Here we have a question that has been in the head’s of many MMO fans and a matter of much debate in the gaming industry in general.
There are currently 3 major types of payment model when it comes to MMO’s, free to play, pay once and your good to go and those based on a monthly subscription. First we’ve got the Free To Play model which lets players download and play the game entirely for free, some games (especially those who were once subscription based and have since turned free) let you enjoy their stories and all the game’s content but limit you in the number of characters you can create or the number of available features in character creation, for example. Some extreme cases even block your ability to use general chat if you don’t pay extra for it; basically some massive multiplayer online games call themselves free but they require you to pay for every little extra you desire.
Next, we’ve got the “pay once and never again” module which basically consists on you buying the game on a store (or digitally) but then having full access to it, forever, with no need for monthly payments. In these games there are still places where you can buy extras with real money. Guild Wars 2 is a perfect example of a game using this method and it has proven to be a success if done right.
Last and definitely least, we have the monthly subscription MMO’s like the famous World of Warcraft, which require you to buy the base game and then charge you each month around 15$ dollars for the privilege of playing the game. These games provide you with a full experience very similar to the pay once model. This business model was introduced at the dawn of the genre and is disappearing as of late with the coming of the free to play trend that has been going on for quite a while now…
One of the reasons I’m touching this subject now is that The Elder Scrolls Online, an MMO that is being developed by Zenimax Online Studios has recently announced that it will follow the old subscription model where you need to pay for the game and subsequently 15$ dollars every month. Of course this has caused a huge uproar on the Internet with fans showing their dissatisfaction with this decision. Truth be told, they’ll probably keep the monthly subscription for a year at least and if their player base starts dwindling they might just make it free to play down the line, the same thing Star Wars The Old Republic did. They probably want to make as much money as they can, as fast as possible in order to cover for the expenses inherent with the making of these sort of games; I don’t agree with this decision and no explanation will suffice after I’ve seen that Guild Wars 2 made it just fine without requiring subscription, the same goes with games such as Lord of the Rings Online and many, many more.
So, is Free to Play the way to go for MMO’s in the future? Yes and No.
Yes, the trend is here to stay and we’ll see more of these free games in the years to come and No, I don’t think that is the way they should go, I’ll say that again, I don’t think free to play is the way to go, but before you try to murder me, at least let me explain. There is an inherent cheap look to most free to play games as of now, and I don’t mean that EVERY free game is and feels cheap but the truth is that a lot of them do, I therefore believe that the pay once model is the best one available as of now. It is a win-win type of deal, players only pay once and are sure to get a more refined game and the developers themselves make money from selling it. Accompany that with a real money shop ingame full of customization options and extras plus charge real money for top notch expansions filled with new content that justifies the money players will need to spend. Lord of the Rings Online has been doing this expansion based content and it has worked for them like a charm.