Back in 2015, I made a few predictions about MMORPGs that I thought had a chance – even if only a slim one – of going free-to-play. Of the six games we addressed, two of them have gone full or at least semi-F2P; Eve Online has a F2P option, while The Secret World dove headlong into F2P in 2017.
The other four games on our list – Elite: Dangerous, The Elder Scrolls Online, Final Fantasy XIV, and World of Warcraft – haven't made any significant changes to their payment models over the past four years, but those aren't too surprising. I gave them all low-ish chances of doing it, and they didn't do it. That means I was correct, right? Right?
That said, I was a little prescient in one of my side comments:
- Also, I decided not to include games that haven’t yet launched, like Warhammer 40,000: Eternal Crusade or Star Citizen. Maybe next year?
Eternal Crusade is indeed free-to-play now, while Star Citizen launched in 2016 … I mean, 2017 … I mean, 2018 … I mean … fine, so I didn't get that one right. Then again, wiser people than I have tried to predict Star Citizen's launch.
This time around, I'll expand my list to include titles that aren't necessarily RPGs but still fall firmly in the “multiplayer online” category. I think all of them have at least some possibility of going free-to-play in a year-or-two-ish timeline, and I'll use the same 1-to-10 scale to grade that chance. And if I do this again four years later, maybe Star Citizen will be launched?
Daybreak Game Company's “sequel” to PlanetSide 2 was a surprising announcement late last year. The surprise came in two parts: one, that the developer's much-talked-about upcoming shooter was a PS2 spinoff, and two, that it wouldn't be free-to-play.
We're still a little in doubt about that second part. PS2 still pulls in decent enough numbers and can theoretically sustain itself for years to come. Whether a related game, which is going to be similar to tons of other games on the market, can come out and do the same thing, while charging a price of entry, is a bit more dubious.
My thought is that PlanetSide Arena is going the Bless Online route, of launching with a box price to get as much frontloaded money as it can before going free-to-play shortly down the line. That's probably part of Daybreak's plan already, with F2P happening six months to a year after launch, probably late this year or early next.
F2P Possibility: 8/10
There are bad launches, and then there's Fallout 76. At this point, I'm not sure if the reason we're hearing less about the game is because it's fixed its biggest problems or because people simply don't care anymore. The fact of the matter is, though, that the game still has a Metacritic score around 50 and a user score of around 2.5, regardless of platform. It's made glorified Ark mod Atlas look polished and smooth by comparison.
Unlike with PlanetSide Arena, I think Bethesda fully expected Fallout 76 to be a paid game from now until eternity. Reality might have stepped in, however, and the top brass at the company is probably at least floating around the idea of a free-to-play switch. It's tough to get a handle on player numbers at this time, but as of this writing it's got about the same amount of viewers on Twitch as Eternal and Realm Royale. Those aren't bad titles, but they're not games that AAA studios look to emulate with one of their core IPs.
It might be longer in coming, as Bethesda resists F2P in the hopes it can fix what's wrong with Fallout 76 – expect a “here's everything that we've improved since launch” panel at E3 – but it's not out of the question and probably more likely than not. (Edit: Literally minutes after we published this article, we discovered this. It's just a rumor, but maybe the "later" on a F2P switch will become "sooner.")
F2P Possibility: 6/10
Even more so than Fallout 76, Artifact was probably mean to be a paid game forever. In this case, though, Valve baked Artifact's financial structure into the game itself, with its real-money marketplace to buy and sell cards. As such, going to a F2P model would require a lot more than adding a cash shop and figuring out how to incorporate free players.
And players it might need. Steamcharts has it steadily declining following an upward bump in late December, and the overall numbers are far worse than the game it's based upon, Dota 2. Card prices have also been in the decline, if this site is any indication. Valve will almost certainly do everything it can to keep Artifact in its current form; it might not even be possible to convert it to F2P without changing it at its core. I'd guess that a complete shutdown would be more likely.
F2P Possibility: 3/10
Black Desert Online
Black Desert Online is in a weird place. Out of all the games on this list, it would probably be the easiest to convert to F2P. It's already got a robust (some might say too robust) cash shop and the base game sells for just $9.99, is often discounted, and sometimes has extended free trials.
That said, it still isn't F2P, after nearly two years. Are Pearl Abyss and Kakao bringing in enough with their minimally priced box sales that they don't see the need? The game still draws over 10,000 concurrent players at all times of the day, so it's hardly struggling. Then again, the same could have been said of Guild Wars 2, which was similar to BDO in terms of its base price, frequent sales, and cash shop. I hate to sound wishy-washy, but it's really anyone's guess as to whether BDO follows suit.
F2P Possibility: 5/10
Speaking of games that aren't hurting for players, here's Overwatch. True, the shine has worn off some and it's not as dominant as it once was, but it's still a pretty big deal, and a game that I wouldn't have thought destined for free-to-play before hearing about Michael Pachter's prediction.
I'm still not buying it, though. Sure, more players would equal more loot box sales, which are always going to light up executives' eyes. But I think that Overwatch is still strong enough to maintain its box price – with the occasional discount – through 2019, and I don't think that Activision will force the issue.
And let's not totally discount another popular shooter that went free-to-play late last year and has been getting roundly trashed by players since. Blizzard might take a look at the reaction to Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and realize they don't want that same kind of tarnish on their shiny game, no matter how many players a F2P switch might bring in.
F2P Possibility: 2/10
Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 Blackout
On the other hand, Pachter's other F2P claim seemingly has more weight behind it. CoD:BO4BO – you know what, I'm just going to call it “Blackout” – is a battle royale mode for one of the most popular shooters on the planet, and one way to make that shooter even more popular would be to unlock a part of it for free. You get cash shop sales in Blackout and maybe some additional box sales of the base game – it's a win-win!
Blackout is currently free-to-play until Jan. 24, which might be a test run of the concept in general. Team Fortress 2 did the same thing, going free-to-play for brief period in 2011 before going full F2P shortly thereafter. Maybe those aren't directly comparable cases, but we'd still be surprised if Blackout doesn't follow in the footsteps of pretty much every other BR game out there (save PUBG) fairly soon.
F2P Possibility: 9/10
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.More Stories by Jason Winter
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