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Who's Next for F2P?

William Murphy Posted:
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There’s sort of a running bet around the virtual offices here at MMORPG.com about which game will try to hop onto the F2P model next. Just this week we watched as Pirates of the Burning Sea announced their switch over to the more “new user friendly” model. Turbine’s DDO has started a tidal wave through the industry as it realizes that there may be better financial success through experimentation with new business models. Everyone seems to be trying something a little different, as in Everquest II’s splitting their service between vanilla EQ2 and EQ2 Extended. Just as when subscription games initially gained a foothold in the videogame marketplace, prompting studios like Blizzard to enter the fray, the apparent success of DDO’s resurrection as a F2P title is prompting studios to get off the subscription train. The only question remains, which will be next? After all, the market is getting more and more crowded with every release… it might make sense to start designing your game and business operations with a bit of mobility in case the standard subscription method isn’t cutting the mustard.

6.) Age of Conan

I was close to not putting this one on the list. After all, as far as we know AoC is doing quite well for itself with around 100,000 players according to some accounts. While those aren’t exactly the million plus numbers Funcom was hoping for back at launch it’s certainly not a consistently paying total that should be scoffed at. But here’s the kicker… Age of Conan sold over one million boxes back when it launched. And while I’m not sure of the number of copies currently circulating, I’m sure it’s even higher today with the lowered cost of the original game. So if estimates are correct and AoC is pulling around 100K active subscriptions, but has a potential user-base of over one million out there who have bought and presumably played the game, does it not stand to reason that Funcom could see some large transaction numbers on a DDO-esque “Freemium” model right off the bat without even having to attract new players first? After all they already have an installed base of over a million strong. It’s food for thought.

5.) Lineage II

Lineage II has been around now for more than six years, and for all intents and purposes is still going strong. It has a loyal core fan-base that is more than content to take part in the siege warfare the game is known best for. So why would the game even consider going F2P? My logic is that aging games like Lineage II must eventually find some way to stand out from the thong of new titles. Lineage II is another title with a large list of potential users at their disposal, and as games like TERA come to the forefront to try and steal its thunder, it might make sense for the game to take a new approach here in the West. It could also serve as NCsoft’s first foray into the new trend of operating on a hybrid model. If successful, maybe some of the Korean company’s previously closed titles might find a way to resurrection.

4.) Star Trek Online

The next two titles on the list could be interchangeable, but I thought it was worth listing them both separately to talk about why each could potentially benefit from the move. Star Trek Online, recently re-reviewed by our own staff, has had a definite trial during its first year in existence. Stacked up against impossibly high odds, and presumably developed on a shorter timeline than just about any other MMO, it hasn’t seen the greatest rallying of support from the vocal minority on our interwebs. But here’s where it may actually find some sense of relief from critics. If it were to switch a F2P model that was supported more by users purchasing new “episodes” of content (among other things I’m sure), I think the crowds of people crying out that STO isn’t enough game to pay for monthly would quickly quiet down.

It’s largely a PvE game as it stands, and the general trend that I’ve noticed is that players come back for a look when new content releases, and then go away again until the next batch comes through. Instead of fighting an uphill battle, why not aggressively use this trend to the game’s benefit? Now I have no idea of the budget STO was created on and if this would actually work for the game, but I do believe it would at least get a lot of us cynical players of Cryptic’s back when it comes to charging $15 a month for a game many claim only has one month worth of content as is.

3.) Champions Online

Champions Online, like STO, faces stiff player attitudes these days. The game has its loyal users, but the growing consensus is that it is lacking in enough depth to constitute its subscription fee. Both games already make extensive use of a micro-transaction store for cosmetic items (which has been exhaustively lampooned by customers). But I’ll hazard a guess that Champions would be able to charge for many more costume variations in its C-Store were the game to try a hybrid F2P model akin to what DDO has on offer. The adventure packs that Cryptic is already releasing are a great thing to charge $5 to $10 for depending on the complexity of each pack. We already know that players of MMOs will gladly pay for cosmetic items, they just more often than not don’t like to pay for said items on top of a subscription fee… unless it’s a sparkly flying horse. And with CoH still ruling the roost of superhero MMOs and DCUO poised to make a dent as well, one wonders if Champions Online will be able to compete without some change to its strategy.

2.) Vanguard

Vanguard might not seem like an obvious choice for the F2P movement to some, but with SOE’s EQ2 Extended and PotBS going F2P, one has to wonder if some of the company’s other titles aren’t far off. Vanguard was one of those games that came out after Blizzard’s World of Warcraft from the mind of one of online gaming’s first luminaries. But Brad McQuaid’s vision didn’t seem to sit well with gamers when the title launched, or rather the execution of said vision didn’t. But still the game’s only been getting better since release, and yet we rarely hear anything on that front. One wonders if some aggressive marketing aimed directly at making Vanguard the Old Schools’ game of choice for the low price of free couldn’t do something to turn around the silence on that front. It’s a title with a lot of good ideas in place that might only need some more players to make such an expansive world seem livelier.

1.) Warhammer Online

Speaking of titles that have a lot of good ideas in place, there is perhaps no better game to benefit from going F2P than Warhammer Online. Already the title has an Unlimited Trial of its first ten ranks in place that keeps Tier One thumping on a daily basis. There’s no cost to continue playing outside of the monthly subscription either. Meaning players don’t have to buy a box to enjoy some RvR in WAR. The question is: how would a F2P or Freemium model work in WAR? What would players pay for? Would they pay for access to special holiday Scenarios? How about keeping the transactions to cosmetic equipment, mounts, and other items? Surely the idea of “Pay to Win” couldn’t even come into the equation or the switch to a F2P model would quickly backfire. WAR is a game that’s almost entirely based on RvR (PvP) action. So while it may be tricky for Mythic and EA to figure out what’s safe to offer for players to purchase, it may be the title’s best way to maintain viability in the future as other titles come and suck away at their existing user-base. One thing which comes to mind that players would probably gladly pay for is the addition of new races and factions.

But what about you, dear readers? What games on this list or left off of it could you see giving the F2P model a try and why?


William Murphy

Bill is the former Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.