Founder’s Packs: The new business model?

You should all know what free-to-play (often abbreviated to F2P) means by now. At its best it’s a business model where players get to enjoy a game without having to fork a large sum even before knowing if the money is well spent. It’s also a great way of getting a game out to a vast crowd and thus opening the potential for players to buy items from the in-game store and make a profit. But at its worst – and sadly this still seems to be the majority – free-to-play equals pay to win, unbalanced and unfair games where the top players are those who play with their wallets.

While this business model is thriving, competition is now more ruthless than it was a couple of years ago. Games are released and shut down less than a year later (see Divine Souls, Dark Blood or Family Guy Online) and all the countless browser-based strategy clones seem to change is the skin. So, to stay relevant and profitable, free-to-play needed a reinvention, the publishers thought. And now we’re seeing this business model branching out to another one: the Founder’s Packs.

Although we won’t make a bet on which game exactly began this new trend – you can let us know your idea on this –, now we’re seeing a lot of high-profile F2P games trying to convince players that buying a Founder’s Pack is the best option to get earlier in the game and get an exclusive mount/weapon/skin or something. We can see the appeal in this for games that will undoubtedly be worth your time and money: Warframe is shaping up to be an amazing game, as well as Firefall or Neverwinter. It all comes down to personal taste though, so we won’t go there.

$199.99 is a great deal, right? Right?

But what’s more intriguing are the high prices that some developers are asking for a Founder’s Pack. Dirty Bomb’s VIP pack is selling for $320 USD, while Warframe’s Grand Master pack retails for $249.99 USD. It’s not the value of the pack that’s being discussed here, but the price that a free-to-play game may cost even before you begin playing. Those who complain about the price of a PC, PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 game should take notice and see that F2P is a very loose term and it can end up being way more expensive than your regular retail games. Even the usual DLC which costs only a few dollars seems very attractive when compared to a mount or weapon that can cost a lot more than that and last only a few days.

On the other hand, there are those players that will certainly abide by this business model. It can clearly be seen as the Kickstarter effect stretching to free-to-play games – a player gets to help a studio develop a game he’s interested in and have the privilege of being a part of the first wave of players to try it, as well as giving his precious feedback on some bugs. Some would call this – playing an unfinished, unbalanced game and pointing out bugs – work though…

$320 to help shape a first-person shooter, are you in?

No matter how we look at it, the Founder’s Packs (or whatever name a developer chooses to call it) are here to stay and we’re seeing them in popular – and not so popular – games. To name just a few games besides the examples above: Age of Wushu, Mechwarrior Online, Mechwarrior Tactics, Marvel Heroes and Sins of a Dark Age.

What is your opinion on Founder’s Packs? Do you consider them worthy additions to the business model or are they just turning free-to-play into pay to play, or worse, pay to win?

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