WildStar: Producer Says F2P Model Not Dead; F2P “Not A Magic Bullet” (PCGamesN.com)

It seems like such a waste of effort to have to explain why you’re NOT going Free 2 Play for a new AAA MMORPG.

Two years ago, the gaming community turned up their noses at F2P declaring an MMORPG had “failed” and was “worthless” if it swapped to that business model, let alone if that was the business model at launch. “Pay 2 Win” was freely associated with most every F2P game. Even now, there are quite a few MMORPGs that still have subscription models in some format: WoW, EVE, EverQuest II, RIFT (you can still subscribe for extras), TERA (same thing as RIFT), SWTOR (tons of bonuses for subscribing), FFXIV:ARR, and Elder Scrolls Online (launching next year), to name several.

I find it odd that gamers now expect F2P for AAA MMORPGs at launch? If it’s a good game, I have no issue subscribing for $15 a month. If it’s F2P and not P2W, I have no issues paying $15-$20 a month via cash shop items.

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Not Jeremy Gaffney.

We’ve talked a couple of times to Carbine Studios’ Jeremy Gaffney in the last few months. He’s currently promoting his promising subscription MMO, Wildstar, and on each occasion he’s made the same broad point: in the massively-multiplayer market, things are not necessarily as they seem.

“Games that look very successful in free-to-play may or may not be making profit,” he told us most recently. And then added, cryptically: “Games that look unsuccessful in subscription may actually be more profitable.”

“Different games with different business models work in a very different fashion,” he said of his new game’s chances in a bustling field. “If you look at City of Heroes [which Gaffney produced] compared to Guild Wars, it looks like City of Heroes is a smaller game.

“And it is, fewer people play City of Heroes, they peaked out at – I don’t know the numbers – something like 200,000. But 200,000 subscribers paying $15 a month, if you do the math, that makes about as much money as selling 6 million boxes, if they last long enough.”

Gaffney cited a “couple of reasons” for Carbine’s decision to steer clear of free-to-play for Wildstar. Both lie in the “variability” of the payment model.

“There’s variability as a player because you don’t know if you’re going to get sucked in and pay $1,000 a month, because some people do. As a publisher it’s a juggling act because most the games I’ve seen end up devolving to the point that 1 or 2% of the players are paying $100 or more a month and they’re actually funding most of the free players, which can be up to 70 – 80% playing completely for free.

“As a publisher [that variabililty] can be distracting because when you’re making money you never know when that’s going to go away. As a player it’s distracting because generally you have a very different experience if you’re playing for free – and if not, then why the hell pay?

“So free-to-play’s not a magic bullet.”

Instead, Carbine have adopted an Eve-like business model: CREDD. Players can buy CREDD items for real-world money from the developers, and trade them with a second group of players for in-game gold. This second group can then cash in their CREDD for game time and, if they’re earning enough gold, play the game for free indefinitely.

“A bunch of games have done similar systems,” said Gaffney on the system’s inspiration. “Eve’s is probably the most popular and the best known. So many people don’t know what PLEX is and so it’s tough to describe. It’s such an efficient way of taking players that want to pay a lot, who want to put extra money in the game, and then that directly funds other players game time and so it’s a lot more direct.

“So essentially one set of players create their time, [another] use money to pay for the sub, and it’s a win-win and it pisses off gold farmers because it’s a legal source of trading gold with other players and so gets in the way of gold farmers.

“And we like pissing off gold farmers, too.”

Hear hear. But what do you make of Gaffney’s assessment of the MMO market? This is a man who’s been around since Asheron’s Call, so tread respectfully.

World of Warcraft: Revenues Drop 54% In 6 Months

I’m pretty surprised at the massive drop in revenue over the past six months.

