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The Free Zone: It Is What It Is

Columns By Richard Aihoshi on June 16, 2010

It Is What It Is

After the announcement 10 days ago that The Lord of the Rings Online will become free to play this fall, it took almost no time at all for the silly reactions to begin.  Considering the hate-on some people have for anything and everything F2P, it was no surprise they didn't like the news.  But it was almost comical to see some of the spin doctoring they engaged in to try to soften or negate the impact on their tender psyches instead of simply admitting what's happening with the game and in the MMOG market. 

For example, one point of view was put forward stating this isn't an important development because LOTRO doesn't qualify as a major subscription title since it only has a single-digit share of that market.  The problem is that if we apply this particular criterion, practically every single release aside from World of Warcraft could adopt F2P, and not one of the conversions would be significant. 


In a similar vein, some have contended that the best available estimates of LOTRO's subscriber base, 250,000 to 300,000, are inflated.  It's possible they are.  However, better numbers aren't available, and it does seem kind of presumptuous to make the wishful assumption that the actual figure is substantially smaller based on no facts, at least not in anything I've read. 

Anyone who thinks LOTRO is a minor game is entitled to do so.  However, I happen to be of the opinion it looks defensive, like a desperate attempt to downplay the situation rather than admit its true importance.  It seems to be another manifestation of something I have discussed before, denial.  Don't like something that has happened?  Just deny to yourself - and others too - that it's significant. 

Another line of thinking I've seen is that the news isn't very meaningful because the business model Turbine is moving to isn't really F2P.  The main argument purporting to support this seems to be that there's a subscription option.  Oddly though, while the idea of offering both micro-transactions and monthly fees has been implemented by other publishers for some time, I don't seem to recall these same people coming forward to object when the games in question are referred to as F2P.  It's hard to take their point of view very seriously when it looks like it's only applied selectively to suit their purpose.

Oh, and for what it's worth, there's another maybe not so little thing to consider.  Turbine calls the business model F2P.  If you want to use some convenient definition that let's you believe it isn't, that's certainly your prerogative.  But the company is obviously willing to have both LOTRO and DDO labelled as F2P.  Not F2P with subscription, not hybrid... just F2P.  

As expected, we've also had some kneejerk "Turbine just lost a customer because I'm quitting" reactions.  In a fair number of these, the person has attempted to look like he or she is speaking for many others.  This strikes me as groundless too.  I have no doubt the company anticipated defections, projected a rate based on its experience with DDO, and took this into account when the decision to convert LOTRO was made.  On the other hand, I've yet to see a disgruntled player with any semblance of a sound basis for saying users will leave in droves.   

It's unfortunate F2P is such an emotional topic for some people that they close their eyes to reality.  Inherently, it's neither better nor worse than subscription except when the gauge of individual preferences is applied.  But make no mistake.  It's a very significant and rapidly growing portion of our North American MMOG market; the LOTRO announcement demonstrates this dramatically.  I trust most readers see this is so.  No matter whether we happen to like this direction or not, it is what it is. 

This week's MMOG trivia

With the World Cup now under way in South Africa, it seems only fitting to ask a question connected to what is said to be the most popular sport globally.  On the two lists below, match the MMO or quasi-MMO football games with their respective developers / publishers.

FIFA Online

Football Superstars


Kicks Online

Monumental Games / CyberSports

Neowiz / EA




The Free Zone The Free Zone Editorials
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 every Monday.
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