When MMORPG’s first hit the scene way back in the early 1990’s, the increased cost associated with running an online game, from server maintenance to game updates, presented developers with a new challenge. How could they increase their revenue to overcome the added expenses?
From this dilemma, the subscription model was born. Gamers would not only have to purchase the game, they would then have to pay a fee for continued access to the servers to actually play the game. And in fact, one of the very first MMORPG’s, NeverWinter Nights, used a subscription model that was quite literal in its execution, charging gamers per every hour spent slaying beasts. We can thank the Gods of (insert random MMO fantasy world ruled over by a pantheon of Gods, which probably constitutes most) that THAT model quickly went the way of Final Fantasy XIV’s original staff members.
As the genre continued to grow, and more and more games all using subscription models hit the market, it became apparent that something was going to have to give. The trouble with this model was that it bred players who were wholly devoted to just one game. Many games were struggling to find new paying players or pull them from the other subscription based games, and this only intensified after World of Warcraft’s release and subsequent dominance of the subscription based market.
It was around this time that Free to Play Games first started appearing, many of them coming from Asia. It’s safe to say that early impressions of these games weren’t overly positive for the most part, and the payment model developed a poor reputation as a result, with free to play games being seen as inferior in quality to most pay to play offerings.
Yet despite this, a funny thing happened; free to play online games were pulling in huge amounts of players, and even better for developers, they were actually making money. You see, contrary to what some people believed, gamers WERE in fact willing to spend money on in-game items to help them level faster, or new duds to make them look stylish in advance of their next raid.
As a result, more and more developers entered the free to play market (Dungeons & Dragons Online, The Lord of the Rings Online, EverQuest II Extended, Alganon, APB, Champions Online and much more), which led to a veritable flood of new offerings hitting in recent years. The flood of new titles put even greater pressure on those clinging to the old subscription model, forcing some of them to shut down altogether or switch from subscription-based to free-to-play.
This migration to free to play all but ensures that this payment model will thrive in the coming years, and with the increased competition in this space, should also ensure that the quality of new releases continues to grow with it. We can already see the evidence of this in many of the most recent free to play offerings such as Runes of Magic, League of Legends, Vindictus, Need for Speed World, Battlefield Play4Free, and much more.
What we’re seeing now are subscription-based quality games being released free to play, and this trend will only continue. It’s not really a surprise that this is now the case; with developers now confident they can make money and develop a sustainable revenue stream for the long term, they’re able to commit more resources to new free to play projects, and the quality of these games is increasing as a result. This whole trend will only continue to make it that much more difficult for subscription based games to find loyal, paying customers.
Of course, one of the great benefits to gamers with the free to play model is the ease with which they can test out and jump between different games, all without having to worry about fees. You can read game reviews and lists of game features until you’re blue in the face, but until you’ve actually tested out a game for a decent amount of time yourself, you really don’t know for certain whether it will be up your alley or not.
While many subscription based games do have free trials, you often have to jump through hoops to gain access to them, and then the limited nature of the trials forces you to cram large gaming sessions into a short amount of time if you hope to be able to make an accurate judgment on the game before the trial expires.
Free to play games also allow you to freely return to former stomping grounds and hook up with old adventuring buddies whenever you want. You don’t have to feel obligated to just one game because of a subscription fee that you want to get the most out of, and you don’t have to cling to playing that game until the bitter end, knowing that once you drop it, you’ll likely be dropping it for good. Instead you’ll be free to jump around and play whichever games you want, whenever you want.
So what are you waiting for? A whole host of exciting new worlds are out there waiting to be explored, with new friends to meet, new guilds to join, new battles to be fought, and new loot to be found. Get out there and enjoy the journey. The free journey.