HOT TOPICS: Is the subscription MMO in trouble?

In the seventh of a series of features answering the biggest questions about the industry’s future, James Batchelor discusses the impact the free-to-play model has had on the traditional MMO

Is the subscription MMO in trouble?

At its peak in 2010, 12m people around the world were playing Blizzard’s World of Warcraft.

However, this has declined considerably since then. As reported last November, the number stood at 10.3m, a decline of 1.7m in one year. And it’s not just WoW that’s suffering.

EA’s Star Wars: The Old Republic has already seen its subscribers drop, having only launched in December. By February, the game had 1.7m active subscribers, but last month it was revealed 400,000 have left the game.

Such an early decline has the industry questioning whether or not the subscription MMO?has a future.

A slew of MMOs have already abandoned their subscription fees for free-to-play. Lord of the Rings Online saw its revenues triple within six months of going free-to-play.

Without doubt, free-to-play has been a success for some MMOs but not every game lends itself to free-to-play, in the same way not every game fits a subscription-based model,” says NCsoft European sales and marketing boss Sarah Rogers.

This also ignores the other types of payment structures.

Guild Wars 2 is subscription-free, while City of Heroes Freedom works on a model where the game is free but a small premium is charged for extra features.

Rather than the subscription-based model being in trouble, there is greater diversity in the market. This is better for both consumers and for publishers.”

The MMO?games market is still a successful one, filled with opportunities.

But asking customers to pay a monthly fee is becoming an ever bigger challenge.

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