Monday, 10 June 2013

OSRS needs F2P!

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Three months ago, we successfully brought back OSRS with a total of 449,351 votes. Unfortunately, we were about 300K votes short of the 750K votes required to bring back F2P servers. Without the overwhelming support, Jagex had decided to offer OSRS as a members-only feature.

Fast forward to the present, the game is more stabilised. People who came to OSRS solely to experience the nostalgia have mostly left. The player base has undoubtedly become smaller, but more committed and more permanent. Botwatch has been commissioned, and bots have been largely removed. Recently, we got a confirmation that the game we enjoy is here to stay.

While in the past J-mods were quite adamant about not bringing F2P into OSRS, they have relaxed their stance a little, and acknowledged that there may be a possibility of opening OSRS to F2P in the future.

Perhaps it is time that we dig this once hotly debated issue out from its grave and give it a good re-evaluation. 

Why should we bring back F2P? 

Point #1: OSRS community is an “Ageing Population”. 

The OSRS community is growing, not in terms of numbers, but levels and experience. In any multiplayer gaming community it is essential to maintain a reasonable balance across the levels. In a game like OSRS, the veterans and newbies complement and support each other.

As the community age, it is only natural for the average levels and experience across the community to increase. Soon, OSRS will be populated with high level veterans, and this could potentially cause a problem for the OSRS economy.

The introduction of F2P does not mean that we are introducing low levels into the game, per se. Yes, to some extent, it is harder to gain experience in F2P. But what matters most here is that the abilities and items available to an F2P player are restricted. And this means that, symbolically, F2P players have an effective level cap despite the fact that they share the same actual level cap with members. The introduction of F2P would increase the demand for these low level items, not because F2P are low levels, but because these items are F2P items.

The same principle could be used likewise for F2P resources. The introduction of F2P provides a supply of these resources which a member would deem unfavourable to obtain in person. These could ease the inflation of such items.  

Point #2: Attract returning old-school players.

It has been three months since the launch of OSRS. By this time, most of the potential players should have already heard of OSRS, whether it was by advertisements or by the word-of-mouth. 

Most people who left RuneScape many years ago would probably not retain the passion that they once had for RuneScape. These people are potential returning players. Some of them would be put off if they learn that they have to buy at least a month of membership in order to relieve the good times of OSRS again.

Opening F2P would allow these prospective members of the OSRS community to have a taste of what RuneScape once was. I strongly believe that giving them a nostalgia trip would increase the probability of their subsequent subscription. After all, companies who offer trials often have a higher sign up rate.

Point #3: Opening up F2P is the best form of advertisement.

And of course, F2P is the best form of advertisement for OSRS.

Common misconceptions about the restoration of F2P

Myth #1: Bringing back F2P would bring in a lot of bots. 

I believe that this is the most commonly raised issue.

People are quick to link F2P with an increase in macroing activity. But we need to address the underlying cause of macroing, and not blindly blame it directly on the restoration of F2P. It is fallacious for us to oppose bringing back F2P simply because we are afraid that it could encourage the growth of bots. While bringing back F2P has a weak but undeniable link to an increase in the number of bots, it is not the sole cause of the latter.

Macroing activity is not directly caused by F2P alone. There are many other factors, such as the laxer anti-bot stance today as compared to 2007, the demand of gold by lazy cheaters, the lucrative goldfarming business, and the arms race between Botwatch and macro developers.

Furthermore, Botwatch has already been up and running in OSRS, and many bots have already been removed from the game.
We should not use history as an argument against the restoration of F2P. Remember that Botwatch did not exist in 2007 and this explains why bots were rampant in F2P back then. With the implementation of Botwatch, I am confident that we are ready to welcome F2P back into OSRS.

For people who have negative experiences competing with bots for resources in OSRS, please do consider that the restoration of F2P would draw many bots away from the members’ worlds into F2P, and potentially create a better gaming experience for paying customers. Drawing bots away from members' worlds into F2P could also improve Botwatch's detection as there is a lesser area to zoom in to.

The benefits of bringing back F2P far outweigh the consequences. After all, if the community do our part and report all bots we see, condemn friends or family members that purchase gold from goldfarmers, and steer clear of bots ourselves, the botting problem in OSRS would be alleviated, if not eradicated. 

Myth #2: Bringing back F2P would decrease Jagex’s profits.

I beg to differ. I believe that the percentage of members who would convert to F2P after the restoration of F2P is very small. And we should not include into this percentage the group of members who were already planning to quit regardless of whether F2P gets restored.

The same scenario could be mirrored in EOC before the launch of OSRS. There are three groups of people. They are the long term members, the on-off members, and the F2P players.

