Follow-up on Headwinds (Star Wars: The Old Republic)Again, your e-mail added all kinds of interesting notes to the topic, so let's take a look.
Starting off, almost all the e-mail I received was in agreement with my general premise--that SW:TOR was facing heavy sledding, for a variety of reasons, but Andrew Mass dissented in an eloquent and thoughtful way:
Some thoughts on the free model:
1. Free-to-play brings in a casual audience that can be bad for an MMO. Your experience as a player depends largely on the people you play with, and a pay model ensures a more serious (committed) user base.
2. A free model always devalues content. The Village Voice was one of the most relevant and widely read newspapers in my hometown of NYC for decades. That is, until the day it became free. Many other examples here but I chose that one because it was almost pre-internet. When content is devalued it automatically becomes less interesting, relevant and special. As a side note, I worked as a reporter for a magazine called Institutional investor a long time ago. The unusual fact that over 90% of its revenue came from subscriptions allowed us to do a far superior job. Not an exact correlation, but I think it's still a useful comparison.
3. MMO's depend on fairness. In other words, the only micro-transactions that wont destroy game balance will be cosmetic (see Valve). Unfortunately, that may not be enough to really support a good MMO.
I think there's a place for free MMO's, just probably not with the best ones. A large part of the fun with a game like WOW is in achieving the necessary cooperation and team-based skill to succeed at difficult tasks. I still remember being absolutely stunned at the level of collaboration and coordination necessary to run those early 40 person raids--then going to work the next day and listening to some VP from Cisco tell me how one day in the future people will work together over the internet, with voice and video! I still haven't seen professional collaboration tools that really rival what some games have done.
I disagree with the newspaper comparison. Newspapers traditionally have two revenue streams--purchases (both daily and via subscription) and advertising. With a free newspaper, the consumer doesn't pay because there is a separate revenue source, which (theoretically) will be more profitable with more readers.
In a free-to-play game (well, "freemium"), many players still wind up paying for the game--they're just paying for it via microtransactions instead of a monthly subscription fee. So while it's a different revenue stream, it still comes from the same source.
So I don't necessarily agree with everything Andrew says, but his thoughts are still quite interesting as a dissenting voice.
Jersoc sent in one of the most pointed observations about MMOs that I've ever read:
The new car smell is gone.
That is an excellent point in many, many ways.
A few months ago, I paid homage to Julian Murdoch, who predicted (quite correctly) that free-to-play was going to become the dominant business model for MMOs. So I asked him what he thought about the prospects for SW:TOR, and here's what he said:
My prediction is a very successful launch and then a rapidly diminishing player base. It's the pattern we've seen over and over again with new sub- based MMOs. That people aren't learning the lessons from Turbine(Lord Of The Rings Online) is astounding to me. My sense is that Turbine is crazy profitable, and producing a ton more content than any other MMO company out there. The Star Wars IP is bit of an exception, but that only buys them a few months grace.