Thursday, July 4, 2013

What If: Is F2P on the Horizon?

With the possibility of a item shop coming to the game do you think that free to play is far behind?

While the only ting we have seen so far is something that increases the experience gained by 100% and we can not even be certain what that means we have to wonder what else could come.  Even if we are all just guessing, it is something worth talking about.  Being the one "in game" item shop thing we have seen does not have a cool down or a timer we can guess it is not an item.  Being it is a tracker it would seem it is something that is either ticked on or ticked off.

It has a lot of people wondering if this means and item shop is coming and while this post is about that I would like to point out a few little things. 

This was found on the PTR, the same place that made us think we were getting tri-spec last patch and notice how we do not have tri-spec.  Another thing is we do not actually know what the reference to in game store is.  It could mean it is something you buy with some sort of points, like valor or conquest, or it could be another gold sink attempt like the BMAH was.  It very well might not mean that an item shop where you pay cash for items is coming.  However, if it does, that usually means F2P is also coming.

I think if anything blizzard will attempt to break the mold and continue to be a subscription game with an item shop.  Trying to get the best of both worlds, money from each side.  With over 8M subs at $15 each that means they make over 120 million a month.  I really can not see some company ever saying "lets throw away 120M a month of guaranteed money and see what we can make with an item shop."  Sorry, just do not see that happening.  As long as large numbers keep paying that monthly fee it is still way too profitable for them to change the mold.

However, it is not so profitable that they would not want to find a way to boost those numbers by becoming a subscription game with an item shop.  If they could keep both running they can make more than 120M a month.  Also with an item shop added if they ever need to go the F2P route everything is already in place and people are already used to it, so there would be no uproar as if WoW is dying.  It would just be the same old item shop we have all been made used to and no more subscription.  It would be viewed as a good thing.

What would happen is something like this.

Over the next few years we get the item shop that sells all sorts of goodies.  We already have mounts and pets and maybe this experience boosting thing coming.  They would begin to add tons of other things from trangsmog sets, to item store only sets (not for current level of course), dying sets, maybe even some things that would be considered quality of life stuff like access to portals in the main city that others do not.  All types of little things would appear in the store, all cheap, ever expanding.

If and when subscriptions fell low enough that they wanted to go full on with the item shop they would announce something along these lines. "As a thank you to all you players that stayed with us and as a testament to the success of the item shop we have decided we are able to remove the monthly fee to play wow and continue to provide you with the excellent content you have become accustom to with just the proceeds from it." 

People will cheer, it will be a huge hit all around the forums and net because the item shop will have become something we were used to.  It did not offer anything that gave real advantages in game so no one really had much of an issue with it.  You would see people making posts about how this will return warcraft to is glory days and how 12M players would soon be considered low because people would flood to wow being it was now free and all the older players would come back, even if only as part time players, because it was free.  All of this would be true of course.

Then some time later it would start.  New item shop additions like the purchase that increases your valor cap for the week by 100%.  The raid reset option so you could reset your personal lock out for the week so you could run it again and get loot again.  Then they would release special item shop tabards that you can craft yourself by uploading an image to be on it, for a fee of course, and this tabard would increase all reputations gained while wearing it, so it would not be just cosmetic.  Then there would be the paid radical change so you can give your orc every man for himself.  Then the ability to pay to make a certain race that would not be in game except for people who paid to make the character.  Then the paid only class.  Then more and more would come and people would start to cry, it is now a pay to win game.

When just a few months earlier they were calling blizzard the best company in the world for giving them the game for free.

Do I think this is all going to happen this way?  I can't be sure, no one can.  Do I think it is possible?  Absolutely.

This might just be a little test, as they say, for certain regions that can't buy stuff from the outer game for some reason.  It would not be the first time that there have been differences between regions.  The US/UK do not have separate 10 and 25 man lock outs, others do.  You can't get the dead mans party achievement in china or even see bones for that matter.  So perhaps it is indeed innocent and just a way to allow people in a certain part of the world to purchase something that no one else can just to see if it works as intended.  That is entirely possible.

But one region getting a 100% experience boost only?  Now that is what I am suspect about.  That is something everyone will want, or might want.  Why give something like that only to people in one zone that need an in game shop to buy stuff?  They could very well be using one region as a testing area for a much wider release of the in game shop to all come the next expansion or some time shortly thereafter.

