F2P: Legitimate Business Model Or Last Desperate Maneuver Of The Dying?
What do you get when you cross a one year old game, a dwindling player population and a current trend to reinvigorate revenue through an alternative payment model? A Free-2-Play MMO! Yes, that rather catty but nonetheless accurate statement (oh I’m such a bitch aren’t I?) was brought to you by the news that Champions Online is following the recent paths of DDO, LOTRO and EQ2 and going F2P.
I could say I was surprised when I saw the email ping onto my iPhone yesterday but that would be a lie. I’m not surprised in the slightest as it makes perfect sense. Ever since it become publicly aware that going F2P was the best thing to happen to Dungeons & Dragons Online since introducing Seven Of Nine to Voyager we’ve seen a whole lot of buzz about it becoming a serious alternative to the traditional monthly subscription model. It was shocking when LOTRO went F2P, mildly surprising when EQ2 did it and downright predictable when Champions Online followed suit.
The curious thing though is that aside from the odd foreign MMO designed specifically with F2P in mind, it seems as if Western companies are only embracing it in a final attempt to reinvigorate their dying games. We all know that DDO, EQ2 and now CO (LOTRO is possibly an exception – I have no idea what their population was like pre-F2P) weren’t exactly setting the business world alight with their massive subscription numbers and huge profit margins. In fact, they were/are all probably hanging by a thread over death’s door and if it hadn’t been for F2P there futures may have been very shaky indeed.
It’s also no surprise that a company like Blizzard has no intention of going F2P. Why would they? They’re currently making more money than God and probably have weekly money fights during happy hour at Richie Rich’s Fort Knox getaway. Fact is, if a Triple A MMO can rack up hundreds of thousands, if not millions of players, all forking out $15 a month plus more for additional extras like sparkly ponies or gender transplants then why on Earth would they want to switch to a business model that’s invariably going to earn them less profit?
Of course, on the flip side, just because the free-to-play model is only currently being employed by the MMOs further down the food chain doesn’t make it any less of a legitimate business model. If it keeps the game ticking, provides players with entertainment and new content and keeps the developers in jobs then honestly who cares what the spurring motivation behind it all was.
Regardless though, the really good news is that it’s us, the lil ol’ player, who stands to benefit from this new trend of big name MMOs turn F2P. For instance, it’s giving me the perfect opportunity to get stuck into LOTRO without having to spend a penny and another opportunity to check out Champions Online again. Oddly enough, I find myself quite looking forward to the prospect of the latter. I played the game at launch, didn’t think too much of it (although I didn’t hate it or anything) and then promptly forgot about it completely. A F2P version will be just for the what the doctor ordered to tempt me into checking it out again.
At the end of the day so long as players keep voting with their wallets and lack of demand curtails cost then we’re going to end up with a lot more alternative ways to play our MMOs which is definitely a good thing. But the most scary thing of all? It actually seems like capitalism is working as intended.
P.S. Any predictions about what game will go F2P next? My money is spread evenly amongst Star Trek Online, Age of Conan, Warhammer Online and possibly even Aion.