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More F2P for the West?

Richard Aihoshi Posted:
Columns The Free Zone 0

I sort of brought this question up a few weeks ago, but really didn't address it. Converting subscription games is a hot topic these days, and it seems safe to assume the folks at SOE and Turbine were working to get EQ2X and LOTRO ready well before the made their respective recent announcements. But where they and the other major MMOG houses in this hemisphere stand with respect to developing titles that are F2P from the outset may well be a far more significant matter.

I can't help but think there are unannounced projects in the works, likely at various stages. Considering the length of time it typically takes to conceive, develop and then launch a significant western MMOG, it might be a while before any are ready to be revealed. However, in the case of SOE, it's rather difficult to imagine nothing at all was going on there while management was evaluating the market's response to Free Realms. Maybe not full-blown development, but I'd be surprised if the company didn't have at least a couple of ideas in pre-production.

As for Turbine, was D&D a standalone experiment, or was there at least a contingency plan in place to switch LOTRO over as well? No matter what the answer, does anyone truly believe no one at that company is working on an F2P title? Again, it's hard for me to think not.

And what of some other notable MMOG publishers? Blizzard is raking in huge amounts of money through its combination of monthly fees on this side of the world plus hourly charges in China et al. As such, it's easy enough to figure there's no need to jump into the F2P waters, or even to dip a toe. On the other hand however, this means not competing in the portion of the global market that's already worth billions of dollars, and also growing more rapidly. How likely is it that the higher-ups can resist the lure of this segment forever? Or even for much longer?

It's also intriguing to wonder about EA. The Old Republic has the potential to carve out a large market share, but I doubt anyone expects it to challenge WoW here in the west, and the thought of its doing so in Asia seems virtually inconceivable, especially if Blizzard and its partners there decide to offer an F2P option. Not entering the segment also means letting Turbine and SOE extend their first-mover advantage, plus leaving the door completely open for others to move in as well.

Among the possibilities, Funcom is the first that comes to mind. Given its experience with Anarchy Online, I'm inclined to keep an eye open for news from Norway. Another is THQ, which has dipped its proverbial toe in the water via its joint venture publishing Dragonica.

And what of the Koreans? Of the "big five" publishers there, NCsoft is the most established in this hemisphere, especially in terms of development. Nexon has taken some steps in this direction as well, but what of the other three? NHN, CJ Internet and Neowiz don't seem heavily focused on this market, but their reasons appear to be strategic rather than financial, which would be a greater barrier. Similarly, while the leading Chinese companies seem more focused on their domestic market than on ours, they have the resources to fund the making of games here.

My best guess is that the real question isn't whether we'll see more F2P development in the west, but when. As I said, I think it more likely than not that there are projects under way, just not announced yet. I'm also of the opinion that many companies are looking at hybrid and variant revenue models, and am very much looking forward to what we'll see over the next couple of years.

The Week's Name the MMOG

This game takes place in the world of Teos, a fantasy setting where two factions, the Union of Fury and the Alliance of Light, are locked in an ages-old blood feud. Each offers two races, the Vail and Nordein, and the Humans and Elves respectively all of which have their own three class options. An unusual feature is the four difficulty modes, the hardest of which incorporates perma-death for characters that die and aren't resurrected within three minutes. Also notable is the large-scale PvP, with battles that can have up to 1,500 combatants per side.



Richard Aihoshi

Richard Aihoshi / Richard Aihoshi has been writing about the MMOG industry since the mid-1990s, always with a global perspective. He has observed the emergence and growth of the free to play business model from its early days in both hemispheres.