With the internet still a very young medium it can be difficult to predict how well major changes in business plans can go. This applies greatly to games played over the internet due to the costs involved in development and continual uptime, with many companies previously towing the standard lines this is none more apparent than in the world of massive multiplayer online (MMO) games. Blizzard after six successful years has set the standards in MMO’s from their hugely successful title World of Warcraft which has broken the 12 million subscriber mark and with each account being charged £8 a month it is obvious why other companies have tried to emulate this practice, with many MMO’s being introduced over the past years which include AION, warhammer online, star trek online, All points bulletin, lord of the rings online, etc and with many more new MMO’s in development the ever growing category is constantly expanding but can any of them really compete with World of Warcraft (WOW)? Considering the level of development and content that has been added into WOW with the latest addon making it even more accessible for new players it is hard to imagine any other MMO will be able to rock the boat, however Lord of the rings online (LOTRO) was the first major MMO to change its business plan completely and become free to play.
Although LOTRO was not breaking any boundaries or making any waves in the online communities it was experiencing a reasonable level of success and retaining quite a large audience to the game which was no doubt in part due to the franchise of lord of the rings. However turbine (the developer for LOTRO) decided to switch to a free to play model in September of 2010, turbine had already experienced success with moving dungeons and dragons online to a free to play model this venture was quite high risk due to the micro transaction method that is in free to play games. Micro transactions are the way free to play games generate the bulk of their revenue by selling items in game such as vanity pets/mounts and in some cases weapons and gear. There is a fine line that the developers must tow to keep people playing the game for free without starting to feel alienated and pressured into buying items from their store to enjoy the game to its fullest. This is why most free to play games don’t sell the most powerful items or skills that make the game more enjoyable but more vanity items, skins and quirky things that are not vital to enjoy the game.
It is now four months since turbine took this leap with LOTRO and how has it panned out? Well they have enjoyed a great level of success with the revenue tripling over the short time it has been free to play with many new players joining on a regular basis. Free to play games to appear to be rising as we go into 2011 with the former EA title all points bulletin being purchased by K2network to redevelop the title and relaunch as a free to play title which they believe will breathe new life into this product that many feel was prematurely dropped by EA. Although the free to play model is nothing new and there has been games around for years adopting this model the way many new and big titles are starting to look to this model is interesting and even Blizzard the kings of MMO’s have admitted to a project on a free to play MMO though no details are known and with many companies succeeding with free to play models it may herald a new future for online gaming, no doubt this year will yield even more free to play titles and of course some of the biggest MMO titles yet, it will be interesting to see which prove more successful in the long run.