Tobold's Blog
Thursday, July 04, 2013
World of Warcraft goes Free2Play with patch 5.4

Or not. Or partially. Or something.

Well, the *actual* news is that WoW Insider datamined the 5.4 patch from the public test realm and found an Enduring Elixir of Wisdom giving +100% xp from killing monsters and doing quests and is being sold in the "5.4 In-Game Store".

Now datamining PTR patches is fraught with danger, as many things that have been reported from there never went live. I sometimes suspect Blizzard is putting stuff deliberately into those patches just to judge reactions to the "discovery". And even if Blizzard decides to sell xp buff potions for real money, it doesn't follow that they are going to drop the subscription business model. At least not necessarily this year. I am pretty sure that at some point in future World of Warcraft will really go Free2Play, and there will be howling and gnashing of teeth in the industry. Fact is that there are more people playing World of Warcraft today for $15 a month than many Free2Play MMORPGs have active players. It is easy to see how WoW could get 20 million or more players by dropping the subscription fee, and in the process getting various other games into trouble. If you can only survive by underbidding the market leader, you'll find that underbidding free is difficult.

But regardless of when and how World of Warcraft actually goes Free2Play, Blizzard will need to come up with some better ideas for their "In-Game Store" than selling xp buffs. In many other games, especially Asian grinders, xp buffs sell because advancing without them is slow and annoying. The famous "time-poor, money-rich" players buy xp buffs to compensate for their lack of time. But as it is, xp gain in World of Warcraft is already too fast for the casual player. Blizzards policy of trying to keep time to level cap constant even when levels were added to the game led to people being already annoyed that they outlevel a zone before they even finished the quests in that zone's major quest hub. A double xp potion would only make sense if at the same time the regular xp gain speed would be cut in half, or even reduced by more. Which, in my opinion, would actually make World of Warcraft a better game.

I said on a previous topic that despite the speed of levelling, heirlooms are incredibly popular and many complain that they don't boost xp in Mists zones.

A lot of players will want to buy boosts for levelling alts from 85 to 90. A boost potion is preferable to the heirloom system as they earn revenue and don't rob players of the pleasure of getting gear upgrades as they level up. Nothing more disappointing than finishing a quest and finding that the reward is worse than the item you have had since level 1.

The boost potion speeds levelling for those that don't care about questing without trivialising it for those for whom questing is the game. I wonder if boost potions should have been introduced long ago instead of nerfing the xp requirements at lower levels. That would have avoided the current problem of out levelling a zone before the quest line stories are resolved.

The natural step forward from here are vp and rep boosters but that won't in my opinion be palatable alongside a sub as they will feel too mandatory and too much like double charging.
I'm quite sure that Blizzard purposely pushed that XP elixir into the patch just to check our reactions. And it worked (being on mmo-champion means everyone knows about it).

It's a good way to see if you are stepping in the right direction without actually affecting the "real" game.

We should define the word "casual" here. It's true that leveling in WoW is not tedious and boring anymore (like it used to be, sometimes, years ago) but... leveling a fresh character 1->90 still takes a LOT of time, if you dont invest a considerable amount of time AND you don't know tricks, mechanics and places to maximize the xp/hour.

The average Joe who really doesn't spend the entire day on blogs, guides, youtube channels and so son... will probably be the first player to benefit from those XP flask.
I completely fail to see the link between +100% exp and F2P.

Leveling in WoW is already trivial and short and you can already buy yourself a +200% exp boost with refer-a-friend. This sound more like a way to pump money out of the altoholic crowd than a significant change to the game (or to the subscription).

BTW WoW already advertises as F2P (up to level 20, can't go back to it as soon as you buy a subscription.....).

@ Helistar

The recruit-a-frind is a good way to get a nice boost plus a nice mount. But you need a second account, it's a bit more "tricky" than just buying an easy XP flask.

I bet the flasks are for those who don't play 4 hours a day and/or don't know every aspect of the game, which makes the leveling experience much much longer.
For me the "heirlooms are popular" and similar arguments always looked like they never came from the casual players, but sub-group of WoW players who believe that the game starts at the level cap.

Note that if you don't raid or PvP, the level-cap game with its repetitive daily quests is a lot less interesting than the leveling to get there. So the echo I had from casual players (including my wife) is that they didn't want to level faster, and often even wished they could level slower.
The "heirlooms are popular" argument merely highlights the demand from "some" players to speed up levelling.

