The game of the week for this week's Retro Weekly is one that is very close to my heart: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.
Is it time for World of Warcraft to go Free to Play?
In 2004, Blizzard unleashed a phenomenon upon the world. That phenomenon was World of Warcraft. It was to become the highest subscribed MMO in the world with 12 million people playing the game at its peak. It has become a template for numerous other MMORPG’s trying to copy the success that Blizzard have had. There is even now a Warcraft film in the works.
But all is not well in Azeroth. Subscriber numbers have dropped to 7.7 million worldwide (which, while not terrible by anoyne’s standards, proves that people are turning away from the game) despite four expansion packs and numerous content patches and updates.
Of course, it is natural for subscriber levels to drop. The game has been around now for almost 9 years, and people move on to other games. As an ex WoW player, there is only so much level grinding, ganking and dailies that you can do before you naturally move on, and I am not sure that Blizzard themselves predicted just how big WoW was going to be.
And so, here we are, nearly 9 years later, subscriptions falling, Blizzard working on a new unannounced MMO codenamed “Titan” (which has recently been subject to hefty delays) and looking to woo players who have left Azeroth back into the fold. There is, of course, one big solution to that: making the game F2P. But would that lead to a further decline for WoW or would it give it the boost that it needs?
They have already announced adding real money transactions into the game, and indeed have an online store for pets and such things to give your characters a boost. A classic move that free to play games make. Microtransactions keep the money flowing in for a lot of games companies, and I am sure that Blizzard is absolutely no exception to that particular rule. World of Warcraft is a big cash cow for Blizzard. The money that they make (and indeed will continue to make) on microtransactions will always add to their coffers.
Bioware MMO Star Wars: The Old Republic went F2P after a relatively short while, and this seemed to attract new subscribers to the game. Guild Wars 2 also adopted the F2P business model, and that also does relatively well for itself with over 3 million copies sold.
I am not denying that losing over 7 million subscribers worth of money would hurt to begin with. It absolutely would. However, with the money that they make on microtransactions and runours of a new expansion being annoucned at Blizzcon this year, the money will keep flowing in for Blizzard.
World of Warcraft has become such a giant in the MMO world, that far too many new MMO’s try to adopt the same formula, and ultimately don’t do well. If you wanted to play an MMO like World of Warcraft, you may as well go and play World of Warcraft. Why switch when they are such similar games?
With announcements such as The Elder Scrolls Online and Everquest Next, the MMO world is hopefully moving on. There will always be a place for WoW as long as it wishes to continue, naturally. They can keep bringing expansions and updates for the game as often as they like. But with the money that they make off said expansions and in game transactions, I think adopting the free to play business model may be the next logical step in the evolution of WoW, I mean – why pay per month plus expansions plus in game transactions? That equates to a lot of money by anyone’s standards to spend on a video game, and maybe that’s one of the reasons that subscriber numbers have dropped.
But if you go free to play – who knows? Perhaps Blizzard would be able to tempt people back into the fold. Maybe even myself.