When developer Turbine announced that they were going to be dropping their subscription-based price model and move to entirely free-to-play for their MMORPG Lord of the Rings Online. Nowadays, we're used to the growing trend of companies or properties offering discounts or free access in order to build a fan following, only to introduce a way to make money later. Not to say that it's an evil idea to give players a taste, and then request a payment to continue. It's just nice to see companies opening the doors to fans and their wallets, as opposed to closing them.
Luckily for everyone involved their decision to drop the hurdle to access and allow free play, funded by micro-transactions, has not only led to a larger online community, but greater revenues as well. While many would safely assume that giving out access to an MMO for free would attract a larger audience, many would also concede that doing so might be more costly to the publisher. Until now.
Executive Producer of LotRO, Kate Paiz spoke this week at GDC Online 2010, and announced that in the time since making the switch, LotRO has gained one million more accounts, and doubled the overall revenue. Paiz went into greater detail on just how much the game's success and popularity has increased since dropping subscriptions, and gave some startling statistics:
- 20% of former LotRO players have returned to the game since making the switch
- the game has seen a 300% increase in peak concurrency, with three times the number of players online simultaneously
- 400% increase in active players total
- 53% of players have purchased goods through microtransactions
For those of you who have been keeping track of Turbine, these facts should come as no surprise, since they managed to achieve the same level of success last year with Dungeons & Dragons Online. The phenomenon seems to defy logic, and is incredibly difficult to reconcile with those publishers who show real interest in moving DLC-rich franchises to subscription-required online access. But the small microtransactions, whether they be players purchasing outfits, mounts, or XP-boosts, add up over time, and now we have real proof that they can exceed the revenue generated by charging every player an access fee. But Paiz cut to the heart of the phenomenon:
"...when you tell people you no longer have to pay for it, they come in droves."
Maybe it's just that simple. I certainly love games that let you spend some time in their world before having to commit to a subscription. Games, specifically MMOs, that are free and enjoyable are an even bigger surprise, and one I would like to see more of. Hopefully this is just the beginning of a trend, and more online game developers will do the math and find a way to provide free experiences while still remaining profitable.
What's your take on the issue, Ranters? Do you share my desire for a top quality free-to-play MMO, or do you think that's just too much to ask? Perhaps you cling to the idea that subscriptions provide developers with the revenue to continue work and expansion on the title, as we've seen with World of Warcraft. Let us know in the comments below.
You can enter Tolkien's world, free of charge, by heading over to the Lord of the Rings Online site now.