For the long term members, they would remain members regardless of whether F2P gets restored. These people subscribe to members because of its content, gameplay, or for other reasons. In EOC, there are F2P servers, but these members remain loyal members.

The second group of players are the on-off members. These players join members periodically due to real life commitments or other reasons. If F2P is restored, during their "off" period, they may occasionally log in to F2P. But if F2P is not restored, they would simply not play.

The third group of players are the F2P players. These players play F2P by choice, or by restriction. Whatever the case, there is a very slim chance that they would convert to members. And this chance is made even slimmer should the restoration of F2P fail, as they would not be stepping into OSRS at all, much less consider the option of upgrading their accounts to P2P.

In any case, the chance of a current member unsubscribing permanently to play in F2P is very slim. On the other hand, the introduction of F2P could serve as the best form of advertisement to potential members.

How should it be done?  

Bringing back F2P is a huge decision, both to Jagex and to the OSRS community. Much consideration needs to done before opening up OSRS to F2P. The permanence of introducing F2P needs to be considered, as there would be consequences if F2P is subsequently removed.

Here are some suggestions that could ease the entry of F2P gradually. 

Suggestion #1: Allowing only accounts created before a certain date to play in the F2P servers.

Allowing only selected players into F2P would filter new accounts which were created for macroing purposes while still successfully attracting the veterans and pure-F2P players back into the game. 

Suggestion #2: Introduce a level cap into F2P worlds.

A level cap would allow potential returning players to try out the game without allowing them to gain too much experience. Bots would also be controlled as they would not be allowed to perform any experience gaining tasks once they reach their level cap.

This level cap could be gradually increased until Jagex finds that OSRS is completely ready to welcome F2P into the game. After all, there's the pure-F2P community to consider. 

Suggestion #3: Timed game.

F2P players would only be allowed a certain number of hours in F2P worlds before they have to subscribe. However this does not prevent bots from making new accounts and gaining fast amounts of experience. Again, there's the pure-F2P community to consider.

Suggestion #4: Limit trade.

A temporary trade limit could be implemented for F2P worlds to control bots. Careful consideration needs to be made, as people could misinterpret this as a notion to introduce trade limits into OSRS again.

Suggestion #5: Simply introduce F2P without restrictions.

And the community will thank you for that. 

Frequently Asked Questions or Comments 

FAQ #1: We already have F2P style PKing servers. We don’t need F2P servers.

These are two entirely different things. Free-style PKing servers were released so that members who wish to PK with F2P restrictions could do so. You’d still need a subscription to access these servers. Think of it as a members’ world, but you cannot use any members object there. F2P is entirely different, because it is free to play. 

FAQ #2: Why can’t F2P just pay to play? It’s only $10 a month!

There are two types of F2P players. One plays F2P by choice, and the other plays F2P by restriction.

People who play F2P by choice do so because of various reasons. One of reason is the simplicity of F2P. They do not like the complicatedness of the members’ world. F2P has a much smaller map, less items, less skills, and some people just prefer to play a less complicated game and master it.

Another reason could be that they simply prefer a challenge. It is considerably much harder to gain experience in an F2P world than in a members’ world. They feel more accomplished achieving a level 99 in an F2P world.

Some could simply choose to play F2P because they do not believe in paying for a game. We need to respect their decisions and opinions.

The other group of F2P players play F2P by restriction. Some of them could be living in areas where it is difficult and tedious to send money across the world. Others may not have access to the payment methods. Of course, we must not forget the small group of people who may have financial difficulties.

We also need to remember that there are also players who were once paying members, but have since left the game. F2P worlds could serve as a stepping stone for them to reintegrate themselves into the members’ world. 

FAQ #3: Jagex wants newcomers to play the main game and not OSRS.

OSRS is launched with the old-school players in mind. It is very hard to imagine that a new player, who has never played or heard of RuneScape before, would choose OSRS over EOC. We prefer OSRS due to various reasons which a new player would probably find hard to comprehend. I am not making generalizations here. I know that there will be some outliers, but, to a large extent, the above statement holds true.

But even if they prefer OSRS, what’s wrong with that?  

Final words 

Part of the brilliance of OSRS lies in the community. RuneScape is an MMORPG, and like many other MMORPGs, interpersonal interactions are important to acquire the best experience out of the game. Without F2P, and without an sustainable influx of players, OSRS may one day become desolated. Who would then want to play a game that has a miniscule population?

We do not want OSRS to be just a nostalgia trip. We want to make OSRS a game that would survive in years to come. We want OSRS to be a game that we can enjoy and invest our time in.

Thank you very much for reading!

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