I never thought I’d say this; in fact I thought it would be the opposite, but more and more MMOs are abandoning the old way of charging everyone to playing their game and leaning towards giving everyone a free membership while charging for premium content that enhances the gaming experience.
I am a staunch advocate against paying monthly to play a MMO and the only time I broke my own rule was in high school when I paid for a couple months as a member on Runescape ( and that was before the graphics got better). Becoming a member opened up a huge number quests, items, monsters, and towns that free-players couldn’t get to. It was practically like playing a whole new game; in my defense of paying monthly, the cost was only $5 a month, as opposed to the typical $12 to $15 charged monthly for games like Warcraft, Lineage II, or Final Fantasy XI (people are still playing that right?).
Many MMOs offer players a free membership as well as a paid subscription and the perks that come with paying monthly. Free versions are always scaled down from the P2P, but the degree of the inferiority of the free play depends on the individual game. The great thing about MMOs that offer a chance to play the game for free is you don’t have to lock into a subscription before playing, so people can get a feel for the MMO with no strings attached. If a player likes the game and wants to dive deeper into it, they can sign up for a paid membership and enjoy the previously unavailable content.
It makes good business sense to have both free and paid memberships because those people who originally do free play may end up subscribing, whereas when an MMO doesn’t have the F2P option, they could be missing out of people who don’t want to subscribe immediately but may pay later on once they get everything out of the free world. Personally, I’m too weary to jump into a game that makes me whip out my credit card before I download the client, but I’m not as against paying a little bit for some premium content like a good quest or rare sword. I would rather spend my money buying some video game merchandize that are worth buying than subscribing to expensive monthly membership. So I always recommend that when it comes to playing video games, always choose the one that is affordable yet quality.
Warcraft has been hugely successful in the P2P MMO world. WOW gives players everything they want in an MMO: a massive world to explore, tons of quests, extremely rare and valuable items, and a huge community and for many people, that’s worth paying a subscription for.
What’s becoming more prevalent are free trials that last for a certain number of days, normally 10 to 14. Many MMOs like Star Trek Online and City of Heroes offer 14 days of free play with a number of features disabled. Some MMOs have an “endless trial” like Warhammer Online or Dungeons and Dragons Online, but they are only endless until you reach a certain level. Still, free trials coax people into playing the game who may end up subscribing. Free trials are a great way to play a popular MMO without whipping out your (or your parents’) credit card. Free trials are probably on their way out too, because this shift from P2P to F2P is going to eliminate the need for them.
Guild Wars has a good plan, which is to sell the software at the price of a regular game and never have monthly fees to begin with. I feel like more people prefer that method because paying for a game is nothing new and players don’t have to worry about being charged monthly.
P2P games are on their way out, players don’t like dealing with monthly subscriptions so we’re going to see a transition from MMOs that are free to play but offer premium content to those willing to pay. In the meantime, enjoy all the free trials that the many MMOs are offering and have some fun.