The Free-to-Play MMO – What DCUO is doing right.News
As a big fan of MMOs in general, those outside of the player-base might think it strange when I say I can’t stand a free-to-play business model. Sure, for those of us unable to pony up a few bucks a month for the subscription fee it’s a godsend, calling to us to devour our free time, but a free-to-play MMO has a lot of negatives, the least of which is rush of noob players that you need to show the ropes over and over again. No, my biggest problem isn’t the ‘how I mine for fish?’ crowd, it’s the company’s themselves almost always completely botching their business model.
Best example I can think of? Champions Online, sadly enough. Having played the game since it’s open beta, I was impressed with their new approach to the superhero MMO genre, City of Heroes having been my favorite MMO for many many years. Admittedly, my interest waxed and waned as the expansions came and went (the New Orleans based, supernaturally focused one holding a very special place in my heart), but all in all it certainly wasn’t the worst MMO around, in fact, I would confidently put it in my top 15, if not top 10.
Then it went free to play.
(Free For All! – But first, here’s the latest stuff you’re missing out on!
-as seen on the Front Page, Login Screen, just about everywhere really.)
Now practically anything, if not everything (I stopped checking), that’s added to the game makes you take a nice little detour through the in-game shop. Expansion, costumes, powers, really anything you can think of has a price tag in the form of micro-transactions and the key feature of the game itself, being able to mix and match your powers from all power-sets, was made only available to those who subscribed making it a prime case of the cardinal sin of pay-to-win online gaming. Let me tell you, if you want to alienate a fan of the game, that’s the best way to go about it.
But enough about that, let’s talk about DCUO, who recently made their game free-to-play. Having played the open beta and really enjoying the game but deciding not to subscribe after it was officially released, I was split on my decision to try it out. Sure, it was free but would the 2 hour+ download be worth the disappointment I was expecting soon after? After a grueling 10 second internal monologue, I queue it up on my Steam downloads and was soon booting it up.
Cut to today- 1,000,000 new players and a 700% increase in daily revenue. And trust me, the folks over at SOE deserve it. For a game that initially had my attention for a very brief stint, the promise of being able to play for free completely renewed my interest in a matter of minutes of play. Beyond the game itself being very well thought out in terms of attempting to ‘innovate the MMO’, DCUO has found the perfect balance of micro-transactions and free content. Namely, cosmetic items (which themselves are worth the price if you’re into that, with cool visual effects and such) and small in-game perks (like extra visits to the grab bag of goodies, ‘the vault’, which the game already allows a certain amount of visits weekly or more character slots). The only real game effecting thing you can buy is the expansion (yeah, I bought it) and the power set included with it certainly isn’t game breaking or uber powerful. All the content, powers and gameplay is still intact for even the completely free players. No coaxing you to buy more with forced limitations; no instant PVP win button for 10 bucks a month; no built-in limits on how long you can play per session.
Intentional or not, they got their conversion to the free-to-play business model just right and are being rewarded for it. I wouldn’t be the first to say it, but if any MMOs are considering a subscription-less model, look no further for your inspiration.