Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
I would be happier with Free2Play

I haven't played my World of Warcraft characters for quite a while now, about 9 months. But it wouldn't be totally correct to say that I lost all interest in WoW. Rather the situation is that my low level of interest doesn't justify paying a monthly fee any more. And that gets us to spinks' thought of the day: Is it time for World of Warcraft to switch to a Free2Play business model?

I must say that I would be happier if both WoW and SWTOR (and all other MMORPGs) were Free2Play. I'm well beyond the point where playing many hours per month, every month, of the same MMORPG over and over is still fun to me. I'm currently subscribed to only SWTOR, but even there I'd rather stretch out my play experience over a longer period of time. As it is, I somehow feel sometimes as if I "should" play, to not waste my subscription, although I'm not really feeling like it.

Many people argue that Blizzard would never give up their monthly subscription model, because there are too many people still happily paying a monthly fee. But all previous games which switched to Free2Play reported at least a tripling of earnings; why should that not work as well for Blizzard, just at a larger scale?

And yes, I wouldn't even mind if they made money by selling gear, like Lord of the Rings Online now does. Not best in slot, but I'm pretty certain that if I restarted now, I couldn't even see any of the new content, because I don't have the minimum iLevel for it. Buying gear would be like buying access to that content. And in reality it is already possible to buy epics in World of Warcraft: You buy a tradeable pet for cash, sell it for gold, and buy epics with the gold.

So I say, bring it on! Make World of Warcraft Free2Play with an item shop. And Star Wars: The Old Republic as well, while you're at it!
How would a F2P scenario work in a WoW setting where Ilevel drives access to content progression, Tobold?

I would hate to think that yet another minimally supporting Ilevel requirement would come into play and affect progression based solely on the fact that someone just doesnt want to pay a monthly sub. I just dont see how it could be incorporated knowing that the many tiers of levelling content(dungeon level, heroics and raiding) would be determined solely by someones willingness to pay.
The problem is that F2P is, for the majority of WoW/SWTOR players, actually going to cost more in the long run. The Subscription model caters well for those people that the two MMOs are aimed at, because they're not designed to keep a casual "maybe we'll spend money, maybe we won't" group of people.

Despite WoW 'catering for casuals', with whatever debate on that you want, its still a high involvement themepark MMO. Most people want to have everything, and their access to that is generally controlled by their time input (given the low skill barriers to non-heroic raid content). Requiring people to pay for the premium features, or requring expenditure for specific items that control access to content (not talking mounts/pets, but actual character performance improvement) would turn a lot of people away, because they'd think "If I want to get anywhere, its going to cost me more and more money". The $14.95 a month model works well simply because that's cheaper than your average involved player would pay on the F2P content. If you pay 4 days a week, and you'd have to spend on average less than $1 per day to get the equivalent cost on an F2P. I haven't played any for a few years, but when I did, I ended up paying $30 to $40 a month because I wanted to access everything consummate with my time input.

So if WoW isn't worth it for you, don't pay, or play a different. Don't wish a change in the payment model for the rest of us millions who want a cheap MMO.
I'm not sure about Brent's maths.

I know when it comes to LOTRO, casuals like myself found ourselves spending quite a bit more than we originally intended to, and I personally ended up with a spent amount that would've equalled a pretty standard subscription fee. I started to worry about what the hardcore completionists might have spent, but then I discovered that you can gain VIP/premium status by basically paying a subscription fee, which gives you access to pretty much everything you'd otherwise pay to buy, with an included allowance to also buy miscellaneous cosmetic items or boosters which aren't included in the sub. So, for a while, I subbed. Then, when I got bored, I could still visit, and there's every chance if I started playing more than once every couple months, I might drop a couple bucks on some fast-travel boosters.

So, people who DO want to spend more than a subscription CAN, without the folks who just want to pay a sub being disadvantaged.

If it hadn't been free, however, we never would've spent anything because we never would've picked it up in the first place. The subscription IS a barrier to entry. You just can't see it if you're already paying it.

Pretty much ANY amount of money is significantly more than zero money. Hence the significant income boost for games who removed that barrier to entry.

