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I was going to write an article about why no MMO currently out (or in development) stands a chance at beating World of Warcraft, but then I noticed that Extra Credits already explained it eloquently. As I was watching their video, I found myself in agreement when it came to all things except one. I genuinely do not believe that transition to free-to-play models is the future. It may sound nice in theory, but upon closer examination it becomes evident that games are not magically exempt from the notion of “you get what you pay for.”
There are three types of free games. The first type is genuinely free. It usually includes small, indie offerings, proofs of concept, and student projects. Sometimes the developers ask for donations, but it is always clear that they are not expecting to get paid and not counting on the money. The games in this category can be quite good, excellent at times, yet it is evident at first glance that they have low production values. Indie is a good thing, but they are not in the business of competing with AAA titles, and just as it would be premature to dismiss the value in indie games, so is it immature to dismiss the value of big AAA games.
The second type of free games includes titles that were formerly sold for money, but have (usually due to age) been discounted to the point of being offered for free. This is not to say that they are bad games. Back in the day they may have been quite good, but enough time has passed that they will hardly be able to impress anyone. Take Beneath a Steel Sky as an example. It looked really good for its time, and is a reasonably good game. Currently it is available for free from Good Old Games, but in all honesty, it has limited value unless one is heavily into adventure games or is looking to tickle his or her nostalgia.
The third and final type of free game is the free-to-play MMO. They range from generic anime-styled trashware, to such high production value titles as Lord of the Rings Online. I will not go into much detail when it comes to the former type, except that these get made by the dozen, and usually fail. The only surprising thing about them is that people actually play them. The latter type, however, is worth examining up close.
How does a game like Lord of the Rings Online remain free? Well, first and foremost let us recall that it didn’t start off that way. This is a very recent development, and as of the time of this writing it has used the same traditional subscription model as EverQuest for the majority of its lifespan. Things were not going as well as the company would have liked though, so they decided to change their business model. Contrary to what some romantically inclined gamers may think, going free was a business decision born of the desire to make more money, not of pure altruism and a love for Tolkien’s work.
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