Free-to-play MMOs: The future of the genre or doomed to fail?

Free-to-play MMOs: The future of the genre or doomed to fail?

Carbine Studio’s online game, “Wildstar,” has been released for just over a year, yet they have already announced that it will be going free-to-play starting this fall.  



“Wildstar” is one of many massively multiplayer online (MMO) games that has had to throw out their monthly subscription fee and base game cost in order to keep people playing. Going free-to-play is one of the few ways developers are able to compete with the widely popular “World of Warcraft,” which has gotten away with charging $15 a month for over 10 years. How can a company make money off of a free game?


Adding microtransactions to an MMO is generally looked down upon by the gaming community, but it’s the only way for free-to-play games to make money and stay in business. However, if microtransactions limit the gaming experience to those who don’t pay up, developers risk losing their game’s players. Choosing which in-game content a developer should charge real world money for can make or break a free-to-play title.  


After “The Lord of the Rings Online” went free-to-play, microtransactions were implemented into the game that charged players for quests, expansions, skirmishes, and instances. If a gamer wanted access to a large portion of the game’s content, they had to pay hundreds of dollars, which was likely the reason behind the game’s dwindling fanbase.                  


Tera gameplay


En Masse Entertainment’s online game “Tera” is among the most popular free-to-play MMOs, and one of the reasons for this is that microtransactions can only be used on cosmetic items. Microtransactions for cosmetic items can help companies make money off of their free-to-play games, while not limiting content for those who don’t purchase them. When “Tera” was in the process of turning free-to-play, En Masse Entertainment promised in a press release that those who didn’t purchase the game before it went free-to-play wouldn’t miss out on any content.     


“They will experience game content, character growth, holding political office, and other in-game determinations of status and power exactly the same way all players have since the game launched,” said En Masse Entertainment.


“Wildstar” developer Mike Donatelli believes that the free-to-play version of his game will be better because Carbine Studios is continuing to add to the game. Donatelli also stated that the game’s new and old content will be available to every player, and making in-game microtransactions “will not provide any competitive advantages over non-paying players.”   


Is Wildstar going free-to-play the beginning of the end for the title or will this only bring in more players? How do you feel about free-to-play games and microtransactions? Leave a comment or talk to me on Twitter @Karbowski_Devon.


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