Over the past nine months, WOW has faced stiff competition from newcomers Neverwinter (reached over 2 million players) and Guild Wars 2 (closing in on 4 million copies sold). Plus, several of the top P2P MMORPGs swapped to a F2P model, drastically increasing their respective player bases (RIFT, SWTOR, TSW, etc.) Even Final Fantasy XIV’s hectic launch will be taking its fair share of customers as hundreds of thousands play concurrently now (so expect 1.5-2 million copies sold).

While I hardly think this is “the end” for WOW, it does feel like the past few years have had less and less interest overall in the franchise. Pandas may not have paid off.

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World of Warcraft

SuperData Research predicts that World of Warcraft is on course toward a microtransactions future.

In April, the subscription-based massively multiplayer online role-playing game made $93 million in revenues, a huge loss from $204 million seven months ago. Blizzard also lost about 1.3 million monthly active users from its Eastern player base.

While introducing microtransactions beyond pets and mounts would help, a total switch to free-to-play would be “too much of a jolt for WoW,” reads a post on SuperData’s blog.

Players are responding to the microtransactions that are available, however, which is a positive sign for Blizzard.

“Despite major declines in total revenues between September 2012 and April 2013, the game has seen an increasing conversion rate for [its] current, add-on, extra-game store, and its microtransaction revenues have held pat overall,” says SuperData. “What it tells us is that dedicated WoW players are interested in — and will spend money on — microtransactions. By bringing this system into the game and allowing for power-ups and performance-based microtransactions, WoW hopes to further entice players to spend.”

Just don’t expect a free-to-play WoW anytime soon.

Elder Scrolls Online: Subscription Model Revealed (Gamasutra.com)

Well, not exactly shocking. It never occurred for me that ESO would make a great F2P model as fun, fluffy costumes and such would seem really out of place. That said, ESO has announced a subscription fee: $15/month. That’s been the standard monthly fee for AAA MMOs for the past several years. Thanks to Gamasutra’s reporting of a German gaming website’s interview, we have plenty of the reasons why.

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With only a few big exceptions like World of Warcraft and EVE Online, the subscription model has largely been abandoned by MMO developers.

So it’s notable that one of the most highly-anticipated MMOs — Zenimax Online’s The Elder Scrolls Online — will be charging a $15 monthly fee (/€12.99/£8.99).

Zenimax Online general manager Matt Firor talked about it openly in a new interview with German website Gamestar, and a Zenimax rep confirmed as much with us.

“Charging a flat monthly fee means that we will offer players the game we set out to make, and the one that fans want to play,” Firor told the website. ESO will also include 30 days of play with the purchase of the game. “Going with any other model meant that we would have to make sacrifices and changes we weren’t willing to make.”

The decision flies in the face of current MMO trends, but Firor says the move is “not a referendum” on free-to-play business models, though he does imply that with subscription-based games comes a higher level of quality.

“F2P, B2P, etc. are valid, proven business models — but subscription is the one that fits ESO the best, given our commitment to freedom of gameplay, quality and long-term content delivery,” he said.

It’s a noble sentiment — to want to give players the keys to the castle for a flat (monthly repeating) rate. But players often storm the castle, do everything there is to do in the castle, and then are left twiddling their thumbs wondering what else there is to do, other than being resentful that they’re paying $15 a month. It’s players’ ability to burn through content faster than a developer can create it that gets certain kinds of subscription-based games in trouble.

Firor said for ESO, the plan is to “have new content available every four to six weeks.”

Star Wars: The Old Republic is the most obvious major example of a subscription model that failed. The game had the talent, resources and license to theoretically warrant $15 per month, but in the end, subscriptions dropped off rapidly after a strong launch, and the game adopted free-to-play. Other games like Rift and Tera are just a couple other examples of games that have made the subscription-to-free-to-play switch.

Firor said, “The fact that the word ‘monetized’ exists points to the heart of the issue for us: We don’t want the player to worry about which parts of the game to pay for – with our system, they get it all.”

ESO is slated to release on PC, Mac and next-gen consoles next year.

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