Free to play vs subscription and the 99%

Please note this is not a criticism of free to play as such and I don’t think finances are the only motivator.  They are, however, part of a complex system.

  • Under the subscription model, an MMO is financially motivated to create content for the 99%.  After all, the 99% are paying the bills.  The 1% of elite raiders is just a drop in the financial ocean.
  • Under the free to play model, an MMO is financially motivated to create content for the 1%.  Most purchases in an MMO store are made by the ‘whales’ who spend huge amounts of money.
  • The whales are not necessarily the same people as the 1% of elite raiders.  They are not necessarily looking for the same type of content.

What do you think that means for MMO design?  I don’t think its as simple as saying they will focus purely on the whales.  The 1% feeling catered to is still an important part of MMO design, as is catering to those who might not pay anything, but will keep coming back, brining their friends and providing a social environment for those who do pay.  No MMO design choices are simple.

What is interesting to me is that we are seeing different approaches to this.  Guild Wars 2, arguably, could be said to be a game for the whales.  There is limited content for the 1% and most content is meant for collectors.  Yet it doesn’t feel as much like the whales are being milked for every penny as SWTOR does.  Wildstar, on the other hand, has a stated aim of catering to the 1% (and the 99%, only differently), but has yet to release any detail on how they will cater to the whales (presuming they will be F2P, B2P or hybrid which seems likely).

MMOs definitely work best if their subscription model is decided early on.  Guild Wars 2 was built around a pre-determined subscription model, for example, and SWTOR was not.  This makes me worry for Wildstar who have yet to announce theirs.  I am not clear how a cash shop would fit into that game without undermining several of its tenets (difficult levelling so no boosts, hard raiding so no gear).  I am equally sure that a subscription only model would limit its success (as I think it will FFXIVs).

What does everyone else think?

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