by Cody
“Micajah” Bye

Editor’s Note:
Before we get into the meat of this article, I’d like to set
the situation with a comparison of sorts. It’s not the
typical intro to a Ten Ton Hammer article, but please bear with me.

Here’s a two-part rhetorical situation for the Ten
Ton Hammer readers out there:

1. Suppose somebody offers you a free hamburger. This could be
some random schmoe down the street or your next door neighbor.
You’ve had one of these burgers before; you know
they’re of average quality. It’s a hamburger, but
you’re not salivating Homer Simpson-style. Do you take it?
Why or why not?

2. Now suppose Burger King decided to give away free
hamburgers. Like the previously mentioned hamburger, this is a known
quantity. You know what Burger King hamburgers taste like and they are
probably no better than the free burgers that were being offered by
your neighbor. Do you take this hamburger? Why or why not?

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ArchLord is now a
completely free-to-play game.

For many of us, if we saw a “Free
Hamburgers!” sign outside of a Burger King, there would be a
mile-long line outside the door, waiting to get their Whopper on. Are
all of these people hungry? Probably not. Do they like Burger King
Whoppers? Maybe. But the temptation of a “free”
hamburger that once carried a price tag is sorely tempting. Yet when
we’re offered free hamburgers by our neighbors and our
friends, and we often pass up those opportunities because we know that
the burgers are free and will remain free. These free items
don’t attract our attention like a Burger King hamburger
would, simply because we don’t feel like we’re
saving or gaining anything for the exchange.

On August 16, 2007, Codemasters Online declared that its
imported Asian-based MMOG, ArchLord, would be completely free-to-play
Unlike many MMOGs that are imported from the Korean, Chinese or
Japanese marketplaces, Codemasters Online put a price tag on ArchLord
when it was released in stores on Sept. 28, 2006. Marketing the game
with both a retail boxed version and a subscription-based fee,
Codemasters was breaking the norm for the localized Asian game, which
are typically free-to-play and download. Eventually Codemasters
rescinded the subscription fee portion of the game, allowing gamers who
purchased the title to play it indefinitely.

Whether it was through declining player numbers or a tightly
orchestrated marketing ploy, Codemasters is now offering ArchLord for
free. Gamers can download and play the game without paying a dime
(although there no word on what happens to gamers who purchased a copy
of the game recently).

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Unlike other Asian
MMOGs, ArchLord required a retail purchase and subscription fee.

In switching to a free-to-play standard, Codemasters may have
opened up a very interesting marketing ploy, whether they intended to
or not. From the point of view of a consumer, it’s almost
like a deal that’s too good to pass up. Like the hamburger
comparison mentioned earlier, ArchLord was already a proven commodity,
albeit with a price tag. Take that price tag off, and individuals may
finally be interested in playing the game.

Although there are numerous other Asian MMOGs that are already
free-to-play, ArchLord may have the upper hand. Like your next door
neighbor, the other free-to-play games are simply free without any of
the extra “premium” quality that ArchLord is
offering. Even if ArchLord is no better than any of the other
free-to-play titles already on the market, the idea that ArchLord was
once considered “premium” may be enough to sway
some individuals who were sitting on the fence about the game.

In fact, Codemasters isn’t the only company
that’s turned their “premium” game into a
free-to-play version of its former self. To other notable titles that
were already well established in the free-to-play market are Shadowbane
and Anarchy Online. Both of these games had very similar runs to
ArchLord, albeit they were both much older by the time they switched to
the free-to-play environment. At not even a year old, ArchLord has
progressed into the free-to-play realm with amazing rapidity, perhaps
noting the success of Shadowbane and Anarchy Online at breaking through
that barrier.

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Anarchy Online
switched to a free-to-play model when the game started to grow too old
for new players to buy the retail version.

On another front, another MMOG company, Iron Will Games, is
trying to lower the price of their subscription based game, Ashen
, by introducing a micro-transaction business model to substitute
for the monetary loss of a monthly subscription fee. Here’s a
quote from the developer in the press release:

“Ashen Empires is one of the few American MMOs that
has implemented a micro-payment transaction system.” says
Bill Money, the Creative Director for Iron Will Games. “Our
token based economy has allowed us to reward our players will lower
prices, which we hope will open the doors for more players to
join.”  David Reese, the Lead Developer, adds,
“We believe that this is the future financial model of
MMOs.  It gives players much more flexibility on customizing
how they play and pay for the game.”

Which returns us to the previous point: Will games that
initially release with a retail version of the game do more business
once they enter the free-to-play market? With consumers always wanting
more bang for their buck and a larger variety of games to play, it
seems inevitable that many games that don’t succeed in the
retail market will eventually turn to a free-to-play business model.

In fact, it would seem like a logical step for development
companies to plan for the introduction of a free-to-play business model
if the games popularity doesn’t reach epic proportions. By
planning for this contingency, a company can extend the lifespan of
their initial product and possibly make more money than if they had
planned to release a free-to-play version of the game right out of the
chute. By offering a pay-for-only service (those Burger King
hamburgers) initially, when the companies drop the price, they'll have
players lining up to get the free goods. 

Ten Ton Hammer is your
source for quality Editorials!

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Last Updated: Mar 29, 2016