My World of Warcraft subscription renewed itself yesterday, and it really got me thinking. Before I continue, understand that with Champions Online going free to play yesterday (and knowing about it quite some time ago) I’ve been considering the subject for quite some time. After all, gamers only have so much time to devote to their games. If they can do it for free, why not?
Runes of Magic (pictured above) is the current WoW-lite of free to play and while it’s not top notch, it’s definitely a good comparison for 15 dollars a month less. Lord of the Rings and Dungeons & Dragons both went free to play last year and both report an increase in numbers. Even Guild Wars has done very well on a “buy the box and you’re good for life” premise.
Now imagine World of Warcraft as free to play. There are 11 million players in Azeroth. There would probably be 5-10 times that many if the game were free to play. I know what you’re saying. “Why would Blizzard make the game free to play when they’re making 10-15 dollars a month times 11 million?”
Off the hop, I think they would actually make more money. There’s a reason gold sellers are constantly appearing in your chat window. Players buy it. I would argue more than any other game, Warcraft players are willing to pay real money for an edge in-game. Heck, characters are sold on e-bay. If Blizzard took a proactive approach to things, they could benefit from that.
I’m not saying make the game free with the opportunity to buy more gold. However, getting a thousand free gold with each in-store transaction is not out of the realm of possibilities. Vanity pets and mounts are already a viable pay-to-have product. Things like extra character slots, races, BoA’s and more could also be things players could pay to have access to.
Not everyone likes the Draenei, Blood Elves, Goblins, and Worgen. But imagine if the game was free and started with the Vanilla WoW races and the option to buy access to any of them for three dollars, or all of them as a “racial package” for ten dollars. Altaholics would jump on that I’m sure. That’s also just a single example.
Each free to play game does things a little different. What it makes available, what you have to pay for. WoW could very easily be no different and still continue to bring in the profit hand over fist. They could even follow Guild Wars and continue to charge for the initial game or expansion. Do I think they will? Not likely.
The simple reason is they don’t have to. The player base continues to climb exponentially despite having to buy the game, its expansions, and pay said monthly fee. Until something better comes out, or something really challenges World of Warcraft, that’s not going to change. But at some point, World of Warcraft will be outdated and stale and no longer the big dog in the yard. At that time, I can see the company trimming the number of servers, and allowing some final character transfers. After that, if the company chose to keep a small number of servers alive, I can very much see the game becoming free. But then and only then because I honestly believe it will be Blizzard that creates a game that bypasses WoW long before any game by any other company successfully does so.