Funcom’s Craig Morrison believes MMO players have come to expect the titles to either launch free-to-play, or switch over to the options relatively soon post launch. The later, is a problematic expectation, according to the firm’s Age of Conan creative director.
Speaking with Gamasutra, Morrison said more games will launch with the free-to-play model as it becomes the accepted model for MMOs, especially in western markets.
At present though, the problem developers face is that if the game isn’t free at launch, potential players will hold out until the game’s publisher adopts the business model.
“I think you can definitely see Western games being designed to start at the gates as free-to-play games, because that’s what the market will expect,” he said. “That’s what the users will want, from an accessibility point of view.
“Eventually it only stands to reason that people’s thought process is ‘Oh, well, I’ll wait till it’s free-to-play,’ and that’s not something we want as game developers. You don’t want players to be going, ‘I really want to play that game! … But I’m going to wait.’”
Funcom was one of the first MMO developers to adopt the model with Anarchy Online in 2005, followed by Age of Conan in 2010. Many subscription MMOS which have resisted the free-to-play option thus far, have at least made the games free up to a certain level – which is essentially an extended trial – and its a trend Morrison feels is “disappearing fast.”
“That will no longer be a model which clicks with the players; they’ll more be looking for, ‘We expect a free-to-play offering,’” he said. “Players expect a large amount of content for a considerable amount of time on a free-to-play basis.
“If they see the added value in moving into a hybrid, or a subscription, or buying something through a virtual store, then they will. I don’t think players are averse to spending money if they think they’re getting added value.”
Morrison said with MMOs, subscriptions and free-to-play can be seen “as tools,” and used well, will result in hybrid solutions which work.
“We don’t categorically go, ‘Subscriptions are dead; there will never be subscriptions anymore,’ or, ‘Free-to-play is the only way to monetize your games,’” he said. “I think it depends on the game and it depends on your project.”
The latest MMO adopt a hybrid model is Star Wars: The Old Republic, which will launch its free-to-play option tomorrow, November 15.