Craig Morrison, one of the leading developers at Funcom, believes that Western gamers have begun to expect MMOs to launch with a free-to-play model or switch to one close after launch, which might spell trouble for the entire genre in the long term.
The game maker tells Gamasutra that, “I think you can definitely see Western games being designed to start at the gates as free-to-play games, because that’s what the market will expect. That’s what the users will want, from an accessibility point of view.”
The rational answer is to keep away from any subscription-based game, like the current Funcom product The Secret World, to create pressure for its developers to move to free-to-play, something which means that they lack the revenue required to improve the game experience or fund future titles.
Funcom’s Anarchy Online went free-to-play in 2005 and Age of Conan, which initially required a subscription, also made a switch during 2010.
Morrison adds, “We don’t categorically go, ‘Subscriptions are dead; there will never be subscriptions anymore,’ or, ‘Free-to-play is the only way to monetize your games’. I think it depends on the game and it depends on your project.”
This year, Funcom launched The Secret World, an MMO that mixes action-based combat with complex puzzles.
The game performed worse than the team expected initially, mainly because of strong competition from Guild Wars 2 and the Mists of Pandaria expansion for World of Warcraft.
Despite the slow launch, Funcom claims that The Secret World will keep using a subscription and plans to launch another big update, which will include a monster fight in Manhattan.
Star Wars: The Old Republic, the MMO created by BioWare and published by Electronic Arts, is making the switch to free-to-play today, after launching almost one year ago with a monthly subscription model.