The Daily Grind: Are free-to-play MMOs slower when it comes to advancement?

Time is on someone's side.

As free-to-play became the dominant business model in MMOs over time, it was totally understandable to wonder at first what free-to-play games would do to help encourage players to, well, pay. Initially, the expectation had more to do with gating content or even raw power behind payment, but it turns out that most of the gating seems to be not about raw content or eve power. Instead, it seems to be all about speed.

Some of it is about increasing the random chance factor for systems like gear enhancement, but other parts are doing things like making leveling slower, making mounts temporary, or otherwise just slowing down the process as much as possible. So you don’t have to pay money in order to play the game… you just find your progress going slower and slower until you ultimately are encouraged to pay to ease things along. Then again, MMOs have always had elements of time sinks and time-consuming mechanics, so perhaps it’s really more a matter of noticing the slowdown more when you can theoretically pay it away. So what do you think? Are free-to-play MMOs slower in advancement, or are players just more likely to notice the speed of things?

Every morning, the Massively Overpowered writers team up with mascot Mo to ask MMORPG players pointed questions about the massively multiplayer online roleplaying genre. Grab a mug of your preferred beverage and take a stab at answering the question posed in today’s Daily Grind!

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It doesn’t really matter whether f2p is slower or faster.
For normal ungated progression the speed does(should) not matter.. so what if it takes you 10-20-50% longer to progress vs someone who pays.

Where it becomes problematic is when the f2p contains items. You could give the same argumentation with items, why should you care if someone can buy the same items that you have to earn in game? From that perspective it doesn’t, but what it does is that it takes away, what I would say is most important for a mmorpg , feeling of accomplishment.
Feeling of accomplishment is also, whether you want to admit it or not, tightly coupled with compaison with other players (as a whole, not individually), and very importantly rarety and difficulty in achieving.
The ability to skip (buy) ahead not only ruins the feeling of accomplishment for those who buy, but also dimishes/removes the value of others accomplishments/achievements.
I heard the arguments before “it doesn’t matter to me” and congrats on that, but .. you are wrong.

Did I mention feeling of accomplishment ?

Jo Watt

Like some have said.. really depends on the game. But in some cases it would be better to ask:
Does it matter if f2p is slower and paying is faster?

Say some f2p games similar to WoW. Where there is an “endgame” and level cap. Does it matter if you play 1-max level in say 2 weeks vs someone who boosted (xp or level) hitting cap Day 1 or within 1 week. Well sure they would be doing the content for either 1 or 2 weeks but you would eventually catch up to the level cap and then end up at the same item level.

I guess another topic would be if the content and combat is really fun… again does it end up mattering progression is faster or slower?

This question really matters when it comes to the types of games that dont have an easily reachable level or gear cap.

My best example is original ArcheAge. F2p or Sub doesnt really matter up until you get to the max level and then start on gear. Being able to own land does hold advantages but it isnt “necessary”. However once you began the regrading process you basically hit a wall around tier 4 or 5 out of the available 10 tiers. At this point you could tell who was spending not $100s but $1000s a month. This was stuff that being f2p was extremely hard to overcome within the servers “prime time” first couple months.

I guess to answer the question yes I feel they are slower. But it really depends on the type of game and the type of systems that are in place as not all f2p games are the same.


When it comes to leveling, F2P MMOs are usually faster, generally because there is less content there to go through.

For gear progression though, or the power curve beyond levels (skills, enhancements, etc), there are significantly slower. All MMOs play on the random factor, but F2P MMOs generally take it to extremes. It still annoys me that you can spend weeks trying to get that BiS item drop, then once you have it, you need to spend the next few months powering it up to actually be competitive.


Not if you have disposable income.

Bruno Brito

Yes. F2Players are by design griding more to provide their worth to a paying playerbase, and i actively like that model, when it’s a fair timesink.

I think good F2P systems are those who allow the F2Players to achieve most of the paying status by ways of grinding ( GW2 and Wildstar comes to mind ), because that makes the F2Players actively be part of the game’s economy.

Slowing their progress isn’t really a issue if they’re allowed to conquer everything with sheer effort too.

Sadly, most F2P monetizations systems are greedy and awfully done.

Castagere Shaikura

The AAA MMO’s all slow down XP gains in the f2p option. Rift is really bad about this. Most Asian MMO’s don’t do this.


F2P MMOs definitely slow down advancement intentionally. Often an incentive of subscribing is to get a boost to that stuff, or they’ll sell cash shop items to help increase odds of RNG upgrades/etc.

Hikari Kenzaki

The term Pay 2 Win Faster is one I’ve been using for a long time, but it doesn’t just apply to F2P games, it’s just more likely to be there.

But here’s the rub on ‘advancement’ being slow or fast. It depends on where you decide advancement should be slow.

