Monday, 19 October 2009

Freehammer: Age of Microtransactions

With the recent announcements that Dungeons & Dragons Online has gained a 40% increase in subscriptions despite making it free to play and with rumours that Turbine will follow this up by making Lord of the Rings free to play is it going to become more common for MMO's to follow this business model?

Could WAR go free to play?

For those who maybe don't know what a F2P business model means, it's basically to strip down your game, drop maximum levels and gear, lock off some of the content and offer what's left as free for anyone to play. Basically an infinite demo mode. To get the 'full game' you spend real life money to get points/tokens/currency which is used either online in the game or through a web based store to buy goods. These goods range from healing potions and an extra character slot to an increase in level cap and whole new areas to quest and explore.

This is great for the casual player who wants to pop down five (insert currency of choice) and play the game for a while, they can get some stuff (some permanent, some not so permanent) and play it fine. Heck they don't even need to pay anything and still contribute to the community by making the servers busier and helping other players out by grouping with them.

Those players who decide to go for a paid subscription get pretty much all the goodies with in game priorities (server queues, first to play expansions and new classes/races and subscriber only perks and benefits in game) so those who continue don't feel they've missed anything out.

Could this work in WAR? I'm hesitant to say "Yes" or "No" for a few points.

One of the key reasons this has worked well in DDO is that the game is totally based on PvE and subsequently you're not competing with anyone other than yourself and group mates. As soon as you start adding in someones credit card into a PvP game you lose a lot of the skill where everyone before was on an even footing. You can just buy "Deff Choppa of da 'Kax" instead of grinding out medallions from player kills to get it. Would you be happy if the player with the Tyrant armour set waded in and crushed you because half of it was bought and the other half he got after a week or two of doing Vulture Tomb in Land of the Dead (which he just bought as well).

While I'm tempted to say "Yeah it would suck to be bested by someone who had better gear because they bought it" I remind myself that individuals can easily disappear in WAR when the zergs start rolling in and a player with full Sovereign right now still gets crushed as quickly as an Annihilator set player when a group of 6 or more appears around the corner screaming "WAAAAAAAAAAAAGH!". The game isn't based on duels or skirmish combat. I could certainly see premade scenario groups with bought high end gear crushing pugs, but then it's no different from now.

The best way to look at it would be the following... Everyone spends (for the sake of argument) $10/month on WAR. If you can't play for a couple of months would you feel so far behind the power curve that you're unable to compete? What difference would it make to you if Warhammer went free to play and you decided not to pay to keep up with the power curve? Would you be ground into the dirt anytime a paying player rode past you? Probably not. A good player is still a good player no matter what.

IF WAR ever went F2P (and I honestly don't see it happening with a year old game.. just yet) then I could see a limit on the renown rank at 40 and access to only the Empire & Chaos tier and races. You can raise the renown cap by paying for every 10 levels but you still need to earn the renown to use the gear you want to get (or buy). Special scenarios can be offered to paying players, the live events will be cut back for non paying (but paying get full benefits). Free respecs for paying players and cosmetic changes (Goblins on spider mounts, Orcs on Wyverns and Dark Elves on dark steeds for example). There has to be a 'need' to spend the equivalent of $10/month to make the change worthwhile but it must be done in a way as to not break the campaign and to make sure that the player who spend the cash will feel they are getting a good deal for the money.

It's certainly not outwith the realms of possibility and I wouldn't run away screaming (I've seen the change it has made to DDO) but I think right now EA would rather wait and see how things go with the Western F2P market with Turbines MMO's before making any major upheavals to the library they have.

Mind you, I also see the best way for EA in a years time would be to offer an "EA Online Subscription" which grants access to Knights of the Old Republic, WAR, Ultima Online and Dark Age of Camelot for say $20/month. That way they can mask true subscriber numbers and I'd be tempted to pick a sub up like that (being a former player of UO and DAoC)...