This much should be pretty obvious maths. And I wouldn't be surprised if Blizzard isn't already doing that maths by testing how many people paid for a subscription after reactivating their expired accounts when they were offered 7 days free a few months back. I know I didn't. The sub is a barrier to entry. If they removed it, I would re-sub, and maybe drop five bucks to access a new dungeon, or faster hearth-times, or some badass legacy gear I sharded/vendored a long time ago.

Which is five bucks from me they otherwise won't ever get. Which is substantially more than the cost of bandwidth.

This really does seem obvious. VERY obvious.

People who want to sub, can.
People who don't want to sub, now contribute more than zero.
People who want more than the sub offers can pay more than the sub price, which also currently isn't available.

The horror, it will be the end of WoW as we know it, all that money in Blizzard's pockets. No good can come of it, they should clearly go broke to improve their artistic integrity.

I'd say that WoW is still a year or two away from a move to F2P at minimum. Even though it's losing players, it's hard to see where it would pick up many more without a sub; most people who might otherwise be tempted are already bored beyond tolerance by it.

If it were free, I might indeed drop in occasionally, but only that. A recent attempt at the free-to-20 thing had me out and playing something else in less than 15 minutes.
I agree that there's not enough relevant content in WoW to justify a monthly fee - late in my WoW career I was literally logging on just once or twice a week to raid. However, I think that as long as there are millions of people willing to pay the monthly sub, it's not going anywhere.
play d3 and earn bliz bucks
Almost seems like the monthly sub holds back peoples spending (though of course they sold sparkle ponies by the million previously).

Really if you want to dip back in and only play, say, four days, it's a bit like buying a sandwhich, taking a bite and then throwing the rest in the garbage.

Or it's like buying a sandwich, then forcing yourself to eat all of it because it seems a waste to throw it away, but you don't really want to eat all of it.
@Brent: LotRO's model could be adapted: you either subscribe and get access to stuff as long as you stay subscribed, or just stay F2P, and you have access to the parts of the game you pay for. It's worked well enough for me, who have subscribed only for the few months I was playing "seriously".
Many people argue that Blizzard would never give up their monthly subscription model, because there are too many people still happily paying a monthly fee.

But all previous games which switched to Free2Play reported at least a tripling of earnings; why should that not work as well for Blizzard, just at a larger scale?

Err... because "tripling" was "tripling of an extremely low number," and was still below that of an equivalent number of subscriptions. There is no F2P game that doesn't wish it could sustain a subscription model. A dev walks the F2P path because that is the only way to get enough warm bodies in the door for things to function (MMO groups, fast match-making, etc).

Believe me, if the financial gurus over at Blizzard HQ thought they could go from $1 billion a year to $3 billion, F2P would have happened ages ago.
I think there are a lot of people who are in your situation Tobold who solve the issue by staying subbed. They can play WoW whenever they like, they just aren't very interested and rarely log in. However they like the option to.

That's part of the reason why it may not be economic for some time to change the business model.

On the other hand WoW is increasingly being targeted to a younger audience. F2P would see a huge influx of kids.
The main problem with "buy decent stuff with real money and no effort" is that you will kill the game, on the long run.

I stopped playing 1 year ago. Now, let's say I want to come back for 1 month and I want to play a Druid. I just have one toon, a hunter. So I pay a (new) service to switch the class.

Now I have a fresh level85 druid and I can finally enjoy the new content... even if I have no clue at all of the druid class.

That example is a bit extreme, maybe, but that's why allowing people to go "the easy way" would lower the overall skills and awareness in hard/tricky situations. Those who "know" the mechanics, the dungeons and the classes would have to stick with "rich" gamers who simply "want to see the content".

People would just cash-out some money for good gear, jump in any random dungeon and voilà. That would not work. It's not a matter of being "unfair", at all. It's just it allows lazy players to be even more lazy.
"F2P tripled earnings" - but is that going from a failing sub model? Or an already massive earner like WoW? I think it would be a massive mistake to imagine that because LOTRO tripled profits the same would happen to WoW. I would be incredibly surprised if there were enough people willing to spend the amount on micro payments to match WoW's sub revinue.
"The problem is that F2P is, for the majority of WoW/SWTOR players, actually going to cost more in the long run."

