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Subscription MMOs Are Dead
Before we begin, let’s take a look at some upcoming MMO’s this year. First, the Pay 2 Play (P2P) ones:
- The Secret World
- The Elder Scrolls Online
Now for the ones that will be Free 2 Play (F2P):
- Dust 514
- End of Nations
- Game of Thrones
- Guild Wars 2
- Planetside 2
- Phantasy Star Online 2
I’m not done yet. Let’s look at some P2P, big title MMO’s that have switched to F2P:
- Champions Online
- DC Universe Online
- Dungeons & Dragons Online
- Everquest 1 & 2
- Fallen Earth
- Lord of the Rings Online
- Star Trek Online
Finally, the list of big title MMO’s that are still P2P:
- City of Heroes/Villains
- EVE Online
- Final Fantasy XI
- Final Fantasy XIV
- Star Wars: The Old Republic
- World of Warcraft
Now this is by no means an all-inclusive bunch of lists. I know that there are more titles out there that fit in these categories. However, these titles alone make my point. The age of subscription MMO’s is dead. Long live the F2P model. With World of Warcraft losing subscribers by the 100’s of thousands, Star Wars looking into free-to-play, and almost every title in that “still P2P” list giving out free weekends and bonuses like crazy to return you could say that there will be no more subscription MMO’s releasing after 2012.
Look at the list of upcoming MMO’s this year. Only two are releasing as P2P while eight are going to be free. We keep hearing news about how Star Wars, WoW, and Rift are losing subscribers, stabilizing, merging realms, and so forth. Guild Wars 2 has pushed by the gates of F2P and is going to deliver a huge game, amazing graphics, content, and gameplay to back it up. It’s all free to play. Hell, even World of Warcraft is getting desperate for people to return. Just because they are the biggest MMO doesn’t mean that losing that many subscribers doesn’t hurt. Blizzard has put a lot into WoW and it needs to be able to sustain all of that and the game.
With all the rumors and news coming, will anyone still take the risk on subscription MMO’s? Will you pay $10-15 a month for a game that may go free to play within a year or so? We’re watching the lifetimes of MMO’s grow shorter and shorter with every passing year. People used to pin that on World of Warcraft’s success. However, it’s looking more like the decline of a design model more than just one game sipping up all of the market. WoW is hurting, too. When WoW hurts, every monthly paid MMO hurts.
People thought it was a good decision to have levels 1-20 free on WoW. This is true, it was. It was about time to give an extended trial. Just enough to let you taste that addiction and make you run off to buy the full game. Is it also a good decision to have a feature where current players can ask old players to return, get a free mount, and a character instantly boosted to level 80? Level 80? That’s almost level cap and I did nothing at all to deserve it. Blizzard is basically going you a free endgame character to run around with with 7 free days, full level 80 equipment and bags, a pre-determined spec, fast flying mount, and some gold. Besides leveling 5 more time times and buying a full set of ilvl 377 PvP gear to begin queuing for top level dungeons, there isn’t much you need to do.
Star Wars: The Old Republic was hit with a ton of lost subscribers, free weekend play sessions, mediocre patches, and now free server migration. The game’s creators are now looking into the free to play model and an in-game store where you can buy items. Many big budget titles are going the same route. How long will it be before Rift switches models? TERA? Final Fantasy XIV?
I remember hearing that right before DC Universe Online went free to play, they had 30,000 people and paying for the game. I don’t know how they kept the servers running. That makes the 700% subscription rate increase when the switch to F2P happened easier to swallow when you think about a low, low base number like that.
The continuation of the P2P MMO model hinges on The Secret World and The Elder Scrolls Online. If they can’t come out of 2012 with some successful figures and stats, new MMO’s will forever be free to play starting with 2013 with only the stable veterans with a loyal player base still hanging onto the past.