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Age of Conan: Unchained Column: Conan’s Hybridian Adventure, Wizardry Going MMO?

By Richard Aihoshi on May 30, 2011

Age of Conan goes hybrid
Did it significantly surprise anyone who frequents this site when Funcom announced last week that it will shift Age of Conan away from straight subscription to a modified business model with a significant free to play element? As I noted a few months ago when the volume of rumors to this effect seemed to ramp up, I pretty much felt it was only a matter of time, and also that it might well happen before the arrival of The Old Republic and its potential to suck up a lot of the available players who prefer or are at least willing to pay a monthly charge.

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I thought then that Conan was likely to benefit from such a move. My thinking in this regard remains unchanged. The game will instantly become one of the most prominent in the non-subscription camp, both contributing to and profiting from the sector’s growing magnitude and visibility. In addition, what’s the down side in any reasonably realistic scenario? Some players will quit in protest. However, the percentage and thus the loss in revenue will be pretty small. That means it won’t be difficult to replace.

How so? Well, for one thing, going free to play or freemium will probably bring in larger numbers of tire kickers than free trials did. That will lead to more players who eventually pay in some manner, be it by purchasing items, signing ups for the monthly fee option… or both. The last of these can be easy to forget. While I don’t have reliable data as to how large this revenue stream is, my sense is that it’s enough to be significant to the games and their publishers.

As something of an aside, does anyone else find it curious that most publishers feel it’s important to modify their games’ names when they switch business models? I only used “Hyborian Adventures” when I had some reason to state the entire official title. Otherwise, which equates to the vast majority of the time, I’ve always called it either “Age of Conan” or just “Conan”, and that’s not likely to change. So the change to “Unrated” has very little meaning for me. As a former marketer, I can construct a case for product differentiation, but not – in my opinion, anyway – a particularly convincing one.

Wizardry Online Apparently Announced
Rather a fun coincidence that shortly after my column about the possible online rebirth of one of the former “big three” CRPG properties, Japanese-based F2P publisher Gamepot appears to have announced the return of another. I haven’t seen anything official that I can read, and so can’t confirm this, but there are quite a few reports plus a short video and some screenshots floating around if you care to look for them.

If you remember the property at all, you might be under the impression it has been on hiatus since Wizardry 8 came out in 2001. That’s not so. The core CRPG series hasn’t been extended, but at least a dozen releases, spin-offs and ports to other platforms have been published, chiefly in Japan. As for Wizardry Online, such an endeavour has been rumoured for maybe five years or more, so while I wasn’t expecting such news, neither does it come as much of a surprise.

The grognard in me can’t help but be intrigued about the possibility of a Wizardry MMOG. That said, I wonder as to the breadth and degree of appeal the name still has for this hemisphere’s gamers. In addition, many feel the heart of the series was comprised of titles created by DW Bradley including Wizardry V – Heart of the Maelstrom, Wizardry VI – Bane of the Cosmic Forge, and Wizardry VII – Crusaders of the Dark Savant. I’ve seen nothing to indicate he’s involved. If not, it’s difficult to imagine the universe having the proper distinctive feel.

Then again, even if the game is in development, it’s not a sure thing that we’ll see it here. Gamepot’s US operation hasn’t shown much indication of strength. After Fantasy Earth Zero and Bright Star failed to establish themselves, its only title right now is Mir II. Would the company be able to generate enough visibility and interest for Wizardry Online to succeed? Would it be willing to try?

And what of the other IP in the long-ago triad? Well, Might and Magic: Heroes Kingdoms launched around a year and a half back to limited fanfare, with positive reviews, just not very many of them. It’s a 2D browser-based MMO strategy release in which a key mechanism for building up your cities is hiring and advancing a variety of heroes. I haven’t played enough to get a decent sense as to how well it captures the essential feel of the RPGs. Would I like to see an MMORPG? You bet. Anyone else?
 

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The Free Zone
Richard Aihoshi has been writing about MMOGs since the mid-1990s, always with a global perspective. As a result, he has observed the emergence and growth of the free to play business model from its early days in both hemispheres.

He is the former Editor of RPG Vault and his column, focusing on free to play MMOs, appears on MMORPG.com every Monday.
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