The Collapse of Subscriptions Continues

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.

4 responses to “The Collapse of Subscriptions Continues

  1. I’d be tempted to give Lineage II another shot once it goes f2p, but like you I just don’t have the time to play everything. I will give STO a try though. I was always curious, but never enough to have to pay. Now if Vanguard would just go f2p…

    I agree that the free to play world is getting a bit crowded, but it’s been successful for just about every game that has made the switch. I would think that as more and more games flood the market, the successes will start to dwindle. Someone will come up with a new f2p model with a cash shop or microtransactions that we haven’t seen yet. Maybe we’ll start seeing more in-game advertisements? I just think that once you start giving players a chance to get their feet wet in a game without paying, it will be too hard to go back to asking for money up front.

  2. I’m in the same boat — too many games out there to try, not enough time. As it is, I have a sub to Rift, but lately I’ve been playing more DDO and Champions Online — both F2P. I also have LotRO installed, but never seem to find the time to play it, I would like to re-sub to EQ2 at some point, but I ‘d also like to try out STO once it makes the switch.

    And these are just the “big names.” There are still so many others that sound interesting on top of these. . . . . . .

    So many games, so little time😦

  3. Aww .. you had to go and make me all wistful for Tabula Rasa. I’d download that in a second if they brought it back. With all the chaff clinging to life via F2P, its a shame that a game I really enjoyed is simply dead.

  4. I think the only real option in the subscription market would have been tiered subscriptions, pay a little for up to 10 hours in game a month, pay abitmore for 11-20, and so on. The failure here was the inability of the publishers to realize that the market changed a lot with the inflow of lots of casual players who saw the $ 14.99 subscription fee as to expensive for the few hours they played. It is really all about what the game offers to its customers, maybe it is telling that the super casual wow still has a subscription fee? I dunno.