Free to Play is the Future of MMO GamingLike or not, the signs are clear on this one thing: when it comes to massively multiplayer online(MMO) games, free to play is the way to go for 99 percent of new and existing titles. Sure, for the topMMOs like World of Warcraft (WoW) or Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR) pay to play can workbut that is because they are based on popular franchises and havemultimillion dollar budgets. Games like those two presumably havethe luxury of a long game development cycle that can last for as longas five years but most companies simply do not have the resources tocompete with these giant franchises.Not too long ago the most common pricing plan for MMOs was pay toplay. Players had to buy the game and then pay a monthly membershipfee to play it. Some still use this revenue model but more and moreMMOs are switching to a hybrid business model.What are these hybrid models?Totally free to play (f2p) games are obviously quite rare, if notimpossible to find outside of beta testing. The “free to play” titlestoday are actually hybrid pricing games, also called “freemium,”which is combination of the words free and premium. Most f2p MMOs and massively multiplayeronline role-playing games (MMORPGs, the most popular type of MMO) can be downloaded for freeand players can play them for free as long as they want. However, some content is premium, in otherwords players must pay to access them. The most common types are:Cash Shop – also called item shop, this is a store within the game where items can be bought for realmoney. Many cash shop items are cosmetic ones that are used to customize the in-game characters ofplayers such as hair dye or clothes. Others are useful goods like extra bags for more inventory space orteleport runes that save you time by letting you magically appear exactly where you want instead ofhaving to run there. Expansions – in this hybrid payment model, free players can access the areas and content designated for them but some places and quests are locked. Players will need to buy expansions to access this premium content. Premium Membership – in other MMORPG games, players are divided into free players and members. Members must pay a flat monthly fee to access premium content. This is different from expansions because normally expansions are a one-time fee while memberships are paid every month.
All of these different types are called free to play although some insist that the proper term for hybridmodels is freemium.Now, why exactly is f2p the future of MMO gaming if pay to play was the norm in the recent past?Recent events have paved the way for the growth of f2p as game companies slowly learned that givingaway their game for free can paradoxically increase their revenues. A good example is The Lord of theRings Online (LOTRO) which struggled to acquire enough subscribers when it was a pay to play game.When they switched over to the freemium model, LOTRO got a three hundred percent increase inrevenue as well as a huge increase in users.Worldwide, free-to-play is actually the most widely used business revenue model and industry veteranssuch as Sony Entertainment Online SEO John Smedley have gone on record that they believe that thetraditional monthly subscription MMORPG gaming is on its way out. Why? Because free-to-play justhas so many advantages like:No upfront cost of buying the game – this has been a significant barrier for most new players who areunderstandably reluctant to fork out their cash right away without even knowing if they want to play itor not.No monthly subscriptions – the classic game Everquest asked the players who were quitting the gamewhy they were leaving and 40 percent of them answered that it was because of the recurringsubscription. This clearly indicates that the monthly payments are a barrier that stops more playersfrom joining or continuing their participation.Players on other platforms – while most MMOs are played on computers, multi-platform games thatcan be played in a variety of devices such as consoles, mobile phones, smart phones, tablets, etc. havebecome popular and players who use non-computer devices are not used to paying subscriptions.Worldwide appeal – since many Western games are trying to make a leap into the Asian markets withtheir potentially enormous playerbase, they would have to use the f2p model since that is what is thenorm in that part of the world.In a nutshell, freemium is just a much easier way for players to access a game which means it willprobably make more money and game companies have now taken note of that fact.So what does this all mean for MMO players? In the near future it is likely that in the top tier, bigbudget MMORPG titles will increasingly adopt the freemium hybrid business model. Players will beable to access most releases for free while the developers will make more money by attracting a largernumber of users. Its a win-win situation for everyone involved.The future is here: the best free MMORPGs 2012. Do you know which f2p MMO has over 5 millionplayers worldwide? Visit the Top 5 Free MMORPG 2012 Games list to find out the answer.Also, right now the World of Warcraft is dominating the Western market but did you know that thereare many WoW clones that people can play for free? Check out this list of f2p games like WoW.