Like or not, the signs are clear on this one thing: when it comes to massively multiplayer online (MMO) games, free to play is the way to go for 99 percent of new and existing titles. Sure, for the top MMOs like World of Warcraft (WoW) or Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR) pay to play can work but that is because they are based on popular franchises and have multimillion dollar budgets. Games like those two presumably have the luxury of a long game development cycle that can last for as long as five years but most companies simply do not have the resources to compete with these giant franchises.
Not too long ago the most common pricing plan for MMOs was pay to play. Players had to buy the game and then pay a monthly membership fee to play it. Some still use this revenue model but more and more MMOs are switching to a hybrid business model.
What are these hybrid models?
Totally free to play (f2p) games are obviously quite rare, if not impossible to find outside of beta testing. The “free to play” titles today are actually hybrid pricing games, also called “freemium,” which is combination of the words free and premium. Most f2p MMOs and massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs, the most popular type of MMO) can be downloaded for free and players can play them for free as long as they want. However, some content is premium, in other words players must pay to access them. The most common types are:
Cash Shop – also called item shop, this is a store within the game where items can be bought for real money. Many cash shop items are cosmetic ones that are used to customize the in-game characters of players such as hair dye or clothes. Others are useful goods like extra bags for more inventory space or teleport runes that save you time by letting you magically appear exactly where you want instead of having to run there.
Expansions – in this hybrid payment model, free players can access the areas and content designated for them but some places and quests are locked. Players will need to buy expansions to access this premium content.
Premium Membership – in other MMORPG games, players are divided into free players and members. Members must pay a flat monthly fee to access premium content. This is different from expansions because normally expansions are a one-time fee while memberships are paid every month.
All of these different types are called free to play although some insist that the proper term for hybrid models is freemium.
Now, why exactly is f2p the future of MMO gaming if pay to play was the norm in the recent past? Recent events have paved the way for the growth of f2p as game companies slowly learned that giving away their game for free can paradoxically increase their revenues. A good example is The Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO) which struggled to acquire enough subscribers when it was a pay to play game. When they switched over to the freemium model, LOTRO got a three hundred percent increase in revenue as well as a huge increase in users.
Worldwide, free-to-play is actually the most widely used business revenue model and industry veterans such as Sony Entertainment Online SEO John Smedley have gone on record that they believe that the traditional monthly subscription MMORPG gaming is on its way out. Why? Because free-to-play just has so many advantages like:
No upfront cost of buying the game – this has been a significant barrier for most new players who are understandably reluctant to fork out their cash right away without even knowing if they want to play it or not.
No monthly subscriptions – the classic game Everquest asked the players who were quitting the game why they were leaving and 40 percent of them answered that it was because of the recurring subscription. This clearly indicates that the monthly payments are a barrier that stops more players from joining or continuing their participation.
Players on other platforms – while most MMOs are played on computers, multi-platform games that can be played in a variety of devices such as consoles, mobile phones, smart phones, tablets, etc. have become popular and players who use non-computer devices are not used to paying subscriptions.
Worldwide appeal – since many Western games are trying to make a leap into the Asian markets with their potentially enormous playerbase, they would have to use the f2p model since that is what is the norm in that part of the world.
In a nutshell, freemium is just a much easier way for players to access a game which means it will probably make more money and game companies have now taken note of that fact.
So what does this all mean for MMO players? In the near future it is likely that in the top tier, big budget MMORPG titles will increasingly adopt the freemium hybrid business model. Players will be able to access most releases for free while the developers will make more money by attracting a larger number of users. It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved.
Image by °<~ Gabrielle Sinatra ~>°
Seems like I’m caught up
in your trap
Seems like I’ll be
wearing the same
Good will conquer
And the truth will
set me free
And I know some
day I will find
somewhere I will
find the key
Seems like I’ve
been playing your
game way too long
Seems the game
I’ve played has
made you strong
When the game is
I won’t walk out the
I know I’ll walk
out of here again
I know someday
I’ll walk out of
(it was supposed to be a cutie picture with butterflies all around my head… oh well)
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