Is Free the Future of Gaming?
We’ve seen the release of big-budget free MMORPG releases like Atlantica Online and Runes of Magic but recent trends show that the free-to-play, ad and micro-payment supported model is spreading to other genres. With EA’s long awaited Battlefield Heroes now entering the next phase of beta testing and the recent release of id Soft’s Quake Live, it’s clear that major Western game publishers have gotten the hint that the free to play model pays. Even Sony, an early subscription based MMORPG pioneer, is experimenting with f2p in their upcoming game Free Realms.
But it’s not just large publishers getting in on the action. With the spread of the internet, hundreds of independent developers now have a platform to share their projects with the world. Smaller games like Soldat and Starport Galactic Empires are available for free. There are even programs that let enthusiasts make their own MMORPGs. Similar to the retail RPG Maker, these MMORPG makers come with premade sprites and resources but allow players to set many of the variables such as experience rates, number of maps, monsters, and so on. They also allow more experienced users to add their own resources and edit the source code.
The third leg and perhaps the most important is the shift from pay-to-play to free-to-play happening in established MMORPGs. Already many former subscription based games have opened their gates for all to enter. Gravity has been the boldest in this field. Originally a publisher of traditional MMORPGs with subscription fees attached, their latest game release Requiem Bloodymare is free to play. Gravity’s two older games have also been re-released with the subscription fee stripped away. Ragnarok Online and Rose Online are now both free to play but supported with optional micro payments.
So now we know that this trend is happening. The question remains whether it will prove to be profitable. Already many publishers have found success but whether it this model will support an entire industry remains to be seen. Arguably the most successful f2p MMORPG worldwide is Nexon’s MapleStory which has reached a large audience in multiple markets, something few other games have managed. With millions of players in its native Korea, North America, China and Japan, Nexon has found the magic formula. Simple games with bright, vibrant graphics that appeal to a broad audience perform the best worldwide. Will other developers and publishers be able to emulate Nexon’s success with games like MapleStory or Kart Rider? Only time will tell.
By, Erhan Altay