It's currently popular to theorize that nearly all gaming will end up free or nearly free at some point, distributed via browser and monetized through ad support, microtransactions or scalable subscription models. Faith in this business model's been instated by the early success of many free-to-play web-based MMOs (many of them for kids, mind).
But what about the arguable king of all MMOs, World of Warcraft? Will it ever get on the trendwagon and go free, or offer a free option, at least? Not so much, says Blizzard COO Paul Sams, as part of an in-depth Gamasutra interview:
I don't envision us changing the business model for World of Warcraft. It's been working really well in each of the markets.
The game has been designed in such a way to where we determined the business model to wrap that around what the game experience was. Given that we're not looking to significantly modify the overall gameplay experience, which is I think is something you'd need in order to do item-based stuff, what that says to me is the business model's going to remain the same for WoW, and then as new products come about for Blizzard, we'll look at what the business model is that's right for each of those games.
If we make a game that's right for an item-based game, then we would do that – if it's the right business model. But really, the game drives what the business model is. And WoW has been built in such a way where I don't think that would be the way we'd go.
It is an interesting point that microtransactions-driven business models need a concurrent gameplay structure to support it. Okay, then!