It feels strange to speak of “the olden days” of gaming and be talking about 2004. That’s when Blizzard released World of Warcraft and basically changed how people thought about games with a monthly subscription. A niche Everquest audience was suddenly ten million people strong, all handing over cash on a monthly basis. On some level almost all the major players have been chasing that same thing since, be it Call of Duty with its Elite service (which for the record, according to an IGN article posted earlier this week, has about 10 million subscribers, go figure) or Bioware’s banking that the Star Wars license will make The Old Republic into the next behemoth of the mmo space. Sadly for them, it’s not. It’s not that the game is bad but that the market has changed. The future is free.
The Old Republic is losing subscribers. According to this May 7th IGN article the game went from 1.7 million active accounts in February to 1.3 million now. Still profitable for sure, but losing 400k people is no doubt something EA is frowning upon. I played (and paid) for SWOTR for two months before cancelling my account. As someone who has been playing WoW since about a month after it’s launch, I couldn’t justify paying two $15 a month subscriptions for what is basically the same game. With a marketplace full of MMO’s asking for money, such as Rift or the newly released Tera, I think most gamers will be faced with the choice of picking a game and most likely sticking to it. Sadly for Bioware, you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression with a pay to play model. However, a free to play game? It’s first impressions over and over again.
Hypothetical time! The Old Republic is free to play. It will of course have micro transactions (profit must be made somewhere) but anyone can download and give the game a shot at any time without paying a dime. I try the game at launch, enjoy my time to a degree, but deem it not that different from the other MMO I’m playing and say goodbye. Back in the real world a second, Bioware just released the 1.2 patch to Old Republic which brought an absolutely massive amount of STUFF to the game (seriously, read these patch notes). Maybe the game is significantly better now. Maybe those changes would have pushed me over that edge and back into playing again. I’m not going to pay $15 to find out. Would I spend an hour or two messing around with a free to play model? Absolutely. With no barrier to entry any improvements to the game don’t just affect those playing, but affect those interested. Previous players, friends of those who playing who hear good word of mouth, its first impressions all over again. The days of releasing a game then forgetting about it are long gone, so if a company goes out of their way to make content for their game for years after release, the barrier to experience it should not come with a price tag.
Now of course, making that content costs money. So the risk of free to play is that while more people may play your game, if they’re not coughing up any cash, it doesn’t help you. I won’t get into the numbers side of such things, mostly because it would be boring and I hate math. But a quality product that people spend hours of their life with on a consistent basis will compel people to open their wallet. The stigma for free to play meaning crappy is going away. Look at this trailer for a F2P FPS (that’s fun to type!) called Blacklight Retribution.
I saw this trailer and learned about this game being free to play last week, and plan to try it probably once I’m finished with this article. I’m not a huge FPS person, but that trailer looks it could have come from any triple A shooter from the past five years. That a game could look like that and be free? I’m down to try. Maybe that’s all smoke and mirrors (although the Metacritic score of 78 would leave me to believe otherwise) but since the there’s no cost to finding out, I will be giving that game a chance. Will I ever spend money on whatever boosts or goodies they offer? Probably not in this case, but…..
My whole impetus for writing this article is a little game called League of Legends. I had tried LoL once almost a year ago, played one game with a couple of buddies and thought “meh”. It sat on my hard drive untouched for a year. Then another friend expressed a desire to really give the game a shot, so seeing as how the icon was literally still on my desktop I said sure why not. And it was more fun than I remembered it being. Soon a couple more of my friends joined in on the fun, which only made it more engaging. As I learned the meta game and started being a bit better at it (I am still terrible. I am in no way saying I’m a “good” League of Legends player. I play my bot games, die too much, and have fun damn it!) I found myself wishing I had certain champions or having that awesome skin for the ones I played the most. I spent $20 on Riot Points, as LoL developer Riot Games calls them, for a couple of reasons. One is those champions and skins. Two? I wanted to show my support to Riot. Here’s a game that has given me hours of entertainment at no cost. My $20 makes my game more enjoyable and gives Riot the resources to make those first impressions I was talking about earlier all over again to me every time the free champions of the week roster comes out on Tuesdays. The free to play game model is not only here to stay, I predict it’s here to make paying a monthly subscription for a game look silly very soon.
Filed under: Commentary, Games Tagged: | bioware, Blacklight Retribution, Free to play, League of Legends, Malphite, Matthew Lesko, MMO, Rift, Riot Games, sith army, TERA, The Old Republic, World of Warcraft