It has been interesting to watch the still continuing discussions that have sprung forth from the announcements about Lord of the Rings Online and EverQuest II shifting their business models. In part, this has been due to various questions that have come to mind, some of which I've decided to comment on today.
Is converting P2Ps to F2P really a trend?
It's not very difficult these days to find people who call it one. For a staff example right here on MMORPG.com, you can check out the initial paragraph in the list article entitled "Why You Should Embrace the F2P Movement". There's also no shortage of other references in pieces elsewhere, in forum discussions, etc.
I saw basically nothing along these lines before the news that LOTRO and EQ2 would follow D&D Online's lead. So, as best I can tell, the talk essentially refers to these three games and speculation that others won't be far behind. They're not the first western offerings that have shifted over to F2P. Neither is this a brand new phenomenon; Anarchy Online comes to mind some years ago now. But these earlier ones don't seem to be included in the current "trend".
However, is there really a trend? Are three titles enough to constitute one? I don't think so; it's a pretty small number. But the question that's far more important is whether we'll see more conversions, enough to represent a distinct movement or tendency, enough to make it clear there's more happening than a few instances that can be considered isolated or standalone.
And beyond that lies an even bigger one. Will the development industry in this hemisphere re-balance itself to make significantly more games that are F2P right from the time they are conceived? And is this happening already?
Are the games being converted actually under-performing?
The aforementioned list article also touches on another point of view that, although it's hard to know how widely held it actually is, can be found without much difficulty. It's the one that refers to the games being moved over as under-performers, outdated, desperate or even outright failures. Presumably, this is meant to position them as not overly important, which then somehow makes their respective shifts less difficult to accept.
According to the best estimates I'm aware of, both LOTRO and EQ2 rank in the top 10 subscription MMOGs. So, it seems at least a bit curious to see them described as not meeting what those people expect of them, or worse. The degree to which such labelling is warranted is a matter of personal opinion, so no position is right or wrong in the absolute. But here again, further questions come quickly to mind.
How many titles in the category aren't under-performing? De facto, within the top 10, there can be eight at most that are doing well. And even if we assume this number, what will it mean if more convert? Will they instantly transform into second-class citizens too?
Is F2P a major or minor factor in the western market?
It's also not hard to find the opinion that subscription is the dominant revenue model in this hemisphere. The obvious but not always explicit corollary is that while F2P may be growing, it's still definitely secondary in significance.
What I find curious about this one is how inconsistent it seems when it's held up beside another view put forward by some proponents of monthly fees. I'm talking about the ones who apparently fear F2P is on track to eliminate their preferred option. As far as I know, they're not the same people. But it does feel strange to see these two contrasting perspectives advanced within the same discussion.
Were I so inclined, I could also take this further. For instance, even if there is a trend to convert under-performing titles, how significant can it be? After all, they're not important ones, so how much can moving them over to the F2P side, which is supposedly minor anyway, impact the overall market balance?
This week's MMOG trivia
Yes, it's another name the game question. Among the popular F2P releases that have reached the range of 500,000 peak concurrent users, this one may be the least known, here in the west anyway. Based on a popular Chinese TV series about swordsmen in the ancient kingdoms, it's reportedly positioned in the non-hardcore sector. It initially launched in 2006, and is available in other markets such as Taiwan and Japan.
Legend of Martial Arts is a 3D "adventure MMORPG" with somewhat cartoon-like graphics. Published in its domestic market by Perfect World, which also seems top have developed it, the game is designed to complement that company's more serious eponymous title and others in its portfolio by offering a less intense game environment.