The Daily Grind: Are starter bundles a bad thing for free-to-play MMOs?

    
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Expectations.

The other day, I was talking with a friend who raised an interesting point that’s still sticking in my head. She was talking about the many, many free-to-play MMOs offering some form of “starter bundle,” usually with various helpful consumables and a few cosmetic items. And she wasn’t a fan – but not because of the usual free-to-play issues. Rather, her issue entirely had to do with how bundles like that set up player expectations that wouldn’t be met later.

I had to admit, she had a point. Starter bundles aren’t unusual, of course; a lot of free-to-play games offer you something similar, and Founder’s Packs for various titles fulfill a similar function. The idea is that it feels like the price of a new box game, so you feel as if you’ve bought in and you get to ease into the game, then you’ll be ready later if your experience gains or reputation or whatever drops off. But these sorts of bundles do set your expectations when you start playing, with your rate of gaining levels, how many consumables you have, and so forth becoming… well, the expected default. For the price of a bundle, you’re getting accustomed to, say, experience boosts that will cost you a lot more further on down the road.

Of course, to some extent this could also be seen as a criticism of experience boosts in general, which is what makes it an interesting question. What do you think? Are starter bundles a bad thing for free-to-play MMOs, giving you an inaccurate sense of how the game actually plays and thus providing an incentive to just keep spending money? Or is that a product of how the game itself is designed rather than the bundles?

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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Tom De Laet

I don’t mind them. If you get used to it then you basically go from a b2p game to a sub game which depending on the experience you had you might do anyway since you like the game and want to support it. Or you just leave it at what it is. A nice boost at first to come get started so now you can come back to every once in a while and not level anymore.

Vaeris
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Vaeris

1) All averted with a flat rate monthly subscription. 2) How else do you expect them to make money? All I see with people like your friend are a bunch of folks that want the highest quality of entertainment possible for free. There’s nothing wrong with a company giving a taste of what/how you could be playing the game if you spent money. Players can still choose to not pay.

No, the flip side is the hordes of pissed off players crying about you can’t do this or that, of complaining about how long something takes to do to months/years later find out they could have spent money to lessen that. No game company need/wants that kind of rep.

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Schmidt.Capela

Well, for me those starter bundles with temporary boosts not only don’t work, but actively drive me away from the game. I hate microtransactions that temporarily alter the gameplay, such as any kind of boosters, potions, repair kits, or anything that makes the game easier or progression faster, and will never purchase any bundle or package that includes those things. And while I’m willing to purchase permanent, account-wide bonuses, I treat those as if they were part of the game’s price — meaning if you would have to spend, say, a few hundred dollars in order to get each and every permanently unlocked account-wide bonus, I will evaluate the game as if it cost those hundreds of dollars upfront and get the heck out of there.

Incidentally, this means in games where boosts are temporary or per-character I always play at the slower progression rate meant for free players, even if I’m willing to spend money on the game — and, thus, if that slower progression rate is frustrating, it will usually make me leave the game before I have a chance to spend money on it.

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Ironwu

Neither good nor bad. It all depends on the person buying them and their own susceptibility to further Cash Shop purchases.

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EmberStar

I couldn’t really say if “starter bundles are bad.” Most of the MMOs I play that had them, also existed at some point as subscription or some other “not F2P” monetization model.

The only one that didn’t is Warframe, which is slightly abnormal compared to most F2P monetization anyway. It does sell boosts, which are an extra annoying type that count down in real time whether you play or not. But since I choose to buy Prime Access and that comes with 90 day XP and Credit boosters, I’ve been playing it in a state of essentially permanent double XP whenever I’m playing at all.

For other games, I usually ignore XP boosters when I’m deciding to get a bundle. They’re usually set to be a number that sounds big and is actually meaningless – 10,000 point 20% XP Bonus Boost! (IE, you get a bonus 20% of XP earned until the bonus hits a cumulative 10,000 points.) In a game where you could need several million XP for the last couple of levels to the XP cap.

