TOR goes F2P: So what?
August 1, 2012
The development team for Star Wars: The Old Republic has announced that they mean to switch to F2P by fall of this year. The announcement has led to widespread “sky-is-falling” comments from detractors, saying that this is “proof” that “TOR is dying”. Me? I just shake my head, as usual. What was that bit about history? Ah, right. We’re doomed to repeat it over and over again.
I’m no stranger to dishing out criticism to MMOs, especially when they flip over to F2P, but the truth is I’ve become a little bit more laid back and have taken a look at the bigger picture. LotRO is the only MMO I have ever really been able to get into, so take that for what you will in my “experience”, but when Turbine announced that LotRO would be switching to F2P, I did what TOR players did as well: I said, “This is proof that the game is dying”. I thought it was obvious. It had to be, right? Subscription-only seems so much more profitable.
Except it isn’t, and developers are quickly realizing that. There has been an underlying stigma that has lived on in the American market that “F2P is bad”, or it’s the mark of a Korean grindfest MMO (because Asian MMOs usually run on F2P RMT markets). However, American investors took notice that F2P wasn’t a switch, it was an opportunity. While many American MMOs have made the switch to F2P, it’s not actually “Free 2 Play”. Instead they have implemented a hybrid business model—one that still offers the subscription, but also offers a “free” option. However, that “free” option is completely tied to an RMT in-game—one in which another type of currency is used to either buy items or features that would be otherwise locked to “free” players.
Essentially it’s just another way to nickel and dime the customer. Unfortunately everyone is caught up in their vitriolic upheaval to see that, so, of course, the common consensus has been, “F2P means your MMO is dying!” As I said, I thought the same thing of LotRO and instead of being proven right I’ve been proven wrong. For the first time in over three years, Turbine is producing an amount of content players have not seen since the days of the Mines of Moria expansion, throwing out tons of marketing and interacting with their community. Allow me to repeat myself: Turbine hasn’t done this before. They’ve only been doing it recently, and because they say F2P has been giving them have exponential profit increases.
Why is this? Because F2P makes more money off of players. This is what a lot of people don’t realize. That real-money transaction in-game market isn’t just for unlocking features for “free” players, it also offers items that subscribers can also buy (hence why so many hybrid models also “award” subscribers with a monthly stipend). Eventually the RMT gets its own development team where “store-exclusive” items appear and both free players and subscribers want to buy them. It’s genius and it’s making people tons of money.
Furthermore, almost all of the American MMOs are switching to this hybrid model, or, at least, seem to be planning the switch, as it seems it was the case here for TOR. If anything, this was planned from the beginning—remain a subscription MMO for your first year so that you can make money off the initial craze and then, as your cooling-off period approaches, open the doors to F2P and laugh all the way to the bank.
“But Agamemnon, our vitriol is based in fact! TOR is sinking! And look at AoC! It went F2P too! Look how that worked for them!” Ah, yes, my little dumpling, thank you for bringing that up. Age of Conan is a title I have talked about before and had previously announced that “it sucks, it’s going to die” (paraphrasing here). I even jokingly called it “Age of Tortage” because the starter area was the only fleshed-out part of the game. Don’t get me wrong. I wanted to see it succeed—any MMO that pulls from a fantastic literary source should stay afloat, if, at least, for preservation’s sake—but AoC was mismanaged by a producer that thought Funcom was GM (“We’re too big to fail”).
Except initial-success MMOs don’t “bounce back”. If your business model is dependent on reaching World of Warcraft subscription numbers and marketing it as a “WoW killer”, then you’re gonna have a bad time. Time and time again we see this rookie mistake happen—developers think they can be like Blizzard. Can we all just agree right here and right now that Blizzard have not set the standard for what a successful MMO is? They operate on a level beyond success. They poop money and then wipe their butts with hundred dollar bills, flush it down a toilet made of gold, which then travels through diamond-lined pipes, and then sits in a septic tank lined with emeralds and rubies.
Success for an MMO is actually, “Are you still operating? And for how long?” Numbers are worthless when everyone’s playing on different servers and at different times in different areas and at different levels. Rarely will you see hundreds of people gathered together in one spot and, if you do, people will complain about it because it brings an unbearable amount of lag. So when people say, “But TOR is losing hundreds of thousands of subscribers!” I say, “Uh, duh?” TOR hasn’t even been out for a year. This is exactly what happens with MMOs that are marketed on popularity—they get over a million people on startup. That’s not impressive, that’s normal for any new MMO. LotRO boasted that statistic in the first few months they were out as well.
Losing initial subscribers is a thing in the MMO market; a thing many people refuse to believe because it’s so obviously connected with the idea that massive profit is being lost. I’m sorry folks, but that’s going to happen with every new MMO, and no matter what the developer does, they will always lose that initial startup population. We’re talking about people that buy games on a whim when they don’t have the time to play them, so reality eventually catches up and says, “Hm, I’m paying $15 a month for something I don’t use.” The other side of that coin are people who bought into the hype expecting something other than an MMO and instead got exactly that and said, “This game is just like every other MMO!” Dog’s biscuits, of course it’s like every other MMO! It’s an MMO, for crying out loud! No matter what you do or where you go, you will always find kill x deliver y quests to the umpteenth degree in any MMO. Just like regenerative health is a standard in shooters these days, so is quest structure in an MMO. If that’s such a huge problem for you, have you considered that MMOs are just not your type of game?
People, you need to get used to the fact that this F2P hybrid model is the future of the American MMO market. Now, I won’t rob you of your, “TOR is sinking!” rally, because everyone likes a good circlejerk, but please put facts before fiction. This was planned—this is how MMO markets operate now. And as much as I joked with my friend who kept saying I should join him in TOR and I said I would once the game went F2P, this does not mean that the game is “dying” or is “on its way out”. It means it is surviving, and possibly succeeding. Time will only tell how successful it will be, of course. But yeah, if you want to believe a triple A developer and producer are just pissing in the wind, then be my guest and see my vests. My bet is on EA knows how to do what it does best: make money.