In a few short hours, Fallen Earth will be free-to-play. Within the next few weeks Star Trek Online will be joining it. Now, Massively reports that Lineage II will be joining them. Rumors say that Dark Age of Camelot and/or Warhammer Online will be following. It’s a given that future SOE titles Planetside 2 and most probably EverQuest Next will launch free; John Smedley says (and I agree) that Star Wars: The Old Republic will be the last big-ticket subscription MMO, but that will boast a cash shop sooner rather than later.
Still, there are hangers-on, including some big names. World of Warcraft, of course, which I think has at least two or three years left on the old model even if the next expansion busts big. (The WoW “free to play” thing is rather a trial that’s level-capped rather than time-limited. It’s exactly the same deal WAR and AoC were offering, and nobody was calling those f2p.) And there’s EVE Online, and a parcel of smaller games, like Vanguard and Darkfall, that simply cannot afford to make the transition. In any event, it’s probably too late; the f2p market is now very crowded. The early adopters did well in the switch, but these are now routine, and it’s more surprising when a game doesn’t go free-to-play. Even those games which retain subscriptions are moving in the direction of also having cash shops.
I think that we will always have subscription games, mind. But they’re increasingly going to be seen as the nichey outlier rather than the standard of over a decade. The MMO market, with dozens of good games in it, is far more crowded than it was when the old model gained a foothold and committing yourself to a particular title only meant excluding three or four others. Even so, there was great resistance from certain parts of the PC gaming community. I remember thinking, in the early days when EverQuest was grabbing all the attention, that charging a subscription over and above the cost of the boxed game was nothing short of an outrage. I proved to be wrong about that. The anti-f2p crowd is going to be proven wrong today.
So, Lineage II. I tried it and hated it a few years back. I may give it another shot for free… but probably not. I ain’t got time to play every game that I might like, especially when it’s already got one strike against it. If NCSoft brought back Tabula Rasa in an f2p format I’d be all over it, but that’s spectacularly unlikely.
Fallen Earth, on the other hand, is all installed and ready for the Wednesday f2p patch, and I’m looking forward to taking a dip in those waters.