2015 midyear check-in: Still not a single great F2P MMO

Wildstar announcing it is moving to the minor leagues of the MMO world (F2P) is… something? Personally I have zero investment/interest in Wildstar, as I never saw the point of creating a ‘hardcore’ raiding MMO and then picking a hyper-cartoon artstyle and thinking more than a tiny population would remain interested. Those seem a bit contradictory, and anything bigger than “tiny niche product” for Wildstar was never going to happen anyway.

The only real surprise I guess is that Wildstar is going F2P later than ESO did, though I highly suspect the delay for Wildstar had more to do with resource limits, and console-release deadlines for ESO pushing it towards F2P faster-than-needed (and I’m not sure ESO wouldn’t have stayed sub if it was a PC-only title anyway).

But all of this does further reinforce my point about business models in the MMO genre; if you have a good game, it can be great if its sub, and no F2P MMO can be great. That Wildstar wasn’t great and is now moving down to F2P doesn’t change that. Nor does ESO, as ESO wasn’t great.

What was of interest when both games were announced with the sub model is that it gave both games a chance, at least in terms of the business model, to be great. No MMO that is under the F2P weight can ever be great. If an MMO tomorrow is announced, and part of that announcement is that it’s F2P, we know that, at best, it will be mediocre, with very good odds that it will be hotbar-selling garbage.

That’s just the upper limit of F2P. Always has been, and midway through 2015, nothing has changed. In 2015 the best and most successful MMOs are still sub MMOs (FFXIV, WoW, EVE). Saying the sub model is dead or outdated makes you sound like an ignorant fool at best, if not an outright idiot. What is almost-dead is the MMO genre itself, at least compared to days of old, with only a few studios still making MMOs that are anything above mediocre. But make no mistake; if you are one of those studios, the sub model is the one model that will allow you to truly create something great. That hasn’t changed in 2015. As always, lets revisit (repeat) in 2016, shall we?

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
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27 Responses to 2015 midyear check-in: Still not a single great F2P MMO

  1. Montar says:

    Know what always amazes me? Whenever I see people posting about the death of sub-based MMORPGs, they never, ever seem to mention the growth of FFXIV. All they do is harp about subscriber declines in WOW and EVE.

  2. And then there is the whole EverQuest progression server thing.

    SOE/DGC offers a server devoid of most F2P options, requires a subscription to play on it, and cannot contain the demand despite applying technical means to allow it to handle twice as many players as any other EQ server, to the point that they have to open a second one.

    Now, if things go as expected, we will see more “SOE being SOE” and they will fail to capitalize on the whole thing, but for the moment it feels like there is a lesson to be learned here.

  3. Dan says:

    It’s not subs, it’s the games. Period. You want to charge a premium for your game, you need to make it a premium game.

    • I disagree. The business model dictates what is important. If you have sub, you concentrate on content, as that keeps people subscribed. If you are free to play, you must concentrate on the cash shop, because that is what keeps the game running.

      GuildWars 2 is probably the outlier in the free arena, arguably premium but also the least cash shop focused, and they have gone with the traditional subscription play in order to boost revenue, release an expansion.

      I am not sure it is as black and white as SynCaine pitches it, but the business model is not independent of the game because in MMOs the business model is such an integral part of the game.

      • Klyith says:

        Disagree yet again. F2P can work. Buy-once can work. Subscription can work. What doesn’t work is switching between models.

        There are MMO-ish F2P games that are doing well — PoE, Warframe, and plenty of not-MMO-but-online-servers like Tanks, War Thunder, and in similar respects LoL & Dota. None of them have the full set of MMORPG features, but they were designed around the limitations of F2P and made plans about how they’d get and use revenue.

        Switching from subscription to F2P doesn’t work because it doesn’t fix any of the long-term problems, and adds more because your revenue model is now out of balance with your game design.

