You’ve probably heard that Lord of the Rings Online is following in the footsteps of Dungeons and Dragons Online by becoming Free to Play. That’s right, there’ll no longer be a subscription fee to get your foot in the door. Instead you’ll be expected to pay real money for all sorts of in-game items, some of which may provide in-game benefits. Now I’ve never been a fan of the Free to Play/Item Store model, basically because it means that those with the nicest gear are also usually those with the deepest wallets.
But let’s take a different tack – say that there was an MMO set in the near future that was also free to play? Some kind of cyberpunk tech utopia kind of thing. It’d be perfectly conceivable to place advertising in the game environment – TV commercials, billboards etc that advertise products but give them a futuristic feel. pretty much just like Coca-Cola in Blade Runner. Would I still play it? Probably not.
It feels that as MMOs become increasingly popular, the subscription cost is going to either hold steady or head south. But that’s not the issue – I’m guessing that for a large chunk of players the subscription cost is only a small part of the equation. The biggest issue I face is getting the time to play the game in the first place. I work an 8 hour day, I spend an hour commuting either side and about 6 hours a night sleeping. That leaves me with about four hours a night – if I’m lucky – to spend on entertainment. carve that up between blogging, podcasting and other stuff and it’s a wonder I have any time for Warcraft, let alone any other game.
I think that anything new has to be something that doesn’t take a huge investment to get into. Something that will allow me to feel progression in 30-minute segments is what they need to be aiming for, so that I can build it around whatever else I happen to be doing. Making use of my “dead-time” also rocks, something that WeRule does very well. It maybe a Farmville Clone with a few extra bits thrown in, but because I can play it on the way to work means that it gets some playtime.
I don’t think that the MMOs will be battling over our wallets in the years to come. Quite simply, it’ll be all a matter of time. It’s the one thing there’s only ever a fixed amount of, no matter how rich or poor we are.