Your wife and many of my friends won't want to buy a boost potion.

But you seemed to be implying that because levelling is relatively fast, there wouldn't be a large market for the potions. Clearly there is.

I'm casual, I just like short 5 man dungeons. I like playing alts to vary the game play in those dungeons.

MOP sucks for me as there are no new dungeons and only a small pool to begin with. But worse I can't send a flying skill book to my alts to speed up levelling them to 90 and that levelling experience is very dull for me.

Id gladly pay for an instant level 90 option or the flight skill book as I hate MOP levelling. Or at least I would if there were new dungeons to play. I remain unsubbed for the rest of this expansion.

This may very well be a test for the Eastern market where WoW has lost a substantial amount of players recently according to Blizzard themselves. Even with WoW's liberal payment models like those in South Korea or China, they may be unable to compete with F2P games there.
Reading about this in the usual places has been amusing.

I thought there was no chance WoW 6 would be ftp. But ftp is really accelerating, WoW sub losses are pretty high. Most importantly, Titan is no longer scheduled to arrive soon. So IDK.

I can't imagine WoW going f2p. I can't imagine WoW not going f2p.

Rugus, I really like the trial balloon theory. Except I am not sure that listening to your forum posters is that wise. People who care enough about WoW to read MMOC are not the problem; it's the replacement players.

GC has said that people are staying with WoW about as long as they used to, it's that fewer new players are coming in. If you are a WoW heroic raider, you are not going to leave over $15/month especially since no game offers something comparable. But WoW loses about 10% of subscribers every month, half of which don't return. And if you are casual and starting out, then even if you think WoW is great it's hard to believe you would not find one of Rift, SWTOR, TSW, GW2, even Terra and Aion attractive.

Leveling in WoW seems to me in a trough: too short for many, too long for many.

I wish they could allow the players to select: My character chooses at 21: I can get say 400% xp boost but my gold drops, gathering procs, crafting procis are also significantly reduced. (or sell it that if I accept 25% xp, I get many non-combat buffs to crafting and QoL) I would not deliberately forgoe BoAs or monk buffs for no benefit.

So leveling matters and the gogogog! crowd can begin complaining about "not enough content" sooner.

In the meantime, /popcorn and enjoy the show.
The big thing about WoW going F2P is that Blizzard would have to make up for the corresponding loss in subscription dollars.

Even though Blizzard can just about print money with WoW's subscription, the problem is that Activision/Blizzard is a public company, and investors expect an upward trajectory. If WoW went F2P, the profits from WoW would take a huge hit as people would dump their subs. I would expect in that case that we would see true "pay to win" items in a Blizzard game store, because that would be the easiest way to keep raiders paying out money.

The XP potion makes sense as it is. Raiders wanting to get an alt up ASAP would buy it. I certainly would have. You're basically buying like 3 days of your life back.
Someone know when Blizzard will inform how many subs they bleed second quarter of 2013?

Sub numbers are announced as part of their quarterly earnings conference call that almost all public companies have. So it will always be within a couple of days of 3 months after the last one. AB is on a calendar quarter so the quarter just finished and they will get everything final and announced by mid-August.

It's so hard to predict the WoW losses because we don't know the Asian and Western breakdown. 750k?
I fail to see the big deal.

I've seen more than one guy buy a lot of heirlooms for their first (and most likely only) alt. It probably doesn't feel like it, but for all purposes that is the same as a XP-Potion that vanishes after the toon reaches Mists. After that thought its only a matter of calculating how long it took to grind those heirlooms and then arriving at the money-to-time-ratio.

The target group is also easy: People who think the game is at max level who also have money. So basically everyone who used to raid a lot when going to school, has a job now and still holds to his olds believes even if there's less time to raid now (slightly exaggerated).

Plus, there's free to play and there's free to play. After all we all saw Rift going free to play twice. Depending on how much content is exposed without paying, there's basically absolutely no difference between free to play on the one side, and a subscription game with additional item shop and a free trial on the other.
Based on what we have seen with RIFT (the point where a switch to F2P made sense), it will be a very long time before WoW drops down to the sort of subscriber numbers where a change in business model will be worthwhile.

