these "Gem-Only" premium items.
With free as the default price of online games like ourWorld, the challenge is really how to balance the free version of the game with the premium version. What should be free? What should cost money? When we started last year, almost everything was free. As the site matured, the ratio of free to non-free has shifted steadily toward the latter. As the players gaining benefits from this shift are supporting the site, this is not a problem at all. In addition, while growth is slower, the non-paying players still have more features than they did this time last year, even if glass-half-empty users only see the ever increasing number of features they 'unfairly' don't have access to.
I expect more and more aspects of ourWorld to become free as new non-free items are released. As non-free features age, the cost of giving them away gives way to the benefits. This happened with Condos (ourWorld living spaces) a few months ago, and the result has been totally positive for both the players as well as the bottom line of the site.
Free at last!