This statement is only true if you believe the majority of WoW/SWTOR players are hardcore players. Casual players get shafted by subscription games which depend on you paying every month even if you are not currently playing/don't feel like playing at the moment.

The reverse is also true. Hardcore players get shafted by F2P games.
Oh, I think I must read your blog too much... this was the exact same thought I had when I read Spink's post.

Another thing I was thinking about... how hard Blizzard make it to get Wow up to the latest version. I was thinking about resubing but I've uninstalled Wow and the thought of re-installing and then patching is just too much work.
WoW will go f2p soon (next year?) in my opinion. The dungeon finder lobby is perfect for a quick distraction and with transmogrification 'cool' looks on your gear can be sold without having you actually 'wear' it.

I still read the Nlizzard forums nowadays and here's a remarkable thing: In many cases the quality has become quite good. This is a bad sign for Blizzard, as it shows that only the hardcore of the harcore who really honestly care about WoW are still playing and commenting in forums.
Maybe the guild wars style "just buy the expansions" is the way to go to keep players in.

Personally it feels like I buy whatever the latest expansion is in WoW, play for 2 months, quit, and wait for a major content patch. I did that with Cataclysm almost to a formula!

Release: Level to 85, max professions, grind a bit of AH gold, get enough gear to theoretically access the raids, quit.

Troll Patch: Re-sub, get enough gear to access dungeon (wasn't much), quest out more of the zones, run each dungeon 1-2, quit.

Deathwing Patch: Re-sub prior to deathwing patch when troll dungeons were nerfed. Get gear requirement for LFR. Do LFR 1-2 times, quit.

Current status: Playing SWTOR, may return for MoP.

So, to look at this, a content cycle is about 18months. I spent $50 on the expansion and about 4 months sub for $15/month. $110 over 18 months of content.

That is pretty damned good if you ask me. As a consumer I am happy!
Well there is simple solution - sell the content - raid + PvP season access per 15 bucks per patch and 300 hours of server access. This also include some starter ilvl appropriate gear to qualify you for LFR.

If the playtime doesn't suffice - there is also the sub model.
Actually. I think I would be ok with it - but with limits. The leveling part of the game is so different than the raiding part of the game, that I'd be ok with F2P to max level, but with no access to raids. Maybe no access to max level crafting recipes, limit their access to the pet game coming in the expansion.

Really, the low level zones are empty. And the leveling game is rich in content that is going mostly unused. It would be nice to see them filled with players, at least have SOME players in them, and it wouldn't affect my game play at all. As long as they don't get to compete in raids with paying customers.

If the game really begins at max level, why not make the lower levels free to play? And it would get more people to try the game, or re-try the game, and possibly bring in new players.

Also, I don't have the time or energy to level characters. I would gladly pay Blizzard $25 or $30 for a pre-made max lvl character to use as an alt for healing or tanking with decent entry-level raiding gear.
I suspect that the games that tripled their income when they went FtP were basically dying on subscriptions. WoW isn't as robust as it was, but it's doing okay.
Anyway, I'd like to see it stay as it is if for no other reason than that it's good to see a variety of models being tried.
Atlantica Online and Allods are solid games with solid gameplay.

Give it a try.
But all previous games which switched to Free2Play reported at least a tripling of earnings

Ah, but did this last? Or was it just the rush after the initial conversion when lots of people decided to see what's new in F2P?
The major issue with going F2P with WoW is it would basically destroy most people enjoyment of WoW. As Chris stated, it's an iLvL progression game. The only way you would be able to drive sales for microtransactions would be to force something raid related to drive sales. This would be very bad.

Why? Well, you would get your absolute nightmare. As it would be raid content related, the elite hardcore would gobble up that gear as soon as it hit the store. Thus, they would become the major paying force. Soon after, you will have the vocal minority that WoW has 'not' been listening to suddenly become the largest voice of power.

