Monday, February 20, 2012

MMORPGs: Free to Play vs. Monthly Fees

Listening to a few podcasts got me thinking about MMORPSs and their subscription plans. Some are free to play, others require a monthly fee, and some games withhold content unless gamers pay, utilizing a sort of freemium model. The question is with all the options, is there room for all these games to be profitable?

As someone who used to play World of Warcraft a lot I valued the money I spent every month on the game. $14.99 a month wasn’t cheap for a college student. So I felt I had to get my $14.99 worth of content from the game. This meant putting console games on hold and playing WoW a lot.

WoW is probably one of the best known MMORPGS. Want to jump in? At the retail level Blizzard charges around $30 for the game and its expansions. Usually the price at retail comes down pretty quickly and gamers still get a free month of play with new accounts. Star Wars the Old Republic as the new MMORPG has a similar model, pay $60 for the game, receive a free month, and then pay monthly fees. Now another semi-popular MMORPG, DC Universe Online has gone free to play. Granted, players can spend the extra money for in-game content and new areas. However, players could play through the whole game without paying any money. This is a great example of the freemium model and one of the many advantages.

Lord of the Rings Online has the same sort of structure as DC Universe Online. The game is free, and if players want extra things in the game they pay for them. This means they might not have access to certain areas. But since LOTR Online went free to play their revenue has skyrocketed. Another MMORPG City of Heroes uses a hybrid model, there is an option for free game play, and some of the updates cost money but are free for long time subscribers.

All of these models work in theory. But it would be nice to have more MMOs with longer trial periods. I think WoW still offers a trial and is free to play to level 20. How about giving people a discount when they sign up after a lengthy trial? Here is an idea, make the game $30 at retail and throw in two months for free after a two week trial. Maybe MMORPGs need to be cheaper overall? Make the game $30 and the monthly subscription can be $20, vs. $15 a month. As much as I would like to see prices come down, players seem to be really drawn to the games with monthly fees. Maybe its the illusion the game has better content if one has to pay a monthly fee vs. the free MMORPGs. This is not always true.
From what I’ve heard WoW has lost some players to games like Rift and Star Wars The Old Republic. Should Blizzard be worried? Not with 10 million subscribers. They don’t call it World of Warcrack for nothing. If the MMORPG is a good game at its core, has a large player base which it retains while recruiting new players, and is heavily supported like Star Wars The Old Republic, than there is nothing to worry about. If a game can do all of this it will be successful and there is no need to change the pricing model.

As for the others, going free to play with some sort of freemium subscription seems to be the way to go to draw people in. If a new game comes out and wants to really drum up the interest, here’s an idea. Run a free two week-a month trial and give gamers a discount for the first month or so. I’m sure many gamers would take the chance with a price and trial like that. Who knows where the future of MMORPGs are going?

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