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The Market Does NOT Need More Free MMORPGs

Alright people, I’ve been seeing a lot of posts around the net about a recent study on the MMORPG genre. Now, as a fairly active participant in said genre, I would like to point out that while this study is valid, the recommendations provided by Yuanzhe (Michael) Cai don’t make any sense. Let’s take a look:

According to Parks Associate’s director of broadband and gaming, Yuanzhe (Michael) Cai, the barriers to entry with subscription-based MMORPGs, such as time and money, are too high for potential customers. Free-to-play models, however, offer flexibility and enable players to choose how much they want to invest based on interest level and play patterns. Thus, the firm believes that microtransaction models have the best potential to grow the U.S. MMORPG audience.

Alright, that’s fair. I understand the need to perform a study on how MMO games relate to people who don’t play them. Oh wait, no I don’t. According to the study, 14% of the 2000 players surveyed said that they would play MMOs if they could play for free. That kind of makes sense, until that 14% installs the game and then realizes that they’re surrounded by thousands of players who are better than them simply because they shelled out a hundred bucks just to buy gear. It seems like that 14% would drop off pretty quickly.

In addition to this, the 2000 people that aren’t playing MMOs probably aren’t playing because they can’t afford it, it’s because they, you know, don’t want to play them. That’s fine, every gamer likes their own thing, and that’s what makes online games great. So you’re talking to a group of people, asking them if they would try out another genre if it was free. Of course they will, it’s free. They’ll try it for about 3 days and then they’ll get bored and move back to their previously played games.

Now, assuming that this is actually valid info, and these players would stick with the games that were offered for free. Let’s take a look at the 2008 MMO market shares:

MMO Market Shares for 2008

See anything strange about the above image? Hmm, perhaps the alarming ratio of free MMO games to subscribed MMO games. For those of you who don’t know, let’s break it down.

  • World of Warcraft (62.2%): Pay-to-play
  • Runescape (7.5%): Pay-to-play AND Free-to-play (Paying gets you more features)
  • Lineage – (6.6%): Pay-to-play
  • Lineage 2 – (6.3%): Pay-to-play
  • Final Fantasy XI – (3.1%):  Pay-to-play
  • Dofus – (2.8%): Pay-to-play
  • EVE Online – (1.5%): Pay-to-play
  • EverQuest II – (1.2%): Pay-to-play
  • EverQuest – (1.1%): Pay-to-play
  • LotR Online – (0.9%): Pay-to-play
  • City of Heroes/Villains – (0.8%): Pay-to-play
  • Tibia – (0.6%): Free-to-play

See anything interesting about those numbers? Maybe the fact that pay-to-play games control 85% of the market. Now, I’m not a market analyst, but it seems to me that those pay-to-play games are doing pretty well for themselves. There’s hundreds of free-to-play games, which combined take up about one tenth of WoW’s market share.

The problem with free-to-play MMO games is that there’s no money in them. Anybody who has ever played a free MMO game can see that the quality (and support, I might add) is much lower than that of any subscription based game. Do you know why World of Warcraft is an exception? Because they actually listen to their players, and can front the money to pay decent developers. 10 million subscriptions at about $15 per month is $150 million, just from subscriptions. This of course doesn’t include sales of the software itself. Let’s compare that to your run-of-the-mill independant (most likely Korean) game studio who’s making their free-to-play fantasy game where you run around in a cell-shaded world, grinding your life away, trying to get to the level cap by killing increasingly more powerful “slimes”. I think $15 per month is worth it, don’t you?

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