Yesterday it was announced that after a lackluster launch period, The Elder Scrolls Online will go free to play as we all predicted. I personally didn't play the game but I had quite a few friends who did. The general consesus was that it was a game with an identity crisis. Not quite comitting to being a full fledged MMO nor an Elder Scrolls game. Will free to play solve that problem? Who knows! That's not what this is about. This about the now almost common expectation that an MMO will launch with a subscription fee, lose followers in a month and at the six month mark will go F2P. We saw this with DC Universe Online, Star Wars: The Old Republic, The Secret World and Star Trek Online. I have a few questions to ask, with this growing trend, is it really worth it to buy a MMO day one? Can subscription based games work in today's marketplace? If not, what could work?
Now I dabbled with the MMO between 2010-2011 with the release of DC Universe Online and Star Wars: The Old Republic. Both games were fun enough but the combination of new releases, weak player counts and a growing sense of boredom, I left them after a couple of months. Mainly cause I didn't want to pay 15 bucks for a game I played only 2 or 3 times a month. With the amount of games going f2p it appears that many share that mentality.
It's already expensive enough to be a gamer. On PC you have to spend hundreds of dollars to keep your rig updated, console games have to spend close to $400 on a new system and then have to sign up for yearly or monthly subscribtions just to play online and the games themselves are already $60. So, paying monthly to play a game you already paid $60 for is a bit much for some.
WoW is one of the only games that has been able to consistently charge a subscriptions it's whole life span. Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is one of the only modern MMO's I can think of that has managed a subscription it's whole lifespan. So given this growing reality, why do publisher's still push for this model?
Free to Play also isn't the most consumer friendly model. It's associated with predatory practices because essentially you're luring the player in until you drop a pay wall in the shape of middle finger right when they want to progress most. It sours the player from even wanting to spend money on the game. Worse yet, we've seen developers pull out core functions only to make players pay to have them. So consumer hesitance to play games with the "F2P" label is understandable.
In my opinion, I think that the model Destiny has employed could be doable. I know it likes to label itself a "shared world shooter" but let's be really, it's an MMO through and through. You paid your $60 bucks and got access to the world, no subcription fees. Despite it's shortcomings, the game definately has an active community that doesn't seem to be going anywhere soon. Developers could start developing their MMO's around those confines. I think it would make their games more profitable and the players more likely to stay with it and buy the expansions. The MMO needs to stop trying to be the new WoW. It's not gonna happen, point blank. If a Star Wars game developed by BioWare couldn't replicate that, I think it's time MMO developers start redefining their measures for success and profitability.
We've also seen the MOBA take off by simply being free in the first place. League of Legends and Dota 2 are two of the biggest games on PC that are completely free to play. Perhaps this could also be a model to look at. Forgo any attempt to charge the player for entry and use microtransactions for strictly cosmetic additions the player wants. I know the subscription fees are mainly for maintaining the extensive servers needed to power these virtual worlds but with the way technology has advanced in the 10 years since WoW launched, there has got to be a way to subsidize that cost, yes?
The MMO is a genre I've always wanted to get into but this weird cycle new releases in the genre has gotten themselves into leaves me not wanting to buy the game at launch and simply disinterested when it goes F2P.