Among everything else going on at the Austin GDC, an interesting panel took place on the issue of changing business models in MMOs — Free To Play has an easy to read, to the point summation of the panel, which included Robert Ferrari of Turbine (LOTRO), Hilmar Veigar Petursson of CCP (EVE Online), Nicolay Nickelsen of Funcom (Age of Conan), and Min Kim of Nexon (MapleStory). Unsurprisingly, it included discussion of the revenue models — subscription versus free to play — as well as potential audiences:
Robert: F2P has a huge influence. But we have been based on subscriptions for years, with some games being around for 10+ years. Subscripitions hit a hardcore audience that is really embedded in those games. But as you expand your audience, they aren't as hardcore anymore and F2P becomes more enticing as subs only wouldn't appeal. Nicolay: Both models work. Hardcore gamers are comfortable with sub model and most of the games with microtransactions have been casual games. But it is possible to have more than one biz model in a game. Min: There is room in the market for both biz models. F2P in North America will make a large push as teenagers can't commit to $15/month, so F2P will work well with them. Nexon saw lots of success when the market went beyond core to mass market. Hilmar: Consumers are changing the business model of games - consumers making decisions. You can play Eve online through our trial program as a F2P program - users are able to "game" our trial system to play it as a F2P game. It's a challenge for companies to adopt the needs of the market rather than keeping their head in sand. People will play the game how they want. Min: We're seeing in S Korea a lot of players have a subscription-based game that is their favourite, but have a secondary game that they play f2p with microtransactions.
I can't imagine the FTP model will ever overtake subscription models in the West, but there's no doubt that there are a lot of people playing FTPs — and spending way, way more than they would on a subscription — with an ever-increasing audience. I'm curious to see if we'll get any of the crazier FTP MMOs coming out of Asia in the coming years. Evolving Business Models in MMOs - Panel [Free To Play]