F2P servers strategy
... but considering that :
- a lot of RO players are Asian (I could not find any proof of that but I truly believe it regarding the reaction of surprise all Western people have when they hear that RO has more than 10M subscribers, considering also that according to wikipedia,
though unknown to many Western players, the game took Asia by storm)
- F2P Asian MMO Games (like Maple Story for instance) could attract RO subscribers according to Aaron Delwiche
Gravity changed its (world) strategy in launching F2P servers such as Valkyrie for iRO or Baphomet for kRO. Also, the French server fRO which used to be P2P became F2P in December 2008. The Russian server ruRO is also F2P (I do not know if it was P2P before).
This server is an iRO server and opened in September 2008. The game on Valkyrie is harder (XP is harder, Teleporting is more expensive, Kafra Mall Items are more expensive, etc.) but it is a free server, so players go to play on it. Actually, there are more players on Valkyrie than on the other P2P iRO servers (see ropd.info).
Considering the 4 figures on the left concerning players on iRO servers Loki, Chaos, Iris and Valkyrie, some comparisons have to be made :
- Different server ages : Valkyrie is much younger than Loki/Chaos/Iris, so I think there is a lower ratio of high-level people on Valkyrie than on P2P servers.
- Different guild involvement : Usually, people go into a guild when they have a bit of strength to bring in, that means when accessing job 2, at approximately level 60. So if we forget avatars who are under level 60, the P2P servers have more than half of their high-level avatars in guilds while in Valkyrie it is approximately 9.000 high-level avatars in guilds for 26.000 not.
From these facts, I do not think that it can be stated that the cost of the game experience influences the type of gamers. An easy conclusion could be : Iris/Chaos/Loki are more hardcore/experimented/PGM servers while Valkyrie is more casual/fun/low-level. But I doubt that it can be easily proven, and some very skilled players (like Doddler for instance) do play on Valkyrie.
Baphomet and Doppelganger
Since I can not read Korean, it is hard for me to gather sources concerning the kRO F2P servers, so I will not detail this part much. kRO Baphomet was launched in May 2008 and is also harder than other kRO servers.
As I wrote before, RO F2P servers gather sometimes more players than P2P servers (see Server selection screen nearby), and it is the case for Baphomet.
More about Baphomet on Doddler's website. The
motivation for opening a free server at this time was the
declining number of users. Doppelganger opened in June 2008. It did not bring as many users as Baphomet so the 2 were merged in April 2009.
Anyway, the strategy change consisting in opening F2P servers has been definitely fruitful because Gravity says in April 2009 that the subscription revenues increase in Korea was
primarily attributed to increased revenues from launching free-to-play servers.
To my mind, fRO tries to push the player to buy a Premium Account, or the upgraded version of it : the Infinity Account. I do not know about ruRO (which is also F2P), but it might be the same as fRO (ruRO has at least Premium Accounts).
A fRO Premium account is a monthly 7€ subscription, while an Infinity account is 199€, providing a permanent VIP status and some bonus items.
The iShop is the same thing as the iRO Kafra Shop. It is through this website that users can buy virtual items.
I think that tokens of micropayment are a psychologic easier way for the user to buy virtual items with real money. The reason might be because people can hardly admit they are buying game items with real money, they need an item to make the transition : website tokens! In fRO, these tokens are named Karat. Actually, Carat is the name of a clown monster in the game, so maybe the Karat currency comes from its name. Currently, 100 Karats are approximately 1€.
In my previous post, I took the example of the Giant Flywing item that can be bought on the iRO website with Kafra Points. On fRO, a user buys a Giant Flywing for 10c (10 Giant Flywings for 100 Karats). Compared to the iRO 0.75c Giant Flywings, there is quite much difference.
I think the only reason explaining this difference is the will of Gravity Europe, administrator of fRO, to produce an amount of money big enough to be compared to what other Gravity group branches produce (ruRO, jRO or even iRO). But it is quite difficult for Gravity Europe, because the French player community is much smaller than iRO's, and therefore is likely to bring less profit. So the same products are more expensive on fRO than on iRO in order to «cope» with the size of the community.
Bubble-gum, a kind of item which increases experience gained in killing monsters (see Doddler's BubbleGum tests), is the most sold item IG, but is also the best selling item bought with real currency (€). Lucky Clip is a kind of item that increases the drop rate of monsters and is also among the best selling items. All the other items are «everyday life» items : Oridecon and Elunium are used to refine and repair player weapons and equipements, Yggdrasil Leaves are used to resurrect people and Blue Gemstones to teleport people from a place of the world to another.
What is interesting with Lucky Clips and Bubble Gums is that these items are not dropped by any monster nor sold by any NPC, hence all these items are available to players because they have been bought with euros. That means that even if Gravity Europe does not sell (itself) zeny for euros, roughly 400.000z = 100Karat = 1€. On igvault.com it is possible to get 1Mz for nearly 6€. That makes a huge difference with iRO where it is possible to get 20Mz for 6€/8$. But what is more interesting is that Gravity Europe has a twice better change rate than illegal websites. Because some people want to absolutely soften their game experience in buying items like Bubble Gums or Lucky Clip to get more XP or drops, this could be an explanation why they would rather buy these items through ragnarokonline.fr instead of another ways.
Business Model improvement
RO's leveling is definitely hard. Much harder than many well-known current MMORPGs. But with the opening of F2P servers, I do think that more casual players are willing to play, and even pay a few $/€ to appreciate more their time. Another particularity of RO is the WoE system ; a WoE is a battle between rival guilds in a castle in order to possess it and get rare items its Treasure Boxes contain. But sometimes it is difficult to build a character with PvP stats because these stats do not match PvE stats at all.
For instance, when playing a Priest (typical support class) in WoE sessions, a lot of Vitality (VIT) is needed so that your avatar does not get killed easily. On the other hand, not much Intelligence (INT) is necessary because not need many SP (= mana) are needed. But the easiest way to have your character leveling up as an Acolyte (the class the player has to be before becoming a Priest) relies on much INT to inflict more damages on Undead monsters.
Unlike most of all private servers, in official servers there are no NPC who can reset the player's stats. Hence an iRO survey in July 2006 reported that 68% of the 4266 participants of the survey say yes to a
value-added service that provided a skill or stat reset and 28% said no. In another survey occuring in January 2008, 56% of the 7229 participants said they
would pay for a Service or Item that provided a Full Stat Reset and 14% said no.
The only currently available service on iRO consists in buying (directly, without Kafra Points!) 20 Stat Points for $10. A level 90+ avatar has more than 800 status points. To move from a character build to another, not all the stat points need to be reset, but to my mind, it takes much more than 300 points. To my mind, this definitely can be improved ...
fRO has nearly the same system as iRO.
This thread shows that it is 40€ for a 100 stat-point reset, and it is free if you have paid a premium account (199€). However, this reset is performed only ONCE on your character. The price can be compared to the iRO price of the nearly same service (however, the iRO stat reset can be repeated many times). How this stat reset is performed on fRO is explained on fRO forums.
I do not know the amount of «Infinity» accounts, I do not know the total amount of people using this service, and I do not know how many people have been using the stat reset service on iRO, but I bet that the F2P players use it more than the P2P players. Recently, a RO player told me that he liked that people are «equal» when they have all paid for the same service (P2P), but he definitely finds «unbalancing» the fact that some people could buy virtual items with real money (F2P). I think that is a reason why he's playing on private servers ...