I don’t play in a way that maximizes XP earning potential anyway, so it’s likely that a “free XP booster” isn’t going to benefit me as much as it would someone who makes the effort to wring all the bonus out as quickly as possible. (Using Warframe as an example, I might play for an hour or two at a time, between zero and a few times per week. All the rest of that “bonus XP time” just ticks away unused.)

When I’m deciding to get a bundle of some kind, the things that actually matter to me personally – Do I already own any of these items? Are the ones that I don’t own account unlocks? Are the items I haven’t already unlocked “worth” the price of the bundle? Can I convince myself that I should buy something for a game instead of being sensible and making a larger payment on my credit card? If the item can make it through all of that, and it’s a game I’m currently actively playing, I might buy a starter bundle.

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Zero_1_Zerum

If I’m trying out a F2P, and I like it enough that I’ll probably play it for at least a month, I’ll get a starter bundle and count that as me buying the game.

But, well, in one F2P game I played for a few months, I noticed the leveling was incredibly slow. Not only did it have XP boosts, it also had a sub with an XP bonus. But, it was totes not pay to win, guys. Yeah, right. I stopped playing soon after I figured I got my money’s worth from when I got the starter bundle.

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Robert Mann

Yes and No.

No for the reasons stated here to me, at least. I don’t have any issues with NOT falling for that gimmick. I do think it could be a problem for some people, and they should be upset.

Yes, because in general they are merely another shady method of monetization, usually tied to one thing people really want but with a bunch of fluff to allow for a higher cost. It’s sort of like the reverse of a gamblebox. They tell you what you will get… but they put in so many things just to drive a higher price (and try to drive a value perception response). Which doesn’t set any expectation, but rather is just one negative point toward breaking any potential interest in the game.

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Jim Bergevin Jr

I think they’re fine, and don’t inherently set up false expectations. You know you are buying a bundle with certain items in it and what those items are designed to do.

If anything, the one thing I think should be done away with are XP boosts in general. If anything skews the feel of a game it’s these speedleveling normalizers. It’s about time people stopped playing MMOs the wrong way, and play through the leveling process in a normal, slow manner to actually enjoy the experience.

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Robert Mann

I’d argue that it’s about time developers stopped making MMOs the wrong way, if they are going to focus on ‘endgame’ they can just go ahead and skip that levelling process. There are better ways to help people learn what they are doing. Personally, though, I’d like games that focused a lot more on the journey, or went with a story without a specific hero tie in and instead left all the players to fill in between events with things they find fun otherwise… as that would be less of a static story and more real time based with things changing in the world as the story.

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Witches

They usually cost way less than a full game price, they also tend to cost less than the default 15€ for a subscription, most of the things in those bundles are things that a max level player will get for free pretty easily, but a new player would need to meet someone generous enough to just give them that stuff for free, AH tend to be super inflated and out of reach for new players so these are pretty handy.

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Arktouros

I don’t think inherently there’s any problem with them.

Arguing that cash shop boosts received in a starter pack sets expectations this is really a perception argument. When I use something like an XP boost I don’t adjust my expectations of leveling to match that of the XP boost I recognize I have used a boost and gauge my performance accordingly.

This all comes back down to the simple fact we’re often times talking about thousands or millions of people playing these games and there’s just naturally going to be a lot of different ways people view things. There are many things I hear from others on things that are baffling and nonsensical and I’m sure many of my own views baffle and bewilder others. Like some people a 10% XP boost in the cash shop is literally game ruining and it’s that serious of an issue for them.

This is why I have always argued behave in a way that makes you feel most comfortable and capable of enjoying yourself. If you’re going rationalize and get twisted up that because there’s XP boosts in the cash shop and you rationalize the whole game’s progression is slower to push the XP boost to a “normal” speed maybe instead just don’t play that game? Entertainment doesn’t have to be hard or some mass global conspiracy to rob you blind.