About a week ago, Tobold spoke about how he feels that the MMO gold rush is over. In the wake of the phenomenal and unprecedented success of World of Warcraft, several MMO developers popped up all over the map, and the market was flooded with clones, underfunded or badly designed (original) ideas, or incomplete products as studios rushed to capitalize on the MMO gold rush. Tobold goes on to argue that the F2P model actually forces developers to make better games because otherwise the player will not move past the free content.
While I am not entirely in agreement with the last statement, for we have seen several games that purposely restrict content and box it into “paid content”. These models, which limit what the players can experience in the start, at least for players like me, have no appeal. Free-to-play to me implies that I should be able to experience the game in its entirety at the start. I should not be subjected to archetypes that I am not interested in, or a class that I have no interest in playing. Sure give me the content in paid categories higher up in the levels, with more areas opening as I opt to pay for them, but if you show me limited content in the very beginning, I will likely leave in the very beginning. This is probably the reason I cannot move past the first few levels in Champions Online: Free for All. Because the only archetype that I thought I would enjoy, I am having next to no fun with.
That being said, I think the F2P gold rush is just beginning. With the resounding success of several games that switched from a subscription model to F2P (hello LOTRO), more and more studios are producing AAA titles that are free-to-play with cash shops. Just today, one of the most hotly anticipated new MMOs and one of my favorites, The Secret World revealed its payment plan. There will be a subscription (which I will pay gladly), but along with it, the game will feature a cash shop for “clothing and convenience items” to avoid the pay-to-win slippery slope so many other studios have been accused of. I thought this was interesting. They are not F2P at launch, but depending on the success of the subscription-based model they have a cash shop all set and ready to roll at launch. Shrewd Mr. Tornquist, very shrewd.
The bottomline is that the MMO genre is in a constant state of evolution. Old, anachronistic and archaic concepts are beginning to bore the pants off of veteran players. WoW, despite constant innovation, an accelerated timetable for endgame content and now with more Vitamin C, continues to lose subscriptions. Now granted they still have over 11 million active subscribers, but the dip is noticeable, tangible and quite possibly a herald for the coming times. F2P is the latest gold rush in the MMO-sphere, and it is here to stay a while, because it allows developers to milk more doubloons out of their players with with every single content update, cosmetic or otherwise. I don’t expect this gold rush to change any time soon.