That is the F2P real business model. The microtransactions show who your most avid buying market is, and then you cater to that market. A F2P WoW would cater so heavily to the raiding crowd that most of the non-raiders would rarely get content they'd enjoy. The only way for them to keep updating all areas of the game is to stay subscription, otherwise unlike most F2P games where we'd see more mounts/pets/fun stuff, we'll be seeing raid gear and more raid gear, or raid benefits.
Vote with your feet. If you haven't played LOTRO for a while, go check it out. I found it rather "meh" in the past, but since going back in December, I've been very impression. Almost all of my complaints are addressed.
wow was good between 2005-2007. after wrath it's become too casual, too easy, be idle in main city to get teleported to dungeons and raids using the automatic LFG system and i HATE this. I would pay for classic 1.12 server and tbc where the fun used to be in leveling and instances, no gearscore or ilvl/ achievements for that matter. that's my plea to blizzard
What most people miss in bashing F2P is that you have a choice. See I can pay more by buying gear to instantly get access to content. Or I can grind out lower level content and gear myself up, pretty much like you do today.

I think those that are against F2P are mad that someone would spend money and get to see stuff before they do. Paragon would have to buy their gear else risk getting world's first achievements.

Me I'm a cheap guy and would take my time grinding. But now that grinding is no longer costing me $15 a month.

Recent numbers have explicitly shown that WoW caters to casuals more than hardcore. Less that 0.025% of all players have completed a 2 month old raid on hard-mode. A month ago, only 4% had completed it on normal mode. As much as we might like WoW and talk about it, if you raid at ALL, you are not their target demographic for cash. If they sold raids in a store, they wouldn't make any money based on their existing player base.

LOTRO is a themepark MMO in nearly the exact same fashion as WoW and the F2P transition worked for them. EQ2 is in the same boat.

MoP pet battles SCREAMS of item store to me. How much have they made from sparkle ponies and pets already?

If it cost me 50$ a year to get all the dungeons in a game, I would pay that in a flash. I mean, I'm currently paying 180$ per year on a sub already right?
I hope that there always will be subscription based MMOs, and especially in case of WoW and SWTOR I hope they will never be "Free2Play".

Because "Free2Play" in the end means "Pay2Win". I could make many examples for this, the latest being LotRO. As you have read probably they sell now armor pieces in their store. When they switched to "Free2Play" they said they would never do that, but now they do. Now they say they would never sell End-Game-Items in the store, but just wait some time ...

„Niemand hat die Absicht, eine Mauer zu errichten“
Sorry, I didn't read your post fully (or did you add an paragraph later?), which makes my previous comment useless.
If you don't have the item level required it means you haven't seen the previous content as well. And may I ask you why now you want to see the the current content and miss the previous one?

I know that when a player say "I want to see the content" is a big myth because what they really want is shiny loot and nothing else.

The correct answer should be :

See the previous content, earn the item level you need for the next while you see the previous that you haven't seen and then step to the next...

The good news is that Blizzard the last 2 years have changed the progression feeling by reseting the gear through easy dungeons every 3-4 months..

So the Real Answer is:

Run some dungeons for 1-2 days and you are ready..or if still 2 days is not good to skip 3-4 months of progress that other made you can still "cheat" as you can read here:

But what you say here is not far from the players philosophy nowdays and I don't know if it is wow fault that taught them this way...
One of two things will eventually happen.

Blizzard will either raise the level cap on Trial/Starter Accounts to 40 or 60, or they'll begin charging a $15/month fee to use Battlenet: "Now with free WoW subscription!"
It fascinates me that LOTRO, possibly the least competitive, totally non-PVP game that's out there, is full of people who go bonkers about someone else buying 'advantage'. Advantage in what? Enjoying the game? Competing with you to ... I don't know, level faster?
F2P is a terrible idea for Blizzard, but more importantly, a terrible idea for WoW as a game.

