If look at gaming now and roughly six or seven years ago, we can see a drastic change. My favorite genre to analyze is the MMORPG genre as it is the one that has changed the most, and we have mostly World of Warcraft to blame for that, but also ArenaNet with their new philosophy about subscriptions and the introduction of free-to-play (F2P) module.
Back when World of Warcraft launched in 2004 subscription based MMORPG games were natural. It was expected and anything else but a required subscription (usually $14.99/month) was abnormal. Now however, a subscription module for any other game but World of Warcraft is bound to fail. I’ve listed several games having failed because of this, amongst others are high profile titles such as Age of Conan, Star Wars: The Old Republic, Aion, Tera, Lord of the Rings: Online, The Secret World, and will fail or eventually switch over to F2P.
So what are ArenaNet doing to be able to compete with WoW, a giant that so many have fallen to? Well, they started by scratching the subscription cost just like they did in the first Guild Wars, although that wasn’t an MMO so it really shouldn’t count. With the eliminated cost of $14.99 per month and/or a tied-in credit card they reach to a much broader and younger audience and appeal to many more as it will be “pick up and play at any time” rather than forcing a commitment due to the monthly fee. And I know that appeals to a lot of people, myself included. Now I will be able to enjoy Tyria as I see fit. I can still play hours of hours of Dota 2, and then go to Tyria and have fun without paying a monthly fee. And that’s a good move by ArenaNet as over 40% of all lost subscribers for Star Wars said they left because of the monthly fee.
Valve are recently pushing the entirely F2P module where the game itself is free and it doesn’t cost you anything to play. (Keep in mind GW2 is not F2P as it costs $59.99 to play) Dota 2 is entirely free and unlocks every hero and all features without charging you anything. If you want cosmetic items, you can pay for them but it’s entirely optional and I believe that this is the future and should be the future. Valve have released with Dota 2 the best game I’ve played in over a decade and it is quickly rising to be my most played game ever and it’s free. If they can do it, why can’t everybody else do it too? Gears of War 4 for free but you can buy cool golden chainsaws and items to look pimp online. I know Valve said that their Team Fortress 2 hats are selling very well and generating millions of dollars. I can never look at games the same way now after getting Dota 2 for free.
So are games about to change? I’d say yes, they already have in fact. Subscription MMO:s are a thing of the past. Especially now if Guild Wars 2 will be successful it will embed in people’s minds that paying a monthly fee is bizarre and not required. The question is: how long can World of Warcraft sustain its paying customer base at a profitable level? It’s been over eight years now almost and that’s an impressive milestone for sure, but they are on the decline and won’t go on forever. Can they extend the life of the game by several years by going F2P? Probably.
Another very interesting question is how Blizzard’s upcoming project “Titan” which is rumored to be an MMOFPS game will fare. Will it launch with a subscription module or will it be just a one time fee of $59.99 then microtransactions to keep profits up? We’ve to to keep in mind that this will be the second MMO from the creators of World of Warcraft, the most successful MMO of all times. Will they be cocky and confident that they can sustain millions of paying subscribers or will they be afraid of failure and go for the microtransactions instead? It will be interesting to see for sure. My bet is that they’ll go with the $14.99 subscription initially to cover most of the development cost and see how they fare. If they fail they can just easily switch over to F2P and get the game growing.
Do you believe that games as we know them are about to change?
We’ve come a long way since the days of Everquest. Although I am not entirely happy with the evolution process.