        Guild Wars 2 is a game that I wouldn’t use as an example of anything, except maybe how players lie about what they want. They spent a huge amount of effort making the WvW pvp element, in the idea it would sustain interest in the game. Turns out not. It’s safe to say GW2 is a minor failure compared to the pre-release expectations, but it can easily get back on track. GW1 had a really long tail after all the expansions.

        • SynCaine says:

          F2P works for non-MMOs, sure. It doesn’t work for great MMOs, which is why we don’t have a single example of a great F2P MMO, despite what, 5 years now of the model being popular?

        • I have to go with SynCaine here. You have to have an example of a F2P MMORPG that works in order to make that claim. There have been a lot of games that have started out as free, so lack the conversion stigma, going all the way back to Silk Road Online or Runes of Magic. But do we have one that isn’t a cash-shop focused, second rate, couldn’t charge a subscription if it wanted that can be the standard bearer for what a successful F2P MMORPG ought to be?

          I use “MMORPG” since I think that gets more at what we all seem to mean, since “MMO” has been beaten to the point of being meaningless at this point. Hearthstone has appeared on a few lists of “MMOs” and that isn’t anywhere close to what I believe we all mean when we use the term.

        • (Edit: Okay, Silk Road Online was a conversion, but Runes of Magic still stands.)

    • SynCaine says:

      It’s also about F2P, period. If it’s F2P, it’s not great. That’s the other very important part of all of this.

      Yes you need a great game, but that game literally can’t be great if its F2P.

      • Anti-Stupidity League says:

        Hey, maybe if you repeat something often enough it could almost become the truth!

        There are plenty of f2p mmo games that are “good enough”. As there’s not a single great mmo game out there at the moment, “good enough” will have to do.

        • SynCaine says:

          I’d consider an MMO 12 years in still being the innovation leader great. I’d consider any MMO with 4m+ subs great in comparison to the rest of the genre. But some of us like good games, and others enjoy buying hotbars I guess.

  4. Pendan says:

    I started playing Marvel Heroes 2015 a couple weeks ago and it is pretty good for F2P. They added 2015 to the name I guess at start of year to emphasize the changes to the game and everyone says it is much better now than release. Still are holding the 2 year anniversary event this month. Good time to start because lots of free stuff going out including 2nd free character just for logging in next week.

    If like me and don’t need a lot of characters then only thing really an issue with playing totally free is bank space. I run a second account on another computer to help out with that.

    Some say it is not a real MMO but you play with lots of other people that you see running around killing stuff with you so I am not sure the qualification.

    • Armagon says:

      Yep, Marvel Heroes is pretty great – but for me it’s also mostly a Diablo-like. I’ve yet to raid, but up to 5 players it’s hack’n’slash without many of the defining MMO(RPG even less) criteria.

  5. carson63000 says:

    For me, the most surprising thing about the Wildstar F2P transition was that they even found it worth the investment to make the switch. Surprised they didn’t just pull the plug rather than throwing good money after bad.

  6. Anti-Stupidity League says:

    Remember when you promised that both ESO and Wildstar were going to kill the who f2p mmo genre once and for all? I remember it, who else remembers it? Did you forget?

    What happened?

    Are f2p mmo games dead now?

    • SynCaine says:

      Got a link to that promise?

      • NetherLands says:

        Think he means posts like e.g.


        where ESO and WildStar launching as sub were prophesied as the death of F2P, which clearly hasn’t happened (one could distill your various comments on other blogs at the time as well but frankly cba).

        Personally I think this whole discussion about payment models is a shtick that has ran its course, especially with FFXIV being about the only big one that is a ‘pure’ sub game even from the player end (e.g. with a regular-size stable of alts, your WoW Garrison will easily pay for your play time, even in the EU and its double gold price) and hecne it becomes all rather theoretical to begin with, especially as whenever something that is F2P is succesful it will be cut down anyway as not being a MMORPG like Excel in Space or Garrisons Online.

