This October DC Universe Online will feature a free-to-play service to their game. It hasn’t been out for an entire year and it will be offering people access (though limited) to play online for no price. Of course it’s a way to gain more players to subscribe after they play or purchase games items in the shop with real cash.
Now I don’t want to go off on a rant here but almost a year ago I was thinking about writing an article about why I’m not a fan of subscription MMOs and how I thought companies would go another route instead of relying on subscriptions. Yes, Everquest was huge hit. Yes,WoW and EVE Online have recording breaking subscribers. I understand completely. But personally if I paid full price for a game, then a monthly subscription then I would have to play that game a lot to get my moneys worth. People would think I would be addicted but I’d just say, “hey, I’m getting my $15 worth this month.” I wasn’t like this at the start though. I was into a few MMOs in the past but whenever I became interested in getting a title, the server would shut down and the game would be die completely. Auto Assault, Tabula Rasa, Hellgate: London and The Matrix Online. I called it my “MMO Curse”. Suddenly, the CD that ran the game would become a coaster or clean it and use it as a mini tray at a party. Ergo, that’s why I support free-to-play or at least want a single player mode included to so in case the server closes the game can still be played.
This summer Age of Conan: Unchained came out, it is a free to play and unrated version of the game. I immediately got it. Even though, it has limited features it turned out as fun as I expected. (Okay, maybe being unrated I was looking forward to more hardcore violence but you can’t win ’em all.) I just wish Conan, himself, was an unscripted NPC walking around fighting with or against you. But Age of Conan: Unchained isn’t the only mainstream MMO to go free to play. This trend caught on like wildfire. Lord of the Rings Online doubled in revenue. Dungeons and Dragons saw a large spike in success as well. Even the super-giant Blizzard is offering a service where you forever with access to everything but with a level 20 cap for World of Warcraft. City of Heroes has the same going for them but with a level 50 cap. APB and Hellgate: London, both were subscription only games that were once shut down had been re-released as free to play instead by the help of Korean publishers.
But that isn’t stopping everyone. The upcoming Star Wars: The Old Republic will be on subscription fees rather than a free service. John Smedley, developer of the rival title Everquest, tried to cause some drama saying “The Old Republic will be the last large-scale subscription-based MMO”. I hardly agree with that statement. A lot of people are content with subscription fees thus those will stay and if the gameplay is amazing enough – more will come around. Rift is still going strong with their subscription fees. As well as “The Worlds Largest Game Universe” EVE Online. But they do have free trials hopefully to ring you in and honestly it works.
All in all, the MMO industry is a changing industry and free to play is really is picking up with more and more companies. It is not and will not replace subscription fees at all, it’s just an option for gamers on how to spend money. Remember, this is all about making money. As for some people saying adding free to play is a last ditch effort to make more cash to save a failing title,not all of the time, maybe some times but it is to add subscribers even if the MMO is successful.