MMOs: Rise of the Free to Play, Demise of the Subscriptions
By Frank Hartnett on August 10th, 2012 (7 comments)
The MMO Market is nearing completion of a metamorphoses of sorts; a shift that will force the genre to fully embrace the free to play model. As our own Joseph Christ pointed out in an earlier article, Star Wars: The Old Republic will be going free to play after recently dipping to around 800,000 subscribers. It could be said that Bioware and EA merely stumbled in the production of their MMO, but the real cause may just lie within the market itself and its playerbase. World of Warcraft used to be the dominate force in the MMO market; however, Blizzard's creation dropped 1.1 million subscribers in these past three months leaving them around 9.1 million. While this is still a high number, such a rapid drop of players in a short period is rather startling for the game that makes up about 30% of Activision/Blizzard's profits. En Masse Entertainment, the company behind Tera, was just today hit with layoffs that included their community manager. Even MMOs that are already free to play have seen losses in subscription numbers this year with Eve Online appearing to be the only one on an increase after losing subscribers last year.
Turbine, the company now manning Lord of the Rings: Online and D&D: Online, popularized the "freemium" model where players can experience a good chunk of the game for free, but must pay for extra content, expansions, aesthetic items, or convenience items. By subscribing, you would be given a certain number of "Turbine points" each month which is the currency used for the cash shops in those two games. Other MMOs have since caught on to Turbine's model and employed it in their MMOs either from launch or by converting over; SWToR being the most recent to adopt this model. However, as I pointed out before, even free to play games are losing their subscribers at a fairly steady rate. It could just be gamers nowadays need more incentive to drop their hard earned cash every month, but there is also another theory that has begun to circulate around.
See, right now, there are a ton of MMOs on the market; so many, in fact, that it leaves MMO players not knowing what to do with themselves. This is further compounded upon by the fact most of these MMOs are all basically doing the same thing but with a new coat of paint. As a result, MMO players have taken to hopping around from MMO to MMO in order to keep themselves entertained. They'll generally stick with an MMO for a few months at most before dropping it all together and finding something else to take up their spare time. Because the genre is severely lacking in innovation, this really is the only way MMO players can stay in the genre and, sadly, very few developers have taken notice of this. That being said, MMOs such as The War Z and Guild Wars 2 are all stepping away from not only freemium model, but they are also trying to push MMOs away from what they have traditionally been.
MMO players are generally an entitled, fickle player base that will also weasel their way out of doing something if they can get away with it; especially when it comes to money. When you make the majority of your game free, you can no longer rely upon the majority of your player base to cough up money for additional content they can get or have already played in other MMOs. We may soon see subscription options taken out of games completely and a cash shop put in their place to sell aesthetic or convenience items. The most important thing, of course, is for the developers to have consistent content updates and to actually take risks. The "safe" methods will only backfire in the long run and keeping your players entertained, first and foremost, is what will get them to hand over their money.
Frank (Seisan) is a blog contributor and chat moderator over at 4Player. He specializes in analyzing the story telling, immersion, and consistency aspects of video games and also enjoys writing Fiction in his spare time. His favorite genres are RPGs, MMOs, and RTS'. Frank also specializes in having a chat name no one can pronounce correctly; nicknamed Seesaw as a result.
|Follow Us||Back to the Top|
Log in or sign up