Since going free to play Pirates of the Burning Sea, published by Sony Online Entertainment, has experienced a surge in active players. Whether this surge will remain permanent or not is too soon to call. What I find fascinating is that Pirates of the Burning Sea’s playerbase increased quite a bit when going free to play while EverQuest 2, also by Sony, didn’t enjoy the same kind of increase in playerbase. Don’t get me wrong, since going free to play EQ2 also had a spike in playerbase, but the spike wasn’t nearly as large as the one Pirates of the Burning Sea Enjoyed. We all know that Turbine had a ton of success with the whole free to play conversion with both Dungeons and Dragons Online and The Lord of the Rings Online, but much of that can be attributed to heavy advertising. Neither Potbs or EverQuest 2 spent much on advertising. I personally hope PotbS will be a success as a free to play title, as if more pay to play games gone free to play become successful, it may pave the way for Age of Conan, Lineage 2 and other pay to play MMORPGs to adopt the same F2P business model. Champions Online from Cryptic, the superhero MMORPG, announced that they too would embrace free to play starting in early 2011. What’s confusing about that announcement is that Cryptic is making Champions Online free to play before City of Heroes – which might mean that Champions Online hasn’t been that profitable as a pay to play game. Cryptic did say though that if Champions Online does well as a free to play game, they would eventually make their newest game, Star Trek Online free to play as well.
The thing about pay to play games going free to play is that many of them expect too much. Look at games like Archlord and RF Online. They were both pay to play games for a short while, but failed miserably. They relaunched as free to play games, and even though they didn’t have the same kind of success as DDO or LOTRO, both games are STILL in existence today and chugging along. CrimeCraft is another good example. They launched originally as a retail pay to play MMO, but quickly realized that they couldn’t compete with other subscription games, so they dropped their subscription all together. A much older pay to play MMO, Istaria, sort of went free to play as well, as it launched an unlimited free trial which had minimal restrictions.
Newer games like Terra and RIFT which are launching as pay to play games are doing so at their own peril in my opinion. The pay to play model isn’t “dead”, but I think it’s on its way to extinction, as more and more game developers are realizing this and adopting the free to play model. Too many western game developers think that the free to play business model is exclusively for social games like Frontierville and Cupcake Corner. Obviously the social games like Endless Chaos and Vikings of Thule have been successful as F2P games, but there are a ton of real, 3D, downloadable F2P games as well.