Not in the next expansion or even the one after that IMO. Yeah sure the sub losses may accelerate but at the same time Blizzard appear to recruiting and increasing the size of their team, they are really working hard to halt the decline. Combine that with the fact that more and more people are actually able to play WoW as time goes on (entry level laptops with half decent 3D accelerators) and I am quite optimistic about the games future.

WoW has always done well versus other MMORPG's in appealing to non-traditional gamers. Middle aged women for example. This huge market is still relatively untapped but as entry level laptops improve (or even tablets) just imagine what could happen.

I'd love to know just how RIFT's revenues look under the F2P model versus their final days under a subscription model.

We saw from a previous topic on F2P that many of Tobolds readers find it absolutely outrageous that they should actually have to buy anything from the game store as they naturally have a god given right to a truly free game. They expect the shop to only contain "useless" or "undesirable" items that only "Mr Someone-Else" will want to buy.

I can't imagine "Mr Someone-Else" buying enough hats to offset the hundreds of thousands of subscriptions that have been lost. Did we ever find out the true number of subs RIFT had in its final subscription days? I'd put the figure lower than the number of subs Blizzard lose in a month!
Back when I played, I would have definitely been interested. Every expansion I maintained one of every class. Leveling was only really fun for the first 3 characters or so. Then it was a pretty boring grind getting the rest to max level. It got better after they added xp for dungeons and battlegrounds, but it still felt like I grind.
I still don't understand where the term "Free2Play" came from. Is it text slang?
Thinking about the impact of a F2P WoW on the rest of the MMO market is interesting. Especially if you enjoy schadenfreude.

If they were to follow a similar monetization scheme as Rift, rather than say... SWTOR, so people could pretty much pay for things they want, a la carte, instead of feeling nickel-and-dimed at every opportunity? I predict the industry impact would be devastating.
Cam, you might be right there. Whatever one says about Blizzard, one thing they are EXTREMELY good at is looking at whatever everybody else does, and then producing a "best of" version of it. I am pretty certain that if Blizzard went Free2Play, it would be a very good version of Free2Play.
Re "a very good version of Free2Play." I do agree that Blizzard is quite competent.

The interesting question is good for whom? Is there a version that would be good for Activision-Blizzard shareholders that would be deemed "good" by the denizens of the forums?

I am not sure if the existing WoW managers can do it. They certainly have the skills to do it; do they have the mental flexibility to change their whole mindset?

I am not sure if many existing WoW customers are flexible enough to go with a paradigm shift; it may be about replacing rather than retaining customers.
@Hagu Really depends on how they do it. If it's basically the full game, as-is, with the ability to buy extras, especially ones which could also be purchased with in-game currency/activities (like say, extra transmog options, personal bank tabs, levelling boosts, bonus drops in raids, pets, pet-battle consumables), then a lot of players aren't going to notice the difference.

There will always be the people who complain that they're forced to buy/do things that they don't want to in order to be top-level competitive, but we saw from the daily quest complaints (a vocal minority with absolutely no evidence, constantly and convincingly proven incorrect by the Blues - they didn't HAVE to do dailies at all, they invented their own social pressure to do so in order to be as optimally 'ahead' as possible), if you put a dollar barrier up to anything, if it's carefully priced in such a way that it's very difficult to get ahead by spending any more than what they used to spend on a sub price, they'll really have NOTHING to complain about.

Eg: "Go buy X booster/equipment for the $15, capped at a max of one per month, and you're absolutely no worse off than when you were paying a sub, AND you're buying the best there is to buy."

Toss in bonus monies from the people who really only want to log in once a weekend, but who didn't feel that was enough activity to justify a subscription? More money than before, more activity than before, more social pressure than before... It really could be a huge boost to numbers.

Because it is WoW, there will always be people who promise (and follow-through) on quitting in response to change. Any change. At all. I'd bet significant money on the 'If WoW goes F2P, I will quit," crowd being incredibly tiny compared to the, "WoW's going F2P, huh? I might go wander back and check it out," crowd.
If you can only survive by underbidding the market leader, you'll find that underbidding free is difficult.

I don't think anybody plays MMO A instead of MMO B because MMO A is cheaper. Ok, teenagers without credit cards perhaps - but they aren't the target audience of WoW anyway.

In fact, it's possible that people pay for WoW out of nostalgia or habit and then play because they payed. If it were free they wouldn't play because they didn't pay. Sometimes psychology goes strange ways..
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