Two new MMOs launch next year with pay-to-play models. Does that mean free-to-play isn’t an anchor of the genre?

With World of Warcraft rapidly losing subscribers and The Old Republic imploding on itself into a hybrid “free-to-play” (the most restrictive of any system to date), many assumed the days of paying monthly for a single game were done. Turns out everyone was wrong.

This morning, ZeniMax leaked that The Elder Scrolls Online would ship with a $14.99 monthly fee, after a free period of 30 days has expired. And just two days ago, Carbine Studios, working on its first title WildStar, revealed the game would carry a similar system. Except WildStar offers C.R.E.D.D., exactly like EVE Online‘s PLEX, where players buy and sell game time on an open market. In other words, you could feasibly play the game entirely free.

On the generalized assumption that all MMOs after Republic would be free-to-play or offer some hybrid model, the fact that two anticipated games will compete against WoW is a sign of sheer confidence. But, really, off name and reputation alone, these moves will be the ultimate test for the market. Carbine Studios is formed largely of ex-Blizzard staff tired of working on the same project. And The Elder Scrolls is a notable name in the videogame world. But so is Star Wars.

That’s where the apprehension comes in. We assumed Warcraft‘s slow burn and The Old Republic failing in little over a year strained industry bravery, but now ZeniMax and Carbine operate indifferently. Given how the MMO has evolved the last ten years, is there room left for a paying model?

Another curious announcement was that EverQuest Next, a reboot of the famed series, would go the one-time fee method of Guild Wars 2. No other mandatory fees other than buying the game. To balance that, GW2 developer ArenaNet has a regularly stocked in-game store fresh with new content every two weeks. Sony Online Entertainment hasn’t said if a store will be implemented, but by how much EQ Next resembles GW2, it’s a good guess.

The EverQuest series has 15 years under its belt, though Next won’t take much from its predecessors. Whether it’ll make a jolt in the MMO market is unknown; however, some fans will surely come back. One of the more pressing question is if the return of the once-MMO king will impact both Elder Scrolls Online and WildStar. Probably, but not initially. Pay-to-play survives on having a dedicated group of fans; if the content doesn’t match the needs (e.g., endgame content), they’ll abandon in legions and likely check out Next.

Does that mean, then, we could see a resurgence of subscription-based MMOs? The monstrous rise of free-to-play has utterly changed the attitude towards paying for things. Both Elder Scrolls and WildStar offer 30 days of free time (more than Warcraft‘s play to level 20 ploy), but to convince players to spend monthly, it will take a roaring impression. WildStar can be forgiven a tad because it’s a new property. Elder Scrolls has the weight of a franchise on its shoulders.

All three unreleased games mentioned in this article come out in 2014.

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  • http://chalgyrsgameroom.blogspot.com/ Chalgyr

    I was not surprised to see TESO going for the subscription model. I don’t think most companies will, but a lot of MMO makers are studios of smaller size and have less money to put behind their MMO’s right out of the gates. I would not be surprised if eventually TESO reverts to a free-to-play model, like Star Wars did, but I suppose time will tell.

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