Nearly everyone you speak to will agree on some level that the free to play model is the model of the future for warcraft.  It will go that way, some day.  Even the most die hard against the idea realize that will have to happen some day.  Just not right now, not when there are over 120M reasons per month not to.  But it will come.  Some day.  And this is blizzard taking a proactive roll in preparing for it.  Even if you don't notice it.


  1. I should have known you would make a post. I just wrote one myself where I extrapolated the what if f2p as you just did. Well actually I didn't go as far as you did. I talked a bit about what they might sell in a hybrid model, so a sub would still be an option, but like Swtor you could pay to unlock things, some for a week, some permanent, rather than subscribing.

    I personally think that it's just a testbed item, and likely not even the real deal just the Stromgarde scenario. They are making a new integrated launcher, so this is just something on the same lines, all streamlined. They have the in game brower tool that they are using for support. So they are just opening the store in the game, perhaps hoping for more impulse buys when people see mounts and pets in the world. Using an item that doesn't exist to set it up would be the first step to ensure they break less of the code.

    However, if it's real then I do think it's as far as they will go for a while. Much like mounts had an advantage before there were account wide mounts, all an XP potion does is get you the same thing faster. Nothing game breaking, nothing approaching buy to win. It's a step closer towards that but still not crossing the line.

    They'll only go further, and give up as you say that guaranteed income, a few years time when subs have dropped even more. They'll only swap when they'll make more money, or to keep the cash cow of Warcraft going a while longer, it is I believe their most successful title, which sort of props up everything else, unless I'm completely off the mark. When Titan's ready, if they think it'll take over as their premier title, and keep them in business for the next decade, then they'd let Warcraft slip, but not until then.

    We'll have to see, tri-spec didn't happen, this might not either.

    1. They will only go F2P when they have basically given up and are bleeding so much subs the stock holders demand it. I do not see that happening any time soon however. At closest it might be 3 years away and that is still a stretch I think.

      If they want to add more "goodies" I don't think they would reach much resistance. And I do believe that having mounts in game so people can see it would help with impulse buys, like you said.

  2. I'm not convinced that WoW will ever go fully F2P even in its twilight years.

    I do believe we'll end up with some sort of hybrid option to a full subscription, though. I've always thought it was strange that everyone pays the same $13-15 month no matter what they do in-game.

    For instance (totally off the top of my head):

    Platinum Sub: $30/month (annual sub)
    Includes: All current subscription benefits, plus immediate access to all pets and mounts offered from the store, plus priority access to Blizzcon tickets, plus a monthly gold stipend (10K a month, maybe), 100% XP boost (toggle, not forced), plus a free premium service per month (use it or lose it - server transfer, race change, etc), plus 50% off all BMAH purchases, unlimited toons per server, cross-server BoA (I could go on but I'll stop there, they could put a ton of things in here without it actually costing them much)

    Gold Sub: $20/month (annual sub)
    Includes: All current subscription benefits, a free premium service once per quarter, 25% off all BMAH purchases, 50% XP boost, 5K gold per month, 25 toons per server, cross-server BoA

    Legacy Sub: $15/month
    Includes: Same as today, pay $15/month or a bit less if you sign up for longer terms

    Starter Sub: $5/month
    Removes: LFR/LFD access, VP/JP (gear can only be acquired through RNG or gold), bonus roll tokens, BMAH access, reforging, item upgrades, legendary questlines/items, hearthstone, guild benefits (can join a guild but you don't get the perks), can't use taxis, no fast flight speed (150% max), etc

    For the starter sub, I'd allow people to buy (with $) their way back into some of those removals, maybe as packages (the "grouping pack" is available for $5/month to get back LFR/LFD, or the "convenience pack" with taxis, fast flight and hearthstone for $2/month, etc).

    One funny thing - many of the items I'd remove in the Starter Sub are ones that weren't in the game when I started playing but I don't think I could deal with that sub, those features alone would be worth $10+ a month to me which is almost what I pay for my full sub.

    While I think something like that could happen, I really don't think it'll go full F2P. I can see things like XP boosts, heirloom items, etc being available for gold as an alternative to getting them in-game via other methods but I don't think Blizz wants WoW to end up with a historical legacy as a late-to-the-party F2P game. I think they're hoping the next big thing takes over and once WoW isn't worth the development resources it's using up, they'll just shut it down or give everyone free access to everything as a museum exhibit as much as a game.

