RIP: Pay to Play Business Model

It is official, the pay to play business model is dead.  MMOCrunch announces the time of death as May 25th, 2011.

Ok, that was bit dramatic, but you get the point.  Over the last few years, especially the last two, the free to play MMO business model has skyrocketed in popularity and for good reason.  Not only are the games 100% free to play, but you don’t even need to buy anything to get them.   Developers and publishers love the model because they’re making as much money, if not more, then they would have with the P2P model.

Over the last 6 months Turbine has abandoned P2P with both DDO and LoTRO.  Atari switched Champions Online to F2P and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if I heard Star Trek Online going the same route within the next few months.  Today Funcom announced that Age of Conan would be going F2P this summer. Funcom already released another F2P title Bloodline Champions a few months ago and with The Secret World coming up, I put my money on it being F2P as well.

Below I’ve compiled a list of pay to play games that over the last 6 months or so have abandoned their subscription models and jumped on board with F2P.  If I missed anything, let me know.

  • Age of Conan
  • All Points Bulletin
  • Dungeons & Dragons Online
  • Lord of the Rings Online
  • Global Agenda
  • Ragnarok Online
  • Champions Online
  • Everquest 2 Extended

The fact is that the F2P business model not only makes good money, but it makes finding new players much easier.  If you know you have to play $15/month to play a game, you’re probably not going to waste your time trying out a ton of different games, unless you already think you’ll like it.  Even if there is a free month trial and free download.  Games that are always free are more inviting to try out because if you like it, you don’t need to do anything except continue playing.

However after saying all that , I personally like the pay to play model better.  I just don’t like the feeling of knowing I can’t access certain items or areas unless I pay for them.  It shatters the fantasy that you’re in another world where anything is possible, when the game stops you and asks you to pay for something.

Even though we’ve announced the P2P model dead, I don’t think it will disappear anytime soon.  There are some games that it works very well for like Eve Online and World of Warcraft, however don’t be surprised if Blizzard’s next MMORPG is free to play :)

13 Comments on RIP: Pay to Play Business Model

  1. You seem to aply a false logic, the idea that since so many of these MMO’s have went f2p that the future of all MMO’s is f2p. Along the way you discount the MMO’s that are far more successful that the f2p MMO’s you listed yet are p2p. Its not just WoW and EVE that have successfully made their product based on a monthly sub, you have Aion, City of Heroes, DCUO, and Rift.

    What you are seeing with the f2p market is a group of MMO’s that are either second tier non AAA MMO’s or AAA MMO’s that failed. Failure to capture the p2p market and then being forced to go f2p just so you can make ends meet is not being successful.

  2. Number of games does not mean numbers of players willing to go with the F2P model.

    Also, notice that not a single one of those games listed is new. What I see is that F2P is a natural progression of MMO’s on the downhill slide the are trying to lengthen their lives (some very succesfully as well). I thought this was obvious since the time when DDO did it to such great effect (affect?).

    As far as my hopes go, I hope that GW2 does amazing well and proves, again, that neither subscriptions nor micro-transactions are needed to be successful. Just create a quality game and people will flock to it.

    PCGamer just posted an article about F2P this morning. Though the interview failed to make the distinction between including RPG elements into a non-RPG and having a business model that relies on those long term RPG elements, it does lend credence to dev’s/pub’s jumping on the F2P bandwagon.

    http://www.pcgamer.com/2011/05/25/chris-taylor-on-why-he-couldnt-go-back-from-free-to-play/

    Also, one can make the argument that WoW already has micro-transactions AND a subscription, so it’s making millions by using both business models. I think this is the same that Blizz’s next MMO will be: Both models combined. WoW might go to F2P in 10 years after its successor comes out and it loses its status as top dog though.

  3. Actually DCUO has been rumored to be going F2P as well.

    I do agree with you to a point that MMO’s going from P2P to F2P are MMO’s that failed, at least in some regard. However it seems like F2P is becoming the dominant way to go from the start. Aion and Rift are both successful P2P, but they are the exception. In a few years, I’d bet that we are going to see F2P MMO games taking up 90% plus of the MMO market.

  4. It’s pretty wildly too early to pronounce DCUO as a successful P2P game, especially with many the aftershocks of Sony’s online debacle yet to be felt.

    In any case, I haven’t yet seen an argument that supports the thesis that only ‘failed’ AAA or non-AAA MMOGs go F2P. Everquest 2 was an entirely self-supporting and successful game as a P2P title. So was LotRO. And both were pretty much the definition of AAA titles during development and launch. All I’ve seen is people dividing the world in to P2P and F2P and declaring the F2P’s as ‘failed’ because… uh.. because Keen and Graev say so?

  5. I actually agree with this post. It seems that most MMO players will pay for one game subscription, and that’s it. In most cases, over the past years, this game has been WoW. How does a new game compete with such an established title? Reduce the risk in the eyes of new players by making it free to play. This doesn’t mean a game has “failed,” or is of a lesser quality. Rather, it’s a matter of capturing market share by using a different tactic.

  6. You do sound a bit like a hypocrite. First you say that F2P games are 100% free to play, and later you claim them generating more money then P2P. See where I am heading? While you are right about P2P slowly dying, I dont like the advertising tone of your post. It is well known that F2P games suck more money then P2P ones.

  7. @An Yes I do make that point, but the shops in most F2P games are optional, you never really have to buy anything to continue playing. The fact that they are optional and making as much as P2P, just shows how much stronger a model F2P is.

  8. How about some proof that F2P make more than P2P? You can’t just come along and say something that COMPLETELY goes against common knowledge and sense without some evidence to back it up.

    Hint: There isn’t any evidence. WoW makes more money on subs(and the hourly rate that is the norm in Asia) than every single F2P game combined. Add in Rift, Aion, EQ, EVE, and it looks like F2P, while a very viable structure, simply isn’t able to compete with the cash P2P can be in.

    P.S. I’m not trying to bash F2P. I’ve enjoyed several F2P, most notably LoTRO, but it’s not quite simply mind-boggling that anyone would even try to say F2P makes more than P2P.

  9. You seem to aply a false logic, the idea that since so many of these MMO’s have went f2p that the future of all MMO’s is f2p. Along the way you discount the MMO’s that are far more successful that the f2p MMO’s you listed yet are p2p. Its not just WoW and EVE that have successfully made their product based on a monthly sub, you have Aion, City of Heroes, DCUO, and Rift.
    What you are seeing with the f2p market is a group of MMO’s that are either second tier non AAA MMO’s or AAA MMO’s that failed. Failure to capture the p2p market and then being forced to go f2p just so you can make ends meet is not being successful.

    Guess what, Aion is dead.

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