        Reading about your gameplay in EVE, FFXIV and/or WoW (assuming you still play any of those games) would IMO be more interesting. Just a thought.

        • SynCaine says:

          That post is still 100% accurate. FFXIV, the one good/great MMO from that bunch, is still sub, and at this point might have the largest sub playerbase, exceeding WoW (and it will certainly have more subs once the expansion is out). The other highly successful MMOs remain WoW and EVE, both sub.

          ESO and Wildstar are now F2P because they aren’t good enough, which is why F2P exists, and what that post you linked said. And while that post is from 2013, here we sit in 2015 and still don’t have a single major F2P MMO, which is again consistent.

          Also don’t confuse a game having PLEX or a copy of PLEX as not being sub. Every PLEX used is someone paying (often a higher priced) sub, nothing more.

        • Trego says:

          “where ESO and WildStar launching as sub were prophesied as the death of F2P, which clearly hasn’t happened ”

          It clearly has happened; in the sense of ‘dead’ most often used to describe the popularity of ideas and concepts, where death is a metaphor for unpopularity and failure. Perhaps you were thinking he was saying that F2P would no longer have a beating heart and be declared dead by an MD instead? If you’d read past the title of the linked article, to the third paragraph which opens: “Will F2P still exist in some capacity? Yes.”, then you would have gotten a clearer idea of what exactly he was predicting.

          That said, NL, I agree that the difference between F2P and sub models is becoming uninteresting to discuss, not because sub models are becoming ‘impure’, but because the entire market is becoming ‘impure’. SW:TOR is apparently F2P, and WoW is ‘sub’, but they both have subs, they both have cash shops, and they both have a ‘free’ demo mode. (Note: this has nothing to do with the PLEX model, what I’m referencing above has been true for years. That said, on a completely different subject: Syn is wrong when he says that PLEX is a pure sub model, it’s clearly not.) Discussions of F2P and sub models that attempt to shoehorn every game that currently exists into one or the other of this limited and false dichotomy are becoming more and more inaccurate with time.

          I’ll expand on that other point here, though. Let’s say CCP ended the PLEX program, and instead decided to internalize/stabilize the PLEX program as follows. Let’s say at the time of this decision PLEX were trading for 700m ISK. (I haven’t been playing EVE since around January, so I have no idea what they currently are) CCP says they will start selling ISK for real world money at the rate of 400m ISK for 10 dollars. They will also start letting people pay their sub directly with ISK, at the rate of 1 month’s sub for 700m isk, the same as before. Since a 1 month sub is around 15$, they are charging in effect a small commission fee to buy a sub this way, over the value of ISK vs $ that they have established.

          This new system would function, for all sides concerned, nearly the same way, but I think that many people would call this a cash shop because the technicality of CCP not directly selling ISK would be gone. I think this scenario is unlikely to happen, partly because this switch might have a negative impact in regards to real world tax laws; but it is still important to remember that it is basically a technicality.

          When you compare the two systems, in the current PLEX system people want you to pretend that people playing with PLEX are still paying with subscription, but someone else is paying for them. OK then, how many people are having someone else pay for them, and how is it decided who the lucky people are who get someone else to pay for them? “Just ignore the man behind the curtain.” is the hushed reply.

          The second model brings the man out from behind the curtain, and now he’s behind the counter out in the open, busily selling ISK for real world cash and vice versa. It is, in some sense, the truer system, and CCP could easily vary the exchange rate between ISK and $ according to supply and demand to maintain that feature of the old system, in fact because of the effect of the PLEX speculators in the current system this new system would actually do much better in that regard as well.

        • SynCaine says:

          What you are calling a technicality is one of the major black/white distinction between F2P and sub. Today CCP doesn’t create ISK on demand, under your model they would. That’s not so much a technicality as it is economy suicide, which in turn would quickly destroy EVE.

          “how is it decided who the lucky people are who get someone else to pay for them?”

          How is spending 700m ISK on a PLEX and using it luck? That entire part of what you wrote made zero sense to me.

