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The Free Zone: The 2012 Summer Rumorfest

Column By Richard Aihoshi on July 17, 2012

Maybe it's because there never seems to be as much news during the summer aside from the annual bursts related to E3, plus some lesser events. That's about the best I can come up with in terms of reasons why this time of year typically feels like it brings out the most rumors. Or maybe it actually does. In any case, I thought you might be interested in some that have crossed my path recently involving the free to play model. Be warned that I have no solid reasons to believe any of them. These are merely rumors at this point.

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The Old Republic is going F2P

This one isn't new by any means. However, it has come up more frequently than any other of late, and has gathered steam during the days since the new free trial went live last week. In case anyone hasn't been paying attention, new accounts may now play as much as they want, but advancement is capped at level 15. When this was announced at E3, speculation began immediately that it meant EA was desperate. In my opinion, while that's an overstatement, I do think the company is on a slippery slope where sliding farther down is substantially more likely than staying in place.

As to what will happen, my best guess right now is that WAR will be used as a trial horse, in a similar manner to how DDO appeared to serve this purpose for LotRO. I suspect some form of freemium is more likely than going full F2P. In terms of a time frame, by the end of the year doesn't feel unreasonable. Assuming the result is positive, we might then be looking at SWTOR following along next summer, possibly announced at E3 to gain as much media attention as possible, with implementation a month or so later.

It's also difficult not to wonder how much significance I should attach to last week's announcement of the Play4Free action RPG, Ultima Forever: Quest for the Avatar. Even though the title isn't an MMOG, does it represent another step down said slope? And does it signal an increased likelihood that other offerings bearing the BioWare label will adopt some type of F2P?

The Secret World Built for F2P

Despite the positive initial reception that Funcom's latest offering is experiencing, it's not much of a surprise that this rumor has already surfaced. Indeed, it did the rounds well before the game launched, albeit neither very noisily nor with much credibility. This is still so, at least for the short term. However, considering the precedent set by Age of Conan, it's impossible to imagine that the team made no effort to prepare TSW to follow in its footsteps.

This certainly doesn't mean it will happen, especially any time soon, particularly if the game turns out to have high conversion and retention. But even then, how about somewhat farther down the line? Is anyone willing to bet that it will remain subscription-based as long as it's live? I'm not. For what little it's worth, I'll set my over / under line at 30 months from launch. If I'm forced to pick, I'll take the under.

Wildstar will be F2P

This one interests me even though its volume is barely a whisper. Globally, it's clear that NCsoft is shifting away from its long-held subscription stance. Accordingly, how long is it likely to be before the company launches an F2P MMOG? You could even say “another” if you count Dungeon Runners.

Yes, I realize a reasonable case can be made for B2P, particularly if GW2 fares well using this model. However, I have no reason to change my previously stated opinion that it will be F2P in at least some markets, either at launch in those areas or not very long thereafter. So, I'm inclined to guess the same for Wildstar, if not a step further.

TERA is going F2P

Speculation about Bluehole's MMOG started to surface here when it became apparent quite soon after launch that the domestic Korean release wasn't going to live up to its hype and the correspondingly inflated expectations. In this hemisphere, the reception has been moderately positive, but if anything, this has merely served to spur speculation about a possible business model shift. At the moment, I have no solid reasons to predict this will happen. That said, I don't get any strong sense that the game gained has or will soon build up a large enough subscriber base to preclude seriously considering the change. Since I'm setting over / unders, I'll go with next July 1st and take the under.

A couple from out in left field

As a caveat, I have absolutely no basis to assign any credibility whatsoever to either of these last two. They don't even have any volume factor going for them since I've only seen each of them once. Nonetheless, they're intriguing enough to finish up with them:

A major Chinese publisher is considering the acquisition of Gameforge. While I haven't seen a specific name, this would be a quick way for a company like Tencent or Shanda to gain a substantial presence in the west. The alleged target is usually associated with the browser-based sector, but it also owns the former Frogster, meaning it’s the operator of a portfolio including, among others, Runes of Magic in North America and Western Europe, plus AION, TERA and Wizard101 in the latter region. What's more, the price might be affordable since the company still seems to be in retrenchment mode, which began a couple of years ago, apparently after expanding too rapidly.

Another rumor has unnamed investors looking into purchasing the code and other assets for Copernicus in order to release it as an F2P. Frankly, I haven't followed what's happening in 38 Studios' bankruptcy proceedings closely at all. But, if I make the seemingly reasonable assumption that the state of Rhode Island and the other creditors don't want to try resurrecting the company, it would seem to make sense to sell off as much as possible so they can recoup something. And what else is there likely to be that would have much value? As for possible buyers, the big Chinese publishers could certainly spare a few million, even if the purchase would be rather speculative. And so could some of their Korean counterparts, like Nexon for example.

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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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