Carbine Studios’ Jeremy Gaffney believes subscription-based MMOs can still survive in the modern industry

Gaffney: There will be an MMO as big as World of Warcraft in our lifetime

There will be another MMO as big as World of Warcraft, and it could be subscription-based, says Carbine Studios’ Jeremy Gaffney.

The industry veteran and executive producer behind upcoming subscription MMO WildStar, is adamant MMOs can still attract swathes of users despite the proliferation of titles attempting to emulate WoW’s success.

And despite a number of titles, such as EA’s Star Wars: The Old Republic, turning free-to-play after early struggles, Gaffney said to be as big as WoW, you have to use a regular payment model.

“There will be something bigger [than World of Warcraft] in our lifetimes,” he told Develop.

“Depending how you count all the various markets there are games that are arguably bigger now globally, in terms of players. In terms of revenues, it’s tricky to catch up with because you have to be that big and you have to be subscription. You don’t usually average $15 a month off your free-to-play game per user.”

Gaffney explained that typically great MMOs run at five-to-seven per cent churn a month, and that studios need to acquire or reacquire users to make up the difference and then grow their playerbase.

He suggested that World of Warcraft, having been out for nearly a decade, is likely to have churned through its entire userbase two or three times. Despite obtaining new users and retaining a core playerbase in that time, Gaffney said new titles that sell a few million are not guaranteed long-term hits.

“There’s a market out there that’s definitely interested in repeating the positive experience they’ve had with games in the past,” he said.

“But no one’s had the stickiness to really truly hook them in and keep them in any sorts of large numbers since then, so somebody will be able to duplicate that formula.”

Are microtransactions inevitable?

Carbine’s WildStar title itself will be a subscription-based title, but its creators are implementing a CREDD system: in-game items that players can buy on the commodities exchange with their gold to extend their subscription by 30 days. This means gold earned in-game can be used to purchased an extra 30 days subscription.

The new model appears to be a merger of subscriptions and free-to-play, but swayed more to the premium model and based on gameplay rather than ‘pay-to-win’.

And despite the increasing presence of microtransactions in MMOs, Gaffney isn’t convinced their inclusion is a certainty in future games.

“How do you monetise without ‘being evil’? That’s the question,” he said. “You could have a low sub, and then make up some microtransactions.

Or you could give a salary to people who had a sub that lets them get microtransactions so they don’t think like you’re taken advantage of them. There’s probably ways of doing it.”

He added: “I don’t think WoW’s microtransactions hurt them particularly with their playerbase. Maybe the level up to 91 to an extent, but that’s really just reflecting you can buy a box and do the same thing. I don’t think they were hurt by it, so certainly you can add it to the mix.

“But simultaneously I think people are pretty leery of getting screwed and being taken advantage of, so I think it’s a bit of a dangerous area to go out and say, ‘We want a box, a subscription, your firstborn and can you sign here and, oh, by the way, we need a DNA sample’. That gets real dangerous at some point.

"You don’t want the player wondering how they’re going to get screwed over next.”

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