Archive for February, 2012

The Old Republic: Free to Play Inc?

So, as I’m writing this, its February 2012 and the MMORPG has had a new contender for WoW’s throne for two months now: The Old Republic.

Now, some background: I’ve played WoW a long time. I currently am checking TOR out now, and its actually the first MMO besides WoW I’ve paid for in some time. Its probably the first game in a long tim that has a serious shot at knocking WoW off the leaderboard, especially given that WoW players are going to be fairly starved for content for the next several months. It has a strong franchise behind it, with one of the greatest developers creating it and is doing several things different from the WoW method, most notably actually trying to tell a coherent story.

Seriously. ToR’s storytelling is so much better than WoW’s its frankly humiliating. And I’d put good money on one of two things:

1: ToR is going to go Free to Play sometime in 2013.

2: EA and Bioware already have a full design plan for a Free to Play conversion.

Why?

Well, okay, aside from the fact that knocking off WoW from the top spot is probably about as easy as competing with the Super Bowl for TV ratings, its also just a smart idea.

See, here’s the golden rule about MMO’s: Its all about the number of players. The finest game in the world will fail if it doesn’t have a large population, and the barrier to entry for new players is simply too high for box-and-subscription model games. Free to Play games remove that barrier, making it really easy for new players to join in, but their income isn’t going to be as solid as having everyone player pay up each month.

So, really, the ideal solution, if you’re a big studio trying to knock off WoW?

Make your game Box-And-Subscription, and try to leverage the revenue you’ll get from the first few months of sales to make a serious, high quality game. Then, if you haven’t knocked WoW off, or carved out a strong enough market share for yourself that you can be profitable, go Free to Play, put together one hell of a reward for your Sub’d users, and try to make money on the long haul.

Just look at Star Trek Online, really. It started out with a cash shop already in-game, has superb visuals, a great space gameplay and a… well, fairly average ground gameplay. Its probably in the top tier of Free to Play games at this point, in terms of user numbers, just because of the quality of the game (and the license doesn’t hurt).

Free to Play isn’t the end of the world for MMO’s. There’s probably only so much room in the market for the subscription model, but F2P can always entice someone into giving your game a shot.

Just means you need to figure out how to wring money out of your users.

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