It seems today that most ’Free MMORPGs’ and ‘Free MMOs’ are developed in places like Korea, Japan and China. What I’d like to know is why more western companies aren’t jumping on the ‘free to play’ bandwagon as it seems like a lot of these games are becoming hugely successful. Just look at games like Maplestory and Atlantica Online. They’re such big hits and generate millions of dollars a month in revenues for their publishers. There is little doubt that the ‘free to play, but pay for upgrades’ business model works, so why are Western companies still making pay to play games?
I wish I had the answer to that, but I don’t. It seems like just about every free MMO comes straight from East Asia. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I’m a bit tired of anime inspired generic grind oriented MMORPGs. I don’t mean to bash all Asian MMORPGs, as some are great, but they all feel a bit similar. Having companies like Electronic Arts and Activision-Blizzard churning out some free to play titles would certainly be interesting, as it would add some much needed variety to the genre because let’s face it, there is a world of difference between a Western RPG and an Eastern one. If you look at the current pay to play titles like Warhammer Online and Eve Online as they feel genuinely different than their Asian counterparts. Not necessarily in a good or bad way, just different. The difference between the East and West is most evident when comparing single player RPGs as the East is well known for their epic plot driven anime inspired titles like the ‘Final Fantasy’ and ‘Tales’ games while the West is better known for their stronger emphasis on gameplay with games like Neverwinter Nights and Baldur’s Gate.
As it stands I think Eastern gaming companies are doing great in the MMORPG market as they’re making both pay to play games and free to play ones. One Korean company, NCSoft, makes pay to play games like Guild Wars, Lineage and Aion while at the same time has free to play titles like Exteel and Dungeon Runners. With the incredible growth of free to play titles in the last few years, there is no doubt in my mind that Western gaming companies will have to make some free to play titles unless they want to hand over that entire market to foreign competitors, which is unlikely. EA is actually on the right track, as they’re currently working on a free MMO shooter titled ‘Battlefield Heroes’ that will basically be a cartoony version of their popular ‘Battlefield’ franchise. ‘Battlefield Heroes’ is a good start, but I’d like to see more Western gaming companies enter the free to play industry sooner than later as it’d be nice to have some more variety.