        • Trego says:

          ” Today CCP doesn’t create ISK on demand, under your model they would.”

          I already addressed this quite specifically. It would be trivially easy to adjust the market price of ISK vs $ to achieve long term stability of ISK creation/destruction. The short term imbalance would reflect the price stability created by speculators, without the bubbles/crashes created by PLEX speculators. Your objection here is specious.

          “That entire part of what you wrote made zero sense to me.”

          It was sarcasm, I’m sorry the joke isn’t clear to you.

        • SynCaine says:

          “It would be trivially easy to adjust the market price of ISK vs $ to achieve long term stability of ISK creation/destruction. ”

          Just for shits and giggles, how would you go about doing that in EVE, if we assume instead of PLEX, anyone can spend $ to have CCP create ISK for them?

  7. tithian says:

    ‘In 2015 the best and most successful MMOs are still sub MMOs (FFXIV, WoW, EVE)’

    Ehhh… while I agree with FFXIV being a quality sub MMO, WoW is declining rapidly since WOD launched (both in quality and subs) and EVE sustains itself mostly due to people needing multiple accounts.

    Subscriptions are becoming a thing of the past. Out of a fairly large group of friends/MMO enthusiasts, I’m the only one left that is even willing to consider shelling out for a sub anymore, especially when your average F2P or B2P game has stepped up to quality like the one found in Neverwinter, ESO, Guild Wars or The Secret World.

    Wilhelm mentioned the EQ progression server. I wonder that will go when the novelty wears off and you’re stuck grinding level whatever in a camp.

    • SynCaine says:

      Your friend sample group is flawed then; there are more people playing FFXIV than any other MMO at this point outside of Asia. More than NWN, ESO, GW2, or TSW. Same with WoW. As for EVE, when another MMO is still as relevant 12 years in as EVE is, and is still pushing the genre forward, all while maintaining a large population, get back to me, whether those 400k subs are all one person with alts or not :)

      Something can’t be a thing of the past if it is currently, as in today, dominating the industry, which is exactly what FFXIV and WoW are doing. Those other games you mentioned are footnotes in comparison.

      • tithian says:

        You are correct that numerically WoW is king, I know. However, the general feeling of the community is that it’s all going downhill. This is the first time I’ve seen people unsub at the same time they announced a major content patch. There is also a large group of people (i.e. 50% of my guild) that can sustain a sub from the new WoW token, meaning that since the last month Blizzard became the largest gold seller in the game and they know their bottom line depends on it from now on. The fact that they added near raid-quality loot to vendors for gold (yes really) points that they need the extra gold sinks for the new buyers, as well as incentives to sell tokens. “For 59,99$, you too can now become geared just in time for the new tier.”

        So my argument isn’t that WoW isn’t successful, but rather that it’s not a pure sub-based MMO anymore.

        As for EVE I don’t consider it relevant, nor do i think that it’s pushing the genre forward. I believe it survived simply because it had no competition whatsoever. Now that other options for both sandboxes and space-sci-fi-sim-stuff appeared, it’s losing its appeal rapidly.Opinions, and stuff.

        The only successful Sub MMO in the market is, imo, FFXIV. And that’s because the Japanese market doesn’t really like F2P (hence why it’s never going F2P ever) and the rate with which they are adding content is astounding. I think it’s the only MMO that actually made me think that they are adding too much too fast! I expect that the game will be around for 10+ years, simply because they treat their customers like actual customers (another Japanese trait showing). So this is more like the exception, rathen than the rule.

  8. Armagon says:

    Damn, I always want to say “GW2” but forget that it’s actually a boxed sale, even if I got it for 10 EUR. And I managed to get to 80 just fine without spending anything else.
    It’s a fun game, really, but sadly for the developers I am not throwing money towards the shop just because I love the game.

    Only <100 hours /played in, so it's not like I have a guilty conscience, either.

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