Tobold, I was with you in that it isn't totally correct to say I have lost all interest in WoW. However, it is a jump to say that I would start playing again if it were F2P. The fact is, I would happily pay 15 quid a month for the rest of my life for a game with REAL progression (ala TBC), which was hard enough to be challenging, but not so hard to involve a delicate dance on rinse-and-repeat (ala Cataclysm). Most of my friends that played are right there with me. I would also happily become a hardcore raider again, given the right circumstances (e.g., 4+ nights a week). Moreover, Blizzard's insistence on iLevel to spur on players to get better and better gear to keep them interested has no end. The gear becomes the goal rather than the experience of progression and teamwork (which has been entirely lost in Cataclysm).
Hmm, I'm not sure I would agree with your assessment Tobold. The way I see it, I think F2P is an easy way to drive demand toward your product; give them a taste of what your game is like and hope that they'll pay up.

The problem is that WoW is so monolithic and well known that I think a large portion of MMO players have already played WoW and burned out of it. Making it F2P wouldn't give it the same boost as some of the other F2P games you've mentioned; those other games relied on the fact that most people have never tried their game before, and therefore can offer a new experience for free. WoW doesn't have anything new to offer any more.
"As it is, I somehow feel sometimes as if I "should" play, to not waste my subscription, although I'm not really feeling like it." Agree completely.
I'd totally go back to WoW if it was f2p, one of the main reasons I left was because I didn't feel like catching up with expansions and then giving in to the subs, only to quit playing when I had to go back to school or work.
It's always interesting to me how...odd a person's thinking can get when it comes to the subscription model.

You say you feel the need to play more to justify the $15/month subscription. How many hours would you have to play to justify the cost? Do you compare to a movie, where $15 gets you around 90 minutes of entertainment? If you bought an 8 hour game for $15, would you think that was money well spent?

Or is it a matter that you used to play 80+ hours a month, and now that you only play for 10 or so it feels like you aren't getting your money's worth?
Another thing to keep in mind is that all those games that went F2P also experienced a drastic increase in the number of players (mostly non-paying ones, of course). And, as Syncaine reminds us every now and then, handling large congregations of people isn't exactly WoW's forte.

Can Blizzard's servers cope with the influx of 50 million players (including a significant number of bots)? What about 100 million?
@Giannis: "I know that when a player say "I want to see the content" is a big myth because what they really want is shiny loot and nothing else.

The correct answer should be : See the previous content, earn the item level you need for the next while you see the previous that you haven't seen and then step to the next..."

Incorrect. If the answer was: "see the previous content ONCE, earn the item level you need for the next.." then your 'myth' accusation might be valid.

But as it stands, you are wrong. The answer at the moment is, "See the previous raid content 20-50 times and 'daily chores' every day for a few months to get the appropriate drops to see the next content."
And for people who just want to see the content, that's a whole lot more grinding and dicking about than they (I) want. Seeing the content does not equal getting the gear appropriate for the next content.

When players say, "I want to see the content," they MEAN: "I want to see the content without signing on to a 2nd fucking job for the next six bloody months and hunting down an appropriate guild, struggling against established players with higher DKP, dealing with guild drama/splits/merges and rage-quits, and nepotism, shitty PUGs, and failure to progress to the next content."

And I think that's a perfectly valid argument. Because in the face of that, I and other burned out raiders are more likely to shrug, flip the bird, and go play other games which are actually fun uses of our time, leaving the 'hardcore' to go stew in their own juices.

Recent numbers have explicitly shown that WoW caters to casuals more than hardcore. Less that 0.025% of all players have completed a 2 month old raid on hard-mode. A month ago, only 4% had completed it on normal mode.

I think your logic is a little faulty there. If WoW was catering to casuals, then casuals would be seeing the raid content. Through LFR or whichever. Catering to someone means making things easier or more accessible for them. Raids are too hard or inaccessible for casuals, so casuals aren't completing them. Ergo, WoW is not catering to the casuals, with that content.
If the prime disadvantage of subscriptions is the barrier to entry, then simply make an unlimited free trial. Such as the one WoW already provides.

If you want to try it, you can. For free. No barrier to entry.

Will WoW go free-to-play? it already has. Will it introduce a cash shop? It already has. A bit of a redundant question.
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