In a day and age where subscription-based MMOs are quickly going the way of the Dodo Bird, Blizzard’s massively successful MMO World of Warcraft has defied the odds, hanging onto a fairly solid number of subscriptions despite being nearly a decade old and also despite severe dips in the number of subscribed players. Now Blizzard is exploring new ways to keep players around such as the recent announcement of an in-game item shop (something that virtually every F2P MMO has). Is this the first sign of an impending F2P shift for World of Warcraft? And if so, is the time right?
Blizzard has addressed the F2P issue in the past, saying that its chief concern is whether or not the large influx of new and returning players spending money through optional monetary systems, such as the in-game item shop, would be enough to counterbalance the billions of dollars in subscription fees they’d no longer be bringing in. I doubt many are surprised that Blizzard wants to ride the subscription-based money train for as long as it can but, if recent events are any indication, that train’s final stop may be arriving soon.
Bethesda and ZeniMax shocked the world a few weeks ago when they announced that their upcoming PC/next-gen console MMO Elder Scrolls Online will in fact be subscription-based and will not offer any sort of F2P option, at least not initially. Enough can be said on whether or not Elder Scrolls Online will be able to survive in today’s MMO market touting a subscription-based model even with the venerable Elder Scrolls RPG setting supporting it, but will World of Warcraft, even with its own recognizable setting, be able to match it?
Think about it: you have two games; one is brand new, fresh, graphically very stunning, and set within one of the most highly acclaimed single-player RPG settings of our generation. The other is nearly ten years old, is also very recognizable, has set the tone for virtually every MMO to follow it, but also has dated graphics and gameplay along with a waning community of players. Which one would you rather pay $15 a month to play?
Arguments aside, it’s also important to remember that going completely F2P isn’t World of Warcraft’s only option. Instead of offering an optional sub and trying to nickel and dime players into paying for it (I’m looking at *you* Star Wars: The Old Republic), why not take a page out of ArenaNet’s book? Both Guild Wars and its more recent sequel Guild Wars 2 have attained a fair amount of success utilizing the unique “B2P” (buy-to-play) model. Players pay a one-time box price for the game (something they already have to do for many subscription-based MMOs) and then get to play the game completely free for as long as they want with optional items and bonuses being offered through an in-game shop.
Funcom’s latest supernatural MMO The Secret World recently switched from a subscription-based payment model to a B2P one and now the MMO has gone from struggling to survive to thriving in a matter of months. What’s stopping World of Warcraft from dropping the sub requirements and adopting a similar model? Blizzard could still make plenty of money off of the game’s initial box price, sales from expansion packs, and, of course, whatever is offered through the in-game item shop; something that players have already shown they’re willing to spend money on. At the very least, Blizzard should consider implementing a system similar to NCsoft’s and Carbine Studios’ upcoming Wildstar MMO’s C.R.E.D. D. system; allowing players to purchase subscription time with in-game currency. This would no-doubt be a welcome boon for some of World of Warcraft’s more devoted players who probably already have a small fortune of in-game gold.
So what do you think loyal VGU readers? Will World of Warcraft be able to go toe-to-toe with Elder Scrolls Online in a subscription-based battle? Or would it be better off considering more flexible payment options such as F2P or B2P? Would you be more willing to give World of Warcraft a try (or *another* try) if there was no subscription requirement? Or should Blizzard just give up on it while they can and instead focus solely on the future? Sound off on this week’s VGU Reader Discussion in the comments below and hit us up on Raptr, Twitter, and Facebook.