And Then There Were Two: What can we learn from Rift's recent announcement?
Normally, I like to walk slowly into my articles and let people ease into my points. Not this time, though. In the wake of last week's news regarding Rift, it seems there are two notions that are on most people's minds.
WoW and EVE will go free-to-play “soon-ish,” too: FALSE
Now that Rift is making the transition to free-to-play, that leaves, in my estimation, just two major MMOs with a mandatory subscription fee. Yes, there are others, but these are the two biggies, and the ones that most often get the “When will it go F2P?” treatment.
I don't see it happening in the foreseeable future, for either game. EVE Online is still, against all odds, growing, so why would you mess with what works? Though not a F2P switch, we all saw what happened when someone tried too much with a reasonably successful sandbox in Star Wars Galaxies, and there's no way CCP would want to go down that road.
And World of Warcraft, while down, still has 8.3 million players. Similarly, Blizzard's not going to risk that kind of substantial revenue unless they are 200% certain a F2P switch will make even more money, and the game's not at the point yet where such a switch would make that unquestionably automatic.
If either game starts to seriously backslide, or if new management comes in that foolishly thinks it can do better than the last team, then maybe we'll see one of those games take the plunge. But it's not happening for years, if even then.
The subscription model is dead: TRUE
Except for those games “grandfathered” in, I think this one is true. I have a hard time seeing any significant MMO in the future launching – and, more importantly, sticking with – a subscription model.
Reports of Rift's level of success are all over the place, but it seemed to be reasonably stable. Still, as mentioned above, companies don't make this move unless they think they can make more money with the new model than they did with the old. Trion Worlds clearly thinks that way about Rift, which leads you to believe that it wasn't doing as well as might have been hoped.
It lasted two years with a sub fee, which seems like an eternity these days, after games like Star Wars: The Old Republic, DC Universe Online, The Secret World, and TERA abandoned theirs a year or less into their life cycle. (Star Trek Online also went about two years before making the switch.) There's just no reason for anyone to look at the current MMO market and believe that a monthly subscription fee is sustainable for a new, unproven game.
Not that some folks might not still try. If I had to, I would guess that The Elder Scrolls Online will launch with a sub fee, because ZeniMax thinks it has a sure-fire winner. And if I had to venture further, I'd guess that it will go free-to-play in less time than the two years it took Rift.
Smaller, specialized games, particularly sandboxes like ArcheAge (also under Trion's banner) and Camelot Unchained might still require a sub fee, because people who like those kind of games don't have as many options and are more likely to pay a premium for the exclusivity that a subscription offers. And who knows what Square Enix's plan is for Final Fantasy XIV.
But as a rule, I'd be wary of any game that says it's launching with a mandatory subscription fee. Chances are, it's not going to last.
About the Author
Jason Winter is a veteran gaming journalist, he brings a wide range of experience to MMOBomb, including two years with Beckett Media where he served as the editor of the leading gaming magazine Massive Online Gamer. He has also written professionally for several gaming websites.
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