Often I hear that the best way to make a MMORPG profitable is to make it free to play, or at least partly based on microtransactions. Quite obviously many developers and publishers disagree, as pay to play MMORPGs are still being released and announced.
Between those there’s the upcoming Star Wars: The Old Republic, that will still require a monthly fee. In an interview on videogamer.com writer Daniel Erickson explains why:
In everything from magazines to cable TV to MMOs there are multiple market segments with their own pricing and revenue generation stream. What we’ve seen repeatedly is that people will pay subscriptions for top tier, best of show quality products (The Economist, HBO, World of Warcraft) but they will not pay for many of them at once. I expect to see a small group of games compete for the subscription dollar and a larger group take on the F2P market with smaller, faster produced games that try to establish a core market then use the revenue streams created from that small market to improve and expand their game. In that market the best ones will stay around and the less exciting entries will fall off fairly quickly.
While it’s not always true that free to play and hybrid games are lower quality than pay to play ones, the two different business models simply appease different kinds of clientele.
Free to play and hybrid games offer a great deal on the entry level, but prompt users to pay often even more than your usual monthly fee to access all the available content or to be competitive.
As such they are great for gamers that like to play multiple titles or that have no problem in pulling out the credit card for some virtual shopping quite often.
On the other hand pay to play MMORPGs offer the whole experience for a single transaction a month. They skip the entry level, but they guarantee that each player will gain access to everything (or almost) the game has to offer without any additional purchases. They also provide an environment in which progression and power are equalized, without granting any kind of advantage to players with more disposable income.
Both models have their niche in the market, and both models have the potential to be profitable. The quality requirements for a game’s survival and success are definitely higher in the pay to play market, but this never stopped Ferrari from producing cars.