How Free-To-Play Games are
Taking Advantage of a Stagnant Market
Cody “Micajah” Bye
To many observers, the World of Warcraft subscription machine
slowly grinding to a halt. People have played through the Burning
Crusade and constant raiding for items is the only thing that remