For the past six years, MMORPGs have been failing. Be it because the companies believe releasing beta quality games, far-fetched mechanics, or releasing a game that has the savory indulgence of a stale piece of bread, the genre has seen some gloomy days. World of Warcraft has created a boom for many money hungry companies and jaded developers that think releasing a game in this genre will garner them fame and money. Unfortunately, this hasn’t been the case and nothing has been able to compete at the level that Blizzard is currently at.
Let’s face it. Very few MMORPGs have had amazing launches and it is because of this lack luster grand opening that a lot of people just get turned away. How can these companies salvage their investment? How can they bring in money to a sinking ship? How can they increase their gaming audience?
The answer lies to the Far East. It is in this land of Zerg obsessed gamers and mob-grinding gurus that holds the key to America’s salvation in the MMO Market. Asia has been using a model known to many as Free to Play for a very long time. Players are allowed to download the game from a website and jump right in. Sure, there are some restrictions that hold them back from unlocking the full potential of the game but it is a better option than a 14 day free trial.
“But Umar”, you may find yourself pondering, “I know Asia is known for crazy people but this sounds insane! How do the Crazians make their money?!”
Very simple, Little Billy. Crazian MMO Developers make their money from an in-game market place where players can unlock classes, races, potions, cosmetics, and content for real life money. While not every player’s going to feed cash to companies for a game they play for free, they do garner in more money than $15 a month. Some players are so into power gaming and/or cosmetics that they’ll easily throw down more than $15 a month in purchases via this market place without even thinking it through.
Why adopt this model though? The answer is simply because it seems to actually work.
Turbine’s Dungeons and Dragons Online was far from being considered a true MMORPG by many of today’s standards and it was on the brink of extinction. However, unlike the dodo bird, DnD Online was not ready to leave this world. In one last hurrah, it released a Free to Play model and quickly flourished. The game’s income reportedly jumped by double and it felt a chance to thrive. Life began to ebb back into this would be abortion and deliver it salvation.
To follow suit, many MMORPGs began to jump onto the bandwagon. Lord of the Rings Online, while not a failure by many aspects, saw a chance to increase its player base with this new subscription model. It held back many features to free players but the market place allowed them to expand further into the world.
Around the same time LOTRO adopted the model, Everquest 2 wet its feet in the F2P world with Everquest 2 Extended, which included 8 classes, 4 races, 80 levels, and 5 expansions for free.
Now, companies like Cryptic, probably persuaded by Atari, are hitting the F2P model to save their abortion known as Champions Online and also the acclaimed Star Trek Online. Some may know my dislike for Cryptic in general and I don’t want to bore anyone with my vendetta but these games were Free to Play quality on release and never should have been Pay to Play, but I digress. They are now hitting the high road and going F2P.
Those seem to be some of the bigger MMOs released in the past couple of years that really need this chance to boost their communities. One MMO that I am waiting to take the dive into this model is Warhammer Online. The game has been a downward spiral since release and while I doubt EA even cares about the game still (they have been systematically dismembering Mythic) a F2P model for WAR might be able to save it from its dying breath.
Sadly, though, some MMORPGs that haven’t even had a year to fix their abominations are already looking to hit the F2P market as well. Yes, I’m talking about Final Fantasy XIV. It has been reported that they are currently seeking a chance to hit into this model to save their plummeting shares and overall consumer backlash.
I know a lot of people have mixed feelings about this model and some find it “greedy” that companies are willing to push out virtual stores but I don’t find a problem with this at all. Most of these games offer a chance to unlock the full game for the standard $15 a month and no one is forcing you to purchase anything from the marketplace to begin with. Most of the items these games offer aren’t game changing and aren’t required to excel in the game so there is no reason for some of the criticism. However, regardless of whether it is a good model or not there will always be people who will complain.
The Free to Play opportunity that has raged through the past two years seems to be giving players many chances to see more of what is out there than WoW. While it is good for companies to regain their money and enlarge their player base, it also gives players a chance to expand their horizons onto what is out there without feeling guilty for dropping 40-50 dollars on a game that could be releasing in beta quality.
How do you feel about the Free to Play model many MMORPG’s seem to be taking? Would you like to see future games continuing with this setup and if not, why?