22nd March 2011 by Diane

The price of commitment

The recently launched RIFT, a big-budget subscription MMO, has been offering a very deep discount for 3- and 6-months subscriptions set up early (the Founder pricing, normally valid for the first 2 weeks after release, which has been extended to the end of March). Discounts for longer subscriptions are the norm in the industry, and such an offer has been proposed before by other games. These limited offer at a very low price are really interesting. Read the rest of this entry »

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16th February 2011 by julien

Games as a Service: The Water Cooler Analogy

For the past years, our very own Thomas has been going around the world, preaching about Games as a Service, the whole idea that focusing on all aspects of a game that are not core gameplay not only can drastically increase all key performance indicator in an online game, but also prove very profitable. Now,  Ubisoft Toronto’s head Jade Raymond recently showed a pretty good understanding of this concept by using a interesting analogy. She said, while talking about a new project : “Games aren’t just what you talk about around the water cooler, they’re becoming the water cooler itself …

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3rd September 2010 by Martin

MMO Facebook Pages – An Unfinished Business?

I recently came across a very interesting report published by the Altimeter Group. “The 8 Success Criteria For Facebook Page Marketing” compares the Facebook pages of high profile brands and gives them a rating. They’ve researched 8 criteria which highly affect the success of a Facebook page, created a scorecard and evaluated each of the 30 pages, giving them a score from 1 to 5 for each criteria. After seeing the criteria and the result, I could well imagine that Facebook pages of well known MMOs (published and in development) might not score too many points as well. I was curious and put together a pool of 17 MMO Facebook pages, half of them subscription based, the other half Free2Play/Fremium client or browser based MMOs (incl. Facebook games). For a detailed description of all the criteria and and methods I recommend reading the actual report on Slideshare but read on for my observations on those 17 pages.

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12th August 2010 by Diane

The end of pay-to-play

The attentive observer of the online games market has noticed that more and more AAA MMOs have announced their switch to the Free-to-play model. This is not a new development, it’s just a sudden acceleration of a long-term trend that reached the tipping point.

The biggest F2P MMO in Europe, Metin2, was originally launched in 2006 as a subscrition game, and quickly repositioned as Free-to-play when it failed to gain traction. Since then, switching a struggling game to free-to-play has been a popular tactic, but for some games it did little to renew interest and bring a new audience, most of the time when it was too late already to adapt the whole game design and the way to run operations to the new model. That’s what happened to games like The Chronicles of Spellborn, which unsuccessfully switched to a not-quite-F2P model after an unsuccessful launch. The game just announced its definitive closure.

For some other games, like Turbine’s Dungeon and Dragons Online, it did bring a second youth and new players. Encouraged by the success of the tactic (or discouraged by its subscribers numbers), Turbine has since announced that its flagship MMO, Lord of the Rings Online, will switch to a Free to Play model at the end of the year. SOE has also announced recently that EverQuest2 was going free to play too. EverQuest 2 has been around since 2004 and isn’t getting any younger, so it’s probably an attempt from SOE to keep its existing base and attract ex-players.

Because, if everybody agrees that subscription is a barrier to entry, it’s also often overlooked as a barrier to re-entry, which is the main problem that declining games are facing.

We are curious to see how many more announcements there will be in the coming months, as the less pay-to-play MMOs remain, the more difficult it is for each one to keep the model. Games like Lineage 2 and City of Heroes at NCsoft could certainly be considering it, but even more recent games who did not meet the expected level of success like Warhammer Online or Age of Conan could be tempted.

The difficulty resides in finding the investment and expertise to develop the game around a new business model, while forgoing the existing revenue streams, which can be a huge gamble. This is also a difficult community management exercise, as first most people express discontent at having paid for something that is now free (a problem every company has when lowering the price of a product), and then if it is successful in growing the game’s audience, the reaction from the initial community can be very negative at the afflux of freeriders coming in. Not only are they n00bs, but non-paying ones at that!

It’s interesting to note that some recent or not even in Beta yet indie subscription  games have also announced their switch to free to play. The thing is, given the state of the AAA (understand “subscription-based”) MMO market in the West (which is flattening according to a brand new report by Strategy Analytics), it’s going to be very difficult for new games to be in a position to demand a subscription from players. The only games in position to keep the pay-to-play model will probably be the very niche games, where subscription is not the biggest barrier to entry and whose players are price inelastic (I doubt EVE Online would get much more players if it was free), and uber blockbusters which can command this premium  (Star Wars Old Republic will probably still launch pay-to-play). Even the biggest blockbusters might have trouble staying P2P, and those of the future might not be . The free to play offering is now so diverse and qualitative that it’s difficult to see what other type of game can now successfully launch pay to play. Attention is precious and the online model is games paying to acquire users, not the other way round.

We’re still noticing a lot of contempt in the generalist video games media for free-to-play games, when they are just not realizing that they are becoming the norm, and that the trend is accelerating. These media will go the same way of the pay-to-play games if they don’t get educated about free to play soon.

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22nd June 2010 by Thomas Bidaux

Innovating on business models

It is obvious to all that business models have evolved over the past few years. Some small changes and some bigger ones and I am glad to see that it is still going on with companies exploring and experimenting  both new and variations of old ones.

I have often said that the business models are now part of the game design process – and we are currently seeing new games using this to the best. But to see historical actors of the industry making their own experiments with their costly projects is actually equally interesting – or even more considering they have to manage their existing games and adapt them accordingly. There have been three announcements lately of that nature that I think are worth closely looking at. Read the rest of this entry »

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