MMO Money Models: Is Free To Play The New Way?

Anyone who ever sunk hundreds of hours into World of Warcraft, or any other subscription-based MMO out there, has a a little voice in the back of their heads, constantly reminding them of all that money that they ‘wasted’.

At the time, you don’t care at all; the money is nothing when you’re having so much addictive fun. Months and months go by and you pay no consideration to the 40 or so dollars that disappears again and again. It’s only until you’re free of the clutches of your MMO of choice that the realisation hits you.

For the sake of my own sanity, I’ve refrained from thinking back and calculating exactly how much money I’ve spent on such games. I’m sure that my sense of longing for my lost money would have me knocking my head against a wall until I passed out and forgot what a Murloc even was (which probably isn’t a bad thing).

Everyone has, in their own minds, a rough ratio to work with that determines whether or not an MMO is worth playing. Basically, if the quality and fun of the game is relatively even or relatively surpasses the cost of playing, the game is deemed worth playing.

Developers that keep this in consideration usually have more success with MMOs. However, even with this in mind, there are other variables to consider.

People like me – and I’d guess at least 70% of existing MMO players – who have spent a lot of time and money invested in MMOs that, upon releasing their hold on us, tend to be filled with a sense of confusion and regret at our wasted resources. This kind of negative emotional connection to our overall MMO experience throws the previously-mentioned ratio out of balance severely. Suddenly, we become much harsher critics.

New releases that may have otherwise garnered a quick and decisive ‘Yes!’ now leave us staring, blank-faced at our wallets, thinking ‘Well, I suppose I’ll try it next week maybe.’

Features need to be flashier, incentives need to be more tempting, graphics have to be smooth, and you’d better hope that the game has enough points of difference, so that we’re not sourly thinking back on the previous MMO, and expecting the same thing: ultimate disappointment.

On top of this, the more MMOs we give a chance, the more this effect stacks.

This got me thinking about the necessity of subscription fees. I’m all for supporting the developers of great MMO; however, it seems that nowadays this support is more well-received in the form of micropayments, as opposed to a flat subscription rate.

Jaded players like myself can now test out games without having to throw down a monthly free. We don’t feel locked into the game, and if the game is well-made and fun, then why the hell not throw down some money for some vanity items or boosts. Of course, this feeling of non-commitment can lose players for developers, but that’s a whole different topic. As long this system doesn’t throw out the whole balance of the game by giving players that spend money a huge advantage over non-spending players, this system is great.

With Star Wars: The Old Republic going free-to-play soon, many people have had a lot of negative things to say, mainly condemning the game as dead or as a failure. However, this may all be pure speculation based on old MMO trends. The developers of the game have stated that it is not because of a lack in subscription, and that paying players will not be getting a raw deal when the game goes free-to-play. They argue that this new free-to-play model will allow the game to stay alive and allow for constant content updates.

This is brilliant and gives me much more hope for free-to-play MMOs in the future. No longer will free-to-play games be considered low-budget or be passed off as lame in comparison to larger titles. If they haven’t already, I believe most companies will be following the business Guild Wars 2 model in the future.

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