June 29th, 2011

Did WoW Jump the Shark?

Yes, I know this is not an MMO forum. But it is a roleplaying game forum, and believe it or not some RP does happen on MMOs (especially on my poison of choice, Lord of the Rings Online). And I'm guessing enough of us play MMOs (whether we admit it or not) to make this of some general interest.

Gentle readers, I direct your attention to the following article:


Today Blizzard announced that a very basic, watered-down version of World of Warcraft is free to play until level 20. You can't use the AH, you can't get your crafting above 100, you can't have more than 100 gold, you can't even earn XP after you ding 20. But you can play. So far people seem to be of the 'give them the first shot of the drug for free, and they'll be users for life' camp, but I think not. I think that Blizz knows WoW has reached the pinnacle of its popularity, and they're trying to prolong the gravy train awhile (especially in the face of increasing competition and a persistently bad global economy). Granted, WoW's demise has been prematurely predicted many times before, but this time I think that prediction is correct.

However, my real point is this: I predict that subscription-based MMOs will be a thing of the past in 5-10 years. WoW is not the first to offer limited gameplay to non-subscribers. Some of WoW's strategy was copied directly from Turbine's LotRO playbook....and LotRO is the master of making money without subscriptions. Let's look at how they do it:

First, you can play from level 1 to cap (currently 65, I think) without spending a dime. LotRO is free to download, and no subscription is necessary. Their money comes from 'Turbine points' (or, TP)- virtual currency that is used extensively in-game. Certain quest chains, handy-dandy crafting packs, the best mounts, the best legendary items, money cap- just a few things that you need TP for. You can earn them in-game (albeit painfully slowly), but you can also buy them either through the online store or with pre-loaded cards sold at retail stores. Of course, subscribers get a generous allowance of TP as part of their membership.

Eventually, one of the big MMOs (WoW, GW2, SWtOR, or whoever) will realize what genius this is, and adopt it in some form. And when one of the big boys does that, you can say good-bye to subscription-based MMOs.

You heard it here first, folks.

The Death of MMO Subscriptions?

Ok, I know this is not an MMO forum. But I think it's worth posting for two reasons: one, some role-playing does happen in MMOs. Two, enough of us probably play MMOs (whether we admit it or not) to make this of general interest.

I direct your attention to the following article:


Seems you can now play World of Warcraft to level 20 for free. Kind of. Sure you can't earn XP past level 20, or have more than 100 gold, or raise your professions above 100, or use the AH (among other can'ts). But you can play. A lot of people seem to think this is to draw even more players to the game. You know: give your customer the first dose for free and they'll be hooked after that. I disagree. I think Blizz knows that WoW is, at this very moment, at the pinnacle of its popularity. Blizz also realizes that the MMO market is only getting more crowded: Rifts is out, FFXIV is about to release a HUGE patch, GW2 is pending, SWtOR is pending, not to mention all the f2p Asian MMOs like Fiesta and FlyFF. And this all comes when the global economy is persistently bad. IMHO, Blizz is making WoW free to play (kind of) to extend their gravy train, not build it higher.

"But, Daniel," you ask, "what does this have to do with the title of the post?" Well, it's simple: some of Blizz's strategies in the WoW f2p trial were copied directly from Turbine's Lord of the Rings Online playbook. But Turbine has fine-tuned it into a thing of absolute beauty.

This is what LotRO does. You can download the game for free, and level your toon to cap (65 I think) for free. But all the bestest stuff in the game you can't get unless you pay for it with virtual money called Turbine Points (TP). You can only have 2 gold (rough WoW equivalent: 2000 gold) at any time (the rest goes into escrow until you subscribe). You must pay for the expansions. You can only get the best mounts with TP. And the legendary items. And you can't send money through the mail. You can't even unlock certain quest chains without those sweet, precious TPs. Sure, you can earn TP in-game, but that process is painfully slow. You can also buy TP via Turbine's online store or with prepaid retail cards. Subscribers are in even better shape: they get a generous allowance of TP as part of their subscription package.

At the expense of sounding fanboyish, I think Turbine's model is so good, so ingenious, that it is only a matter of time before a major MMO adopts it. And when that happens, subscription-based MMOs will go bye-bye, especially if the MMO market stays so competitive and the economy stays crappy.