Most F2P games will actually rush you to endgame where the effects of the P2WF model comes into play. This is where you pay to get better drops, better RNG or just straight-up better.

WoW, as an example of the contrast, gives you 120 levels of grind slog to keep you paying $15 a month. Yes, I realize they’ll be squishing that down in half, but you can bet that half is going to take a while… unless they sell you an instant 50/60 with Shadowlands. See Also: P2WF

So, which is slower depends on where you mark the finish line.


Best F2P MMO for advancement: ESO. A person can play for literally 100s of hours without spending a dime (other than the [usually] $10 for the base client). Yes, to go beyond the huge base game content, purchases will be required. But dang, you can play a lot of time and a lot of classes for free!

Worst F2P MMO for advancement: Tie game here.

* Any PWE game. Ouch.

* Warframe. You can play for a while with your one-and-only character. But very soon one will hit a ‘wall’ where the mobs are just to powerful, or just to numerous, or the needed abilities are not present in your ‘frame. The only solution is to start spending real $$$ for Prime warframes and weapons. And they are not cheap. And they are not readily available.

Just my own personal experience with these games. Your mileage (and tolerance of P2W) might vary.


Prime warframes? There’s certainly a heavy progression gate early in that game, but it’s in the modding system. Primes have marginal improvements at best.


Pretty much everyone that has Prime gear and MR 15+ spouts this nonsense.

I think it is telling (by Digital Extreme’s own reports) that 95% of the accounts made never make it past MR5 (out of 28).

And yes, Prime Warframes may not be the true gate, but Prime Weapons are. Also, the best Mods are also locked behind content that no un-Primed player is ever going to see.

Like I said, my own experience with the game.

But, do try it, anyone who wants to see for themselves. It is truly free to try out, so nothing to lose there.

Just be aware that it starts to pull $$$ for small stuff, then will ramp up to the big $60 purchases fairly quickly.


Nonsense? Hum, dismissive and hurtful and all, but I think the reply from Dug below describes what I meant plenty well without me piling more on.

MR isn’t really like levels in another MMO, sure it is the linear progression upwards though being 28 isn’t really “the goal” or necessary (I certainly am not MR 28 despite over 2k hours in-game). But yes, as a totally f2P game a large amount of accounts are either people who found they didn’t care for the game early on, or who play casually to the degree they hardly progress.

From what I read below, you enjoy Excalibur, and that’s great because Excalibur is one of the best all-around Warframes in the game. He has strong CC, aggressive ability damage, and he’s not all that squishy either. With Vitality, Steel Fiber (fairly common early-game mods awarded from many missions), Streamline and Intensify (‘Gold’ mods most easily obtained from Cetus bounties on Earth, though there are other methods), and Energy Siphon(An aura mod, that gives you subtle energy recovery over time and gives you more energy for your other mods) Excalibur can handle much content on his own.

There’s also the weapons to speak of, which I won’t get into further here, though I second Dug’s suggestion of checking out Brozime’s guides if you fancy trying the game again. Brozime is one of the few content creators for the game who understand the new player experience well, and has numerous guides intended for a new completely F2P player (and often refers to their perspective even in his other guides). The average guide you see online for any mission will be all about maximum efficiency grinding setups, not advice for a new player.

Dug From The Earth

No idea what you mean about warframe

Ive got 15 frames, tons of weapons, and am plenty powerful.

Everything in game you can grind for or unlock without paying a dime. Even Prime warframes if you do the events when they are live.

Another tip. Sell valuable things to other players for the real money currency. Then you can buy stuff if you dont want to grind.


So, you are telling me you are MR 20+ and don’t own a single Prime Warframe, Prime Weapon, or top tier Mod?

I’m afraid I don’t believe it.

And just how does one get those ‘valuable things’ that other players will be willing to pay premium currency for?

I’m sorry, but there are only two ways one can advance in Warframe beyond the early MR levels. One is to spend $$$ on gear and mods. The other is to be carried by other players who have said gear and mods.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying it is necessarily a bad thing. But, Warframe is strictly pay-to-win territory. That’s just the way it is.

Again, there is a reason that 95%+ of all people who try out Warframe never make it past MR5.

Dug From The Earth

No… Im MR 12… havent even come close to maxing out all my items yet.

Im perfectly strong and capable of doing all game content with just about 3 warframes maxed, and around 8-10 total weapons.

Honestly, what this is coming across as is the game failing to really teach you how to play properly, which is an actual downfall of the game. So much of the game is stuff that you need to research on the wiki and forums to full grasp and get the most out of.

There is still a TON I dont know about the game or fully grasp myself, but that is what keeps me coming back. The fact that there always seems to be more to experience.

When it comes down to it, MR 10 is more than high enough to unlock a majority of the weapons and items that are perfectly powerful and viable (Im still using MR 6 and 7 req weapons a lot of the time).

