Monday, August 30, 2010

Competing With Free

I spent a chunk of the weekend checking out EQ2X, and it occurred to me that I'm suddenly looking at four separate MMO's that don't require a traditional monthly fee. With EQ2 and LOTRO joining DDO and Runes of Magic, it's been two months since my most recent MMO subscription lapsed.

These games aren't entirely free - for all but ROM, I have previously paid money that allows my current/future level of access to the game world. Still, for at least the medium term, I can count on being able to access any or all of these games whenever I want to, without any impact on my current month's budget.

Moreover, it doesn't stop here. We have games like Warhammer and Conan running unlimited free trials, and other "true" free to play games, such as Allods, that I have yet to visit. The folks at Cryptic made an official comment that makes it sound like some form of free play might be coming to STO.

In short, there are a lot of options on the market with low or nonexistent entry barriers, and limited requirements for long-term commitment. This may or may not be a good thing for the games in question, but I'd be even more worried about the next round of MMO's.

You can't really compete on price when so many high quality games are available at these terms. You can't really compete on quantity with games that have been around for 3-6 years. You can try to compete on quality, but A) you have to actually succeed in producing higher quality and B) you still need quantity if you want to keep collecting monthly fees.

How do you compete in this market? Hopefully someone's got an answer to that question, but it looks pretty challenging at the moment.


Tesh said...

You compete on content, mechanics, art and even lore. We still don't have a great Steampunk game, WoW Gnomes and Gatheryn notwithstanding. There isn't a solid BattleTech-ish MMO, though Perpetuum might be good (though notably, it's a sub game). There's plenty of game design space to explore if you're willing to dodge the DIKU rut.

You could also compete directly with Guild Wars, going for a "box only" business model, and dodge a lot of the nickle and diming arguments. I'm honestly surprised we haven't seen more big boys run in that direction. SWTOR would be perfectly poised to enter that market, I think, what with their "each class has a unique, complete play experience" bit. Sell each class as a sort of standalone box-only purchase.

In short, you find a new niche. Simple marketing, that.

Anonymous said...

It's going to be interesting. There are lots of ways in which games COULD compete. They could compete on having the most engaging single player game, or story. They could compete on making it easiest to play with your friends (I imagine that being able to ping your offline friends when you wanted people to fill an instance, that sort of thing).

But basically what we have here are games that were designed to require a lot of effort. They were designed for people looking for an online home (imo). Because that's how players of that gen of MMOs saw their games.

So if a more casual player now tries the first zone in EQ2X or LOTRO or AoC ... what's going to keep them there precisely? They'll do the fun bits and then run into the grind. Will they decide to dig in and go for it, or will they shrug, try the next one, and then go for a round of modern warfare or a single player game instead?

Or in other words, I'm not sure that the main competition is other MMOs.

Ysharros said...

One of the reasons this F2P movement is happening, I believe (and probably read it somewhere in the last few weeks), is that monthly subs are a much bigger barrier to RE-entry into games, either than people thought or than they used to be.

And of course once one game does it, it starts a bit of a snowball effect like the one we've seen this year.

I can certainly attest to the fact that there are loads of games I'd have gone back to if I didn't immediately have to shell out $15 just to see what had happened since I was last there. More to the point, I'd be concurrently playing a lot more of them -- up until now I've been MMOnogamous partly through playstyle but also because I never wanted to sub up for something I might only spend 2-3 hours a month on (even if that's not a bad hourly value for my entertainment).

Apparently there are a ton of people still out there who think the subscription model is weird and more than a little suspect - we MMO hamsters are something of an oddity, apparently.

Tired. Can't think. Rambling. Over and out.

Stabs said...

It's interesting that all new games are really struggling against old games.

I think it's largely a technical matter. When Meridian 59 and UO popularised the MMO genre each successive game solved a lot of technical and design problems that plagued their predecessors. This continued up until WoW.

What WoW did that was utterly revolutionary was harnessing their players to write their UI. All those addons at sites like Curse. So many of which have been incorporated into the game after the developers saw what worked and what people like. 6 years of that.

There's no way that a team of young developers can compete with that level of UI iteration.

There's also been a lot of tuning and balancing but that's less important. If they make raiding easier they upset some hardcore players while appealing to more casual.

Personally I'm playing Eve, WoW, EQ2E. I also have DDO and AoC on my pc and sometimes play those. They're all really old games.

A new game always seems to arrive just as its hype is crashing. People were excited about Champions and Aion and just about the time they launched people started really condemning them. APB tried to skip the hype cycle completely and got the worst launch in MMO history.

It's really hard - who knows maybe in 2020 the top games will be WoW Eve, EQ2, DDO and Lotro. It's not unthinkable.

JaneDoh said...

Interesting posts (and comments) as usual. I am a lurker, but I find this issue really interesting. I've played WoW on and off, but my real life makes it hard to predict when I will get my sub fee's worth. When I get some time, I've been playing Anarchy Online as a Froob (which is a fun, but very dated game).

Given all the latest announcements, I started an Inquisitor on Eq2X as my new "play when I can" char. I've been having lots of fun in games that are almost 10 years old (AO), and WoW/Eq2 have a lot more legs than AO did. I can easily see current games still among the most popular 5 years from now.

I think there is still room for new games (there isn't much in the SciFi tech arena or in the dystopic future genre in general). Darkfall and EvEOnline have shown that appealing to a niche can lead to a successful game. There seems to be some pent-up demand for sandbox style games in non-gankfest editions. That said, people have such high expectations from the extremely high quality of WoW and the like that I think it will be very hard to compete in the near future.