MMO News, Reviews & Opinions
- Written by kefkah
In this month's edition of The Round Table Discussion, we posed this question to our members:
With the advent of LOTRO and several other games going F2P, is 2010 the Year of Free 2 Play? And if so, what does this mean for the future of MMOs 1 year down the road...5 years down the road?
Here are their answers:
Ever since mmo developers started taking note of Facebook's success at selling virtual items, and its subsequent introduction by facebook applications (mostly games), it didn't take long for them to see what a huge gold mine this might become.
Yet, if we look back upon the history of RMT (real money transactions) in mmos it all began with the growth of third party companies selling in-game gold for real cash.
The problem with selling gold (and the reason it wasn't embraced by the development studios themselves) its that it has the potential to wreck the in-game economy and thus a major system of the game. Such is not the case with virtual items (especially if they carry the "no-trade" tag).
Even the first pure free-to-play (FP2) mmos relied mostly on advertising as their major source of revenue.
As long as the commercialisation of virtual items remains untaxed and deregulated, the tendency is that more and more developers adopt this as their primary revenue model.
As it is, selling virtual items is not only extremely profitable due to not being taxed, but also gives the mmo developers an extreme (and often unethical) amount of ways in which they can bill their customers once they've captured them. This is particularly the case for the "hybrid" mmos, who will bill you for the product, perhaps even a subscription, AND virtual items.
The best way I can describe this is with the use of an analogy:
You purchase an "all-inclusive" ticket to Disneyland for a couple of weeks. This ticket grants you access to the park, all the rides, transportation and three meals a day.
On your third day at Disneyland, however, you are informed that your situation has changed and that in fact you now need to pay extra to access "X" number of rides and for your breakfast. Additionally, all your drinks now incur an extra charge for lunch and dinner. No refunds are offered.
You might become upset - but you are not prepared to cut your holidays short and loose your initial investment which still grants you access to the park and some rides.
Its dream land for whomever is managing the business - but not so much for the customer.
This needs to be regulated asap.
So yes, the tendency is for this practice to blossom in the near future. Possibly every new and existing MMO will employ this model to some extent or another (only limited by their moral or ethical standards).
My belief, however is that in a few years time this will be regulated or will simply become unacceptable by gaming standards - and gamers will take a stronger stance against the abuse of RMT in "hybrid" games.
Pure F2P games are a different beast altogether, however. Since customers do not pay for the game upfront nor a regular subscription, it is more accepted and expected that they will be billed at every corner of their gaming experience. So this won't change much unless tax makes a big impact upon the developer's bottom line.
1) We're going to see a ton of F2P conversions this year as investors/shareholders will be easily mislead and confused by what account numbers really mean. This is in no small part due to the fact that WoW's sub numbers have made so many headlines (and pie charts), along with bullshit numbers like SOEs Freerealms 10,000,000 accounts. To a non-gaming investor, there's no difference. (interestingly enough, Runescape... the F2P MMO that nobody I know has ever played, is on record at Guiness for having over 140,000,000 accounts... and claims only around 10,000,000 actual players, wonder what that means for FreeRealms and their 10,000,000 accounts?)
2) DDO's claimed success once again gets CEO's and shareholders salivating with an amazing 400% turn around!. From what I heard, DDO was in the shitter before they went F2P, so depending on just how bad it was doing before, a claimed 400% profit might not actually mean anything. Once again, numbers being fudged.
I have heard that LoTRO was and does still have a solid sub number, so in all honesty, I think that's the one to watch.
3) The juggernaut that is SW ToR. How are we going to pay for this? I can't claim to have a crystal ball, but I have a feeling ToR's payment/subscription system will be the financial rudder that steers the industry for the next few years. Whatever happens there, you can bet there'll be a great number of games following it's system down to a T (all the while forgetting to deliver a good game no doubt).
Every SOE game will be on the new EQ2 "Ridiculous Money Transfer" "Fleece To Play" model by the end of the year or will be closed. This is the way SOE is going to go down (and out) from here on.
Cryptic will be doing this with STO and CO also probably by the end of the year. What everyone will be waiting for is if Blizzard follows suit, and to be honest, given the outright evil and greed of Bobby Kotick, it would not shock me to see them do something similar (open new "fleece to play" servers and run them along side existing WOW servers).
Out: WOW Clone=$$$
In: WOW Clone+"Fleece To Play"=$$$
Remember what I said years ago about so-called "microtransactions", that once implemented there would be NOTHING micro (as in small) about them, they'd be "macrotranscams". That has definitely come to pass.
The big money that 'casual' gamers have brought into the industry will dictate the future of MMO gaming. Standards of success for an MMO is now determined by the number of accounts and the cash raked in thanks to WoW and social gaming (yes, counting Zynga). I see developers further embracing the cheaper/easier to create, shallower, cash shop dependent F2P MMO's that have been flooding the market.
Games that want a sub fee while having a cash shop dependent game, like STO, will fail compared to Turbine which has done a splendid job with choice. Game quality will start separating the F2P games, and while companies like Turbine will lead the way, companies like Cryptic and $OE will falter. The cheesy, cash-grab F2P titles will always come and go.
In the long run, game quality will define the industry leaders as more games move to the F2P format. I doubt we will ever see the very innovative, in-depth and complex games we once knew, but hopefully the competition will shift F2P game development a little more into that direction, making these games more palatable for more serious gamers.
SWTOR will be the game to watch come 2011. I still predict TOR will employ the unpopular Sub + RMT business model which is why Bioware is so hesitant to confirm the payment method at this time.