    1. Add Tri specc to Platinum and I might consider it :P

      Rauxis, chosen of CAT

    2. That'd be a great addition, and another removal from the Starter Sub (only 1 spec at a time).

    3. That might work better than the standard free (fee) to play model but it would make way to much sense for them to do it. Just look at blizzards track record.

      Think of a great idea, remove all common sense and reason in that idea, that is the idea blizzard will introduce.

    4. This is new territory for Blizzard, though, and it's not like there are other massive 8+ year $100M+ monthly MMOs out there, at least not that I'm aware of.

      Most MMOs have revenues so small from subscriptions that going F2P isn't much of a risk. Blizz can't look to them for examples.

      They've gone 8 years with basically the exact same subscription model... no price increases, no price decreases, just enhancing the trial offering a bit, offering perks here and there and adding cosmetic items to the store.

      At some point they're going to have to make a change, though... not anytime soon, but eventually. I just think a more tailored subscription model is a LOT more likely for them to do based on current and past successes in WoW than going full F2P... and would likely happen a lot sooner, too. I'd like those subscription options NOW but if F2P was to happen it'd be way off in the future. So if anything, I think something like my suggestion is more likely to happen than F2P.

      It's probably less likely than nothing changing and WoW just eventually shutting down with a $15 monthly sub, though.

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    6. If they offered that at the CURRENT price I'd be tempted... force LFR off my to-do list entirely and I wouldn't have 3 toons stuck at the PvP part of the legendary questline, they'd have to design around it. ;)

    7. @Anon

      A tailored system might make a lot more sense like you mentioned. It does not even need to be a lot. Even if they only do the most basic of basic like a $2 a month thing with no random system, no dungeons, nothing but quest content there would surely be some takers. All those takers would or could upgrade when the time came where they wanted more and eventually, if done well, they would want more.

      As you said, I can see that coming before free to play. As it is they are the only real success story in the subscription based world right now. The question is, for how much longer. I would say we will see some sort of change, even if only slightly within the next 3 years but f2p would still be a long way off.

      @Roo and Anon

      That would be the "bait" to get you to buy a more advanced package. They would not make a second version of the legendary quest line. If you wanted to do it, you would need to PvP and this buy an updated package that would allow you to do so.

      That is how systems like that work. They entice you to buy more stuff. That is what makes it work.

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    1. I too believe I would be the type that would waste way too much money, depending on what they sell. I've purchased all the pets and mounts. So I am their target audience for the fun stuff, at least it would seem that way.

    2. Yeah, that's an aspect as well, I've spent almost no optional money on WoW... never bought a pet or a mount or purchased gold. The only optional services I've used are a sex change for one toon (back when I started raiding for the first time and felt weird being a guy on vent with a female toon... I got over that quickly, obviously, but not until after I'd made the switch) and one server transfer to bring over an orphaned toon to my main server rather than re-rolling (also early in the process, before you could level 1-60 in a week/weekend).

      For someone like me, a higher subscription fee makes sense from the Blizz perspective since they'll get more money out of me. For you two, though, they could make less... but since we're talking down the road when they're looking to mix things up a bit, it still might make sense to do that, I would assume (correct me if I'm wrong) that you'd stop buying pets/mounts before you cancelled your subscription vs just stopping everything at once...

    3. I think they go hand and hand. If it ever got to the point where I would not buy a pet or mount it would be the point I no longer enjoy the game which would mean I would not longer be playing.

      I buy them because I enjoy the game and I support the game, even if it seems foolish at times. So they are one in the same. As long as I am subscribed and playing I will be one of those people that will buy all that stuff.

      I never used any of the mounts. At least with the pets I now get something out of it as I do pet battle with them from time to time.

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    5. Not a fool at all. Did you get enjoyment out of it? Did the people that played get enjoyment out of it? 4K over 8 years is 500 at year that is just a tiny bit more than the price of a coffee a day at dunkin donuts.

      Do you get at least a coffees worth of enjoyment out of it most day when you play? If so, then it was worth ever cent of it.

      The cost of what people pay for entertainment is huge and in comparison we pay a lot less for our entertainment from wow than other people do for what they enjoy.