Friday, October 8, 2010

The beggining of the end of sub-based MMOs?

Turbine recently announced at the Game Developers conference that LoTRO has done extremely well since going free to play. The number of users has more than tripled, 20% of all lapsed former subscribers have come back, revenue from the game doubled, and subs have actually increased. Sounds an awful lot like what happened when DDO went FtP.

We don't know how well EQ2X is doing, but SOE has already announced that Pirates of the Burning Sea will be going FtP and has hinted that they are considering switching Vanguard over as well. The real pudding will be the rate at which new content starts showing up in EQ II. If we start getting a lot of new content, I would take that as a sign of an increased revenue stream. If the pace doesn't change from what we have seen in the last few years, it may have been a wash for them.

On the other hand you have the recent announcement that World of Warcraft has surpassed 12 million concurrent subs. With Cataclysm coming down the pipe December 7th, it's almost certain that number will go even higher.

To me this really just formalizes what commentators have been saying for years. There's WoW, and then there's everything else. If I were running or developing a sub based "something else," I would be thinking long and hard about switching to FtP. I think Bioware has a good chance to crack a million subs with their Old Republic MMO, and GW II is also likely going to do extremely well. But for the most part I think you'd be daft to try and compete with Blizzard in the sub based MMO space, unless your game is budgeted out assuming (at most) 100K players when it goes live.


News Asides: Not sure how the heck I missed this, but LEGO Universe launched today for pre-order customers. I will be checking that out the very moment a demo becomes available. Also, IGN has an incredibly detailed write up of FF XIV. Unfortunately, due to a number of issues (e.g., the brutal system requirements and clunky UI) I'll be surprised if FF XIV does well on the PC. Hopefully the PS3 version will be better.


  1. I can always count on you for pointing out the good news in the world. John Smedley's comments about Vanguard really highlight what F2P is really for: it's to bolster a good game, not to save a dying game. I suspect that The Matrix Online would have been shut down anyway because F2P would not have saved it. I found that insight very interesting.

  2. @Anjin: I read that news right after I commented on your post, that and thoughts on your post were critical mass for a blog post.

    I got the news via Joystick, via Doc Holiday, via Green Armadillo...but that seemed like too many vias to bother with ;-)

  3. Most people play WoW and WoW is still sub-based. When Blizzard release their next MMO it might be sub-based but in any event will probably vault WoW and go straight to number 1.

    A lot depends on the market leader, especially since they're so dominant. You could look at Turbine's successes as being a good way of coping with not competing with the leader - I wonder how many people sub to WoW then pick up a FtP or two.

  4. @Stabs: you've may have hit on why FtP is working so well for other fantasy MMOs. There are likely a ton of players that are a bit bored with WoW but too invested in it to quit, and that would never contemplate subbing to two games.

  5. Boy I wish MxO could make a come back, I loved that game. I am really looking forward to PotBS going f2p.

  6. @Jaydub: I never got to try MxO, it was long on my "to try out" list but I never go to it. An unpopular game I'd like to see come back is Tabula Rasa. My old PC wasn't realy up to it when it was out, I think it would have been a lot more fun on a better rig.

  7. @Jayedub: MXO died because it was a licensed IP, and the cost of renewing the license was not justified by the revenue. Maybe F2P could have saved it, but my guess is probably not. This may or may not pose a problem for DDO and LOTRO when the respective licenses come up for renewal.

    @Yeebo's OP: Sure, LOTRO revenue is up, but it was presumably down in the months before the relaunch, and some of the revenue this month was presumably from non-recurring purchases. Also, the article has a picture of the top ten items sold in the store, and I'd guess that eight of them are primarily being purchased by veterans who got several thousand points as loyalty rewards. I'm just saying, it might be a bit early to declare victory on this one.

  8. @Green Armadillo: one quote I didn't mention was that 50% of all players have bought stuff from the store. The reason I didn't is that, as you pointed out, most of the active players over summer are sitting on thousands of points. Thus I don't think item store purchases over the last month mean much.

    The real trick will be seeing how the game is doing a few months from now. LoTRO has real issues for many players, only a few of which were addressed by changes associated with the switch. Regardless, I think it's a safe bet that the game is bringing in more revenue now than it was six months ago.