Mechwarrior Online and how to NOT do a Free to Play Game

I spent some time playing Mechwarrior Online, but I had to  stop.

The game is amazing, it is fun, controlling the hulking mechs around is fun, they are heavy, and slow, and pack a serious punch, and your screen shakes and sparks fly when missiles hit you head on, and you hear alarms and bits of metal flying and you get desperate when someone managed to sneak on you and is shooting lasers at your back. Yet… I had to stop, it managed to become boring.

In Free to Play there is a important metric to the designers, that they call “churn rate”, it measures the amount of players that are stopping to play after some arbitrary time. And if you do your free to play wrong, you end with low conversions in first place, or with high churn rate, and that is the case with Mechwarrior Online.

Mechwarrior Online fans are quick to point that it is not “pay to win” and that the best machines you must earn playing normally, despite this being debatable (the real money consumables are better than the game money ones for example), that is NOT the issue that we have here, instead the issue is that the game managed to get VERY boring, and the devs and old players and testers don’t realize, so the end result is a hardcore fan following of old players, that sometimes keep expending some money, but the game will never move beyond that, new players get bored and quit, it has to do with some balance changes made after the most heavy period of testing.

The draw to most mech games, specially a battletech game, is that you can make your own custom awesome mech and kick ass (or get ass kicked if you are a poor designer), Mechwarrior Online promises that, but don’t deliver, the first 25 matches a player have give you much more money than normally, enough to buy your first mech chassis and some parts, but after that the game become grindy, very very very grindy, I for example bought with my 25 match money a Catapult with only missile slots, after a while playing with the default, I got bored and made a sniper catapult, filled with long range missiles, this also got boring for a while, then I started to switch it to what players call “splatcat” that is fitting it with absurds amounts of short range missiles and then running up to other mechs face and blowing them up (and most likely yourself with them sometimes), the problem is, several parts you cannot keep, like the “Artemis” system that I paid lots of money to install for the sniper mode, I had to remove it again, and to remove it again it was very expensive, and I had to buy several parts, and eventually the parts I needed were so expensive that it would take 1 entire month playing to buy each extra part needed.

Then you also have XP, that serves to buy skills for your mech and pilot, the mech XP is fairly fast to earn, the problem is that you cannot expend it completely until you do it with 3 different variants of the same mech, the problem is that each chassis would cost me about 4 months of playing the game, there is no way I will play a gestation long game just to upgrade a little bit my mech, and then you have the XP for pilot skills, this one is so slow to go up that I never got the first pilot skill.

And if you get bored with your mech, you cannot buy another easily, it is also very expensive. The issue with the game is not that it is not fun to play, it is, the issue of the game is that the major part of it, the customization, is SO SLOW and grindy, that a player unwilling to spend money will end getting bored before he ever gets his second mech, or finishes building his first one, and quits. Of course, the intention of the game IS make it boring and force the person to expend money, the problem is that mechs are also ridicously expensive, the price for some mechs can easily allow you to buy some full games out there, why the hell I would expend on a bunch of mechs in a online game a amount of money that I can buy the rest of battletech series and have fun with them instead?

If you make a free to play game, don’t make it grindy and expensive, that is only good to scare new players away, and if you keep scaring players away, the game will get boring for everyone, what fun the old paid players will have, if they never see other people? What fun there is when you have your awesome expensive mech that you paid real money for it, when there is noone to shoot?

Don’t do that, if you make a free to play game, remember that people have lives, the ones most likely to pay for your games are not teenager people with loads of free time, the ones most likely to pay for your games are people with jobs, and those won’t pay for your game if it bores them!