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The Free Zone: Global F2P Gleanings

Column By Richard Aihoshi on August 28, 2012

Writing about the F2P landscape tends to involve a form of information overload. The amount of news and other tidbits that come my way far exceeds what I can include in a biweekly column. So, many things that have enough interest value to catch my attention still don't make the cut. This time around, I thought I'd at least partially address this by commenting briefly on a range of topics from the past few weeks. 

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While The Secret World's under-performance leads to layoffs, it won't go F2P.

Despite rumors that Funcom is cutting more than half its global work force, I've yet to see any credible reports as to the extent of what it is rather curiously referring to as “temporary” layoffs. Granted my understanding of Norwegian employment practices differ is extremely limited, the company also has offices in places like North Carolina and Canada where such wording indicates an expectation that the situation is... well, temporary. Accordingly, I can't help but wonder if the affected individuals have been given any indication of how long they'll be off work.

Funcom stated that TSW's business model will not change. However, I assume that “at this time” is implied. My gut feeling is still that it will shift to some form of F2P / hybrid within the not too distant future. The game's community seems quite positive. However, it's obviously smaller than hoped for, probably by quite a bit. So, given that Age of Conan doesn't appear to have suffered from its move, it's difficult to imagine this title following a similar path. And if that's going to happen, how long is the company likely to hold off? 

NCsoft reports Q2 loss, Guild Wars 2 pre-sales approaching 1 million.

Earlier this month, NCsoft's latest quarterly financials includes a few interesting bits. One was simply that it lost money. This wasn't from ongoing operations. Rather, it was due to the one-time costs associated with eliminating around 400 jobs. Considering this, the positive reception to Blade & Soul in Korea and the impending release of GW2, we can expect improved results starting immediately. 

However, there are also some question marks to consider. For example, the former title's prospects in the world's largest market, China, are unclear. Closer to home, the title had yet to reach the million unit mark in pre-sales. It was closing in, so I assume it has by now. That said, let's not forget NCsoft's reports include them at their wholesale value, not retail. Consequently, as consumers, we may feel like we're talking about at least $50 million-plus, it's closer to half of this in the company's books. Even the lesser amount is a lot of money to you and me, but how significantly will it impact a corporation with annual sales well in excess of half a billion, especially since it's difficult to predict what GW2's ongoing revenue stream will be? 

FIFA Online's revenue may surprise you.

Around the beginning of this month, EA announced that Nexon will publish FIFA Online 3 in Korea. This wasn't widely expected since the former owns about 15% of FIFA Online 2's operator, Neowiz. I have no real feel for what's going on in their respective corporate war rooms, but some of the information that has come out definitely piqued my interest.

Specifically, it seems that FIFA Online 2's annual revenue in that country is a little south of $90 million. To put this in perspective, generating this amount via a $15 per month fee would require half a million subscribers. And we're only talking about Korea, with a population of approximately 50 million. If this online franchise manages to gain more popularity globally, what might its potential be?

SWTOR cash shop may offer items that affect stats

Last week, the SWTOR Life fansite posted an interview from Gamescom in which Executive Producer Jeff Hickman said “there will be some things that we put out in the store that do enhance power value in some way, but not at the top end.” While this brief quote should be taken in its full context, which includes stating clearly that “we do not believe in Pay to Win”, I'm having trouble understanding why BioWare might have chosen to take this direction.

If the items are such that “most players will have something better than this anyway”, what's the point? Will such merchandise bring in sufficient revenue from the remaining minority to warrant the flak the team will take for putting them up for sale? Since I know nothing more than what I've read, I can't comment knowledgeably on the planned implementation. What I can say, however, is that my initial reaction wasn't “Wow, what a great idea.”

Zynga lobbying Washington for real-money poker.

You may recall that I play online poker and consider it a form of quasi-MMOG. Accordingly, I was intrigued when this recent article in the Wall Street Journal reported that social gaming giant Zynga is taking steps to move into the American market. This isn't a surprise since the company had previously stated its intention to do so elsewhere as early as the first half of next year.

At present, the legislative scene in the US is a huge mess, thanks in no small part to a tangled morass of corporate and individual agendas combined with the way federal and state powers are split. So for example, Nevada residents may be able to play online poker on regulated sites within the next few months, but only with others who live in that jurisdiction. Meanwhile, unless I missed something, it's still a crime for anyone in the state of Washington to play.

In case you don't realize the kind of money that's involved, market leader Pokerstars, which is thought to have about a 70% share globally despite being closed to Americans, recently agreed to a $731 million settlement package with the Department of Justice so that it could acquire the dormant / defunct former number 2, Full Tilt Poker. The latter's principals are still accused of running a Ponzi scheme that left US and international players being owed about $334 million dollars. The deal includes provision for all of this to be paid out, although there has been no indication when or how this will happen.

Oddly enough, when Pokerstars was obliged to leave the US market, it quickly paid out its players' balances. But for unknown reasons, the DOJ has chosen to disburse the American Full Tilt money by employing an outside contractor that has yet to be named.

In any event, I'm curious as to if, how and when Zynga's current lobbying effort might spread into other types of games. While it may seem pretty farfetched, could we possibly be headed toward seeing real-money virtual poker rooms and casinos that are accessible through our favorite MMOGs?

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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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