Its been said, and you blew it off, but how you mod the items is the most important aspect here. The damage type system is insanely deep and complex. Just throwing damage mods on a weapon isnt gonna cut it. Knowing the status effect combos, and what enemy types they excel against are a big part of doing well at this game. So what if your weapon has 150% extra magnetic damage, if you jump into an infested mission, you are gonna struggle. (just as an example).

Another tip, weapons have multiple loadouts for a reason. You can build your weapon to have loadouts vs specific enemy types. Swap to that loadout before the mission.

Every warframe has unique powers that need to be modded different than every other warframe. Each one is a learning experience, and if you dont take the time to research what works best, you will only ever perform average at best. (especially if we are talking harder content here)

And how do you get those valuable things?
Doing alerts and other time limited events.
Watch for missions that pop up that reward unique and good items, and do those. Then just look up their value on a warframe trade site, and offer it in chat. (or via the website)


Good on you! ;)

My favorite warframe (I have six with 3 maxed) is the original Excalibur with Dual Ether Swords, Paris, Breton, throwing stars, etc.

Excalibur, Dual Ether Swords and Paris are all forma once. Mods are balanced for the various damage I need, and maxed out. I have only a few gold mods, and no really uber ones.

I know how to set the mode for Solo. But, I just keep running into missions where I am overwhelmed by the number of enemies. I cannot kill them fast enough with the farme and weapons I have.

My research, to simplify the result, said that in order to do such and such missions, the requirements were so-and-so Frames, and specifically the Prime version of frame and weapons.

But, no one needs to take my word for it that Warframe is pay-to-win. The game is 100% free to download the client. No subscription. Nothing to pay until you hit the ‘wall’. Check it out for yourself.

Anyway, good discussion. Have a great time in it! I’m out. :)


Dug From The Earth

Just FYI

Primes are better, but not in ability like whom ever seemed to suggest to you. A prime Mag isnt going to have some skill that allows her to take out groups better than a non-prime Mag.

Primes will have a tad more life, or energy, or shield… depending on the prime, as well as having more ability to have slightly higher mods slotted due to the couple extra inherent mod slot polarities. (which makes primes stronger from the start since you dont have to grind and unlock those polarities like you do on a non-prime frame)

If you are struggling with the number of enemies, it really comes down to 3 possible things:

1. You arent using the right warframe for the job. Some frames excel at AoE, others at stealth, others at single target, etc.

2. You arent using the right weapon for the job. Jumping into a mission with swarms of enemies, where your primary weapon is a bow, and your secondary is kunai, is gonna be rough, no matter how skilled you are.

3. You arent using the best mod loadout for the mission. Again, if your have your weapon slotted to do a non-optimal damage type to what you are fighting, you are gonna kill slower. Same goes for your warframe abilties. If your frame has a great AoE attack, but you dont have your mods set up to allow you to use it often because you focused on just boosting its damage, then its gonna be tough in missions where swarms of enemies come at you non-stop.

Parts for frames and weapons are found in all sorts of missions. Use the wiki to figure out which. Its not just a random farm thing.

Good example of the right gear.

For many swarm farm missions, I use an Atomos secondary weapon. I farmed for the Ruinous Extension mod to put on it. This weapon excels at wiping out groups of enemies. With the right damage mod on it for the enemy types you are fighting, you will wipe out groups at a time (its kinda like chain lightning, you only have to hit the first target). Its an MR5 weapon.

The fact that its a secondary allows you to use a bigger, single target hitting weapon as your primary for those boss enemies There are tons of posts and videos about the best weapons. Check out videos from Brozime, he will break down weapons so you know what #2 and #3 and #10 are, in case #1 is out of your reach.


Well.. Warframe is pretty horizontal, theoretically you can make any weapon strong and get by with less than a handful of warframes. Primed versions of these helps but as you play the game, those will land in your hands eventually…sure you have to sort of grind for it (or you can view it as having fun playing the game).

What you HAVE to spend money on is, extra slots for warframes and weaponry. I spend 30 on extra slots and not anything else, and I am rank 22; sure it has taken a lot of time, but it was to quote John Lennon “time I enjoyed wasting”.
I am not sure why, but Warframe is one of the very few f2p games where I can accept the f2p monetization model.


That is where I spent most of my money at as well. And, I would still probably still be playing *IF* I could have just purchased the Prime warframes and weapons that I wanted. But, the ‘artificial scarcity’ policy on their P2W gear made it impossible for me to buy what I wanted, and needed. So, off I went.

Glad you are still enjoying the game!

Kero Kero

I think there are extremes on both sides but the more popular games seem to me to have roughly the same progression rate. P2P games seem more willing to make the mid-game less timely to get through but tend to draw out the early game a bit longer.