Will A Monthly Sub Make It in the Age of Free to Play?

January 14, 2009 / John Albano 

It’s only been recently on this side of the globe that item malls have started to catch on. Several years ago Puzzle Pirates sailed out into those waters to return with untold riches, and since then several others have followed. Combine that with the Asian F2P games catching on over here, it looks like F2P games are the direction many MMOs will be heading now. Even the heavy hitters like NCSoft have taken notice, and games like Guild Wars and Dungeon Runners offer payment models other than the classic monthly fee. SOE has expanded its Station Exchange with new microtransaction models for EQ and EQ2.

Several highly-anticipated titles came out this year that may not have done much to help keep the monthly fee model alive. Age of Conan, Warhammer Online, and Pirates of the Burning Sea are some of the titles that appeared in 2008 that, in many ways, didn’t help to ebb the tide of people that are becoming fed up with getting burnt by MMOs. $40 for the box plus a monthly fee is going to start to become a hard sell when people can download a F2P game that is usually of equal quality and better stability.

The F2P MMOs also seem to have another thing going for them that the subscription based games rarely offer – regular events and specials. Live events, double xp weekends, bonus items, and item mall sales are features that happen almost weekly in many of the F2P MMOs. Since F2P players are often driven to the game’s website (microtransactions and new info), they are also visiting a site that is regularly posting new cool things to do ingame. They are constantly reminded that the game is ‘alive’ and things are going on.

It’s almost as if the subscription games and the free to play games are living in different worlds – the old and the new. SOE seems to have gotten the hint and set sail for the new world. EVE’s PLEX system has CCP out there exploring the uncharted lands, as well. Looking forward to seeing who the next great explorers will be. True, just like in the 1400′s, we aren’t really exploring anything that Asia hadn’t long since discovered already, but it’s a fun new experience for the rest of us.


Related links

Gamasutra – MMOG Business Models: Cancel That Subscription!http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/3688/mmog_business_models_cancel_that_.php

Station Cash – SOE’s microtransaction model for EQ/EQ2

Atlantica Online and Puzzle Pirates – a look at the revenue models

CasualGaming.biz – Microtransaction Business Model

Raph Koster on ARPU vs ARRPU


Related News

JUN 2009 Turbine Press Release – Turbine Enters Free to Play Market

FEB 2010 Turbine Press Release – Dungeons & Dragons Online®: Eberron Unlimited™ Surpasses One Million New Players

MAY 2010 NPD – DDO Third Most Popular MMO

JUN 2010 Official LOTRO Site – Announcing The Lord of the Rings Online’s Move to Free-to-Play!

JUL 2010 PCGamer – Blizzard Discuss Making WOW Free

JUL 2010 Massively – EQ2 II: Free To Play Service Coming Mid-August

FALL 2010 Gamer’s Daily News – Pirates of the Burning Sea Set to Go Free-to-Play This Fall

OCT 2010 Champions Online to Go Free To Play in Q1 2011

JAN 2011 SlashDot -LOTRO Free to Play Switch Tripled Revenue

APR 2011 Massively -Global Agenda Adopting Free to Play Model in April

JUL 2011 PCGamer – Global Agenda F2P Gets 5X Higher Player Revenue

AUG 2011 Industry Gamers -EA Unveils Warhammer Free to Play PVP Game
See also: https://wrathofheroes.warhammeronline.com/

AUG 2011 – REUTERS – Free Games Boosting Game Industry Revenue

AUG 2011 The Escapist – Free to Play Age of Conan Doubles Revenues

JUL 2011 Age of Conan now Free to Play

SEP 2011 Tom’s Hardware – After 7 Years, City of Heroes Goes F2P

SEP 2011 Gamefront DC Universe Online will be Free to Play in October

OCT 2011 Fallen Earth goes Free to Play on Wednesday

NOV 2011 Geek.com – DC Universe Online goes free-to-play, increases revenue 700 percent

NOV 2011 Tom’s Hardware – STO Goes Free to Play in January 2012

NOV 2011 G4TV – EQ2 Goes Free to Play after Seven Years

NOV 2011 Massively -Lineage 2 Awakens Free to Play Today

DEC 2011 NCSoft EU Site – NCSoft announces Aion Free To Play February 2012

JAN 2012 Massively – John Smedley: EverQuest II seeing ‘amazing growth’ following F2P

JAN 2012 MMORPG.com – EverQuest II Interviews: On F2P Success and EQNext

“Our job … is to entertain the heck out of our players… and give them opportunities to leave money behind if they are being entertained. If we’re not entertaining you, then it’s our fault that we’re not making any money. But if you’re happy, then so are we. This is the new way of gaming. The days of “Pay and Hope” where you pay up-front and hope the game is worth a darn, are going the way of the dodo. And good riddance.” – Exec Producer Dave Georgeson (all EQ titles) on F2P vs sub

JAN 2012 EQPlayers@SOE Site – Everquest is Going Free to Play

APR 2012 GamesNews.com – Aion ascends to free-to-play with the lot of former subscription MMOs

AUG 2012 Massively.com – Vanguard going free-to-play on August 14th

AUG 2012 Forbes.com – ‘Star Wars: The Old Republic’ Is Going Free-To-Play This Fall

NOV 2012 Massively.com -Mortal Online is now free-to-play

FEB 2013 Massively.com – F2P doubles TERA playerbase

JUN 2013 MMOSite.com – RIFT: F2P for Owners Starts Now





A quick overview of how the F2P business model works

In a F2P MMO, the free players are often as important as the paying ones. The model is managed very differently from a subscription game. While there may very well be back of the queue prioritizing sometimes, the free player is understood to be a very valuable user of the service.

Look at the home page for any F2P game and you will see there are constant events, festivals and special weekends. When you hop in game, you will often see there are GMs and staffers that are hanging out in channel, chatting with the players. The towns or NPCs are usually redecorated for holidays and events. This content is just as much for the free player as the paying player. The reason being is that the free players are, to a certain degree, content for paying players.

Players being content for other players is absolutely true of subscription MMOs, as well. Veteran players will leave a server that feels ‘dead’. When new players log into a ‘dead’ server, they aren’t too likely to stick around. The vanity players need people to show their stuff off to, the entertainers need people to entertain, the raiders and grinders need people to group with, and the socialisers need people to chat with.

In the F2P model, you already know that you’re only getting cash from a small percentage, so it’s not like you are putting much effort into getting cash from the rest – they had no intention of spending anything to begin with, so you focus your energies primarily on those who will. You concentrate your efforts in two areas

  • providing engaging content to bring in as many free players as you can
  • providing desirable items in the mall for the players looking to invest extra in their hobby/entertainment

The vanity case isn’t going to buy new bling if there’s no one to show it off to.
The raider/grinder isn’t going to buy the xp boosts if he doesn’t have players to group with or compete against. The socialiser isn’t going to run his tavern or buy new toys if he’s logging in and just playing alone.

Without the free players, the paying ones quickly leave.