The (not really all that) new MMO business model: Is your MMO ‘good’?
If you lied and said “Yes”, go to A.
If you ran out of money, need to ship the alpha, and said “No”, go to B.
A: Hold a closed beta open to everyone, drum up launch hype, pack a Collectors edition with a ton of junk, sell for full price or more. Promise the world a week or so after launch, while also talking about how you never expected such a strong response and that you are now playing catch-up. Patch some of the stuff you cut in beta into the game, showing how ‘agile’ your development is compared to everyone else.
Hype wears off, you actually launched another WoW-clone. Merge servers at some point, the longer you wait the worse things get. Make sure to release a paid expansion with all the other stuff you cut from release at full price. Expansion hype wears off even sooner. Go F2P shortly after. If your MMO is based on an IP, shut down. If not, get an intern to keep the lights on.
B: Hype launch, lie/cheat/murder to sound special, sell the box at full price. Wait for your game to die. The rate of death is directly tied to how bad your game is.
If death is measurable in weeks, announce a return to beta, ‘re-launch’ with a nice buzzword attached to the title, sell the game at a ‘discount’, then go F2P a month later. Shut down shortly after.
If death is measured in months, announce a “brand new, exciting” direction, go F2P. Plan B: Announce that subscriptions are a relic (despite you charging full price for a box just a few months ago) and that F2P is the new ‘it’ thing, and that you are simply doing what everyone else is doing (despite the good MMOs all being sub-based, still). Shut down months later when no one is looking.
Note: This post would be a lot funnier if any of the above was exaggerated or sarcasm. Recent MMOs off the top of my head that inspired this post: Alganon, APB, Gods and Heroes, Global Agenda, Champions Online, DCUO, PotBS. I’m sure I’m missing a bunch.
The point: If an upcoming MMO looks ‘interesting’, wait a month and play the F2P version, saving yourself $50. If an MMO looks like a ‘sure thing’, wait a month and pay $5 on Steam. If an MMO has ‘neat ideas’, play on day one because day three they are shutting down. Make sure to take day two off from work to really make that $50 count!