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The Free Zone: F2P News and Musings

Column By Richard Aihoshi on November 22, 2011

As usual, the past couple of weeks brought many things that got me thinking and/or roused my curiosity.  While there were far too many to discuss them all, here's a sampling of the ones I found especially intriguing.

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GW2 F2P in RoW?

At one point during our conversation at G-STAR, ArenaNet co-founder Mike O'Brien mentioned that Guild Wars 2 won't have a global launch.  This wasn't a news flash, but it got me wondering about what might be different enough in the Korean version to cause a gap of several months.  Some might think of localization, but for me, this doesn't seem like much of an explanation.  How long can translating and adapting the original English to another language take?  If that's all there is to it, NCsoft surely has the resources to get it done in time to permit simultaneous release.  Could the company simply want to ship later in its home market?  I suppose it's possible, but I can't imagine why.  Additional content?  Not out of the question by any means, but again, no obvious rationale springs to mind.  

But how about implementing some form of F2P revenue system?  Since NCsoft has only recently dipped its toe in these waters, a case might be made for not plunging in head first with an important new title.  Could it be that the impending shift of Lineage II here in North America is coincidentally a form of test bed for GW2 elsewhere?  And how will the game be monetized in the rest of the world, where micro-transactions already represent the accepted standard? 

At this point, my guess is that in North America, GW2 will have some type of revenue stream beyond just selling the box, and that it will be F2P in certain regions, possibly with Korea falling somewhere in between.  Anyone else care to speculate? 

What are Sega's plans for Three Rings and the MMOG space?

The acquisition train still appears to be steaming ahead with the recent news that Sega has purchased Three Rings.  The San Francisco-based studio that created Puzzle Pirates and Spiral Knights is currently working on an intriguing project, a Doctor Who MMOG.  I know almost nothing about it, but in light of the team's previous efforts, I'd be surprised if it isn't accessible via a wider range of PCs than just gamer-level rigs, and aimed at a correspondingly broad target audience. 

I'm also interested to see what this signals in terms of Sega's strategic intentions.  While I'm not tech-savvy by a long shot, I couldn't help but think that Three Rings seems like it might just be a great fit to make an MMOG aimed at the millions of console players who know and love the Sonic franchise.  Off the top of my head, I can't imagine a better way to leverage the studio's value.  That doesn't mean it will happen, but if I had to guess...  

Can DCUO F2P build on its fast start?

SOE announced that in the first seven days after DCUO shifted over to F2P, it gained a very impressive number of registrations, over a million.  Interestingly enough, the company said they were divided equally between PC and PS2.  I don't know what the split was before, so I'm naturally wondering if the balance among the new arrivals is similar or not. 

A far more important question is how the game will fare in the longer term.  My gut feeling is that it has a decent shot at doing better than just surviving.  While changing revenue models provided an exit opportunity, I suspect the majority of subscribers opted in.  My thinking is that those who were dissatisfied enough to leave had already done so earlier, and despite the amount of "I'll never play an F2P" rhetoric we see, I'm unaware of any evidence indicating it actually leads to mass defections.  So, if the shift didn't cause DCUO to lose many users, any kind of decent conversion rate among the new registrants, whether to members or to item purchasers, would boost revenues above their former level, perhaps by quite a bit. 

Is this the most embarrassing MMOG news ever?

According to various reports that may have originated from one at igxpro.net, a Japanese MMOG called M2 has been permanently shut down after experiencing an irretrievable loss of data last month during emergency maintenance on its main servers.  It's rather difficult to know what to make of this.  If the report is basically accurate - and I have no reason to think otherwise - it would mean that developer Sankando and operator Hangame didn't have a proper, functioning backup function / procedure.  Is this possible?  And could there be more titles out there that are similarly vulnerable?  

What's potentially even worse is another question.  Could the stated reason for closing the game be a smokescreen?  Again, I have no reason to suppose so, but the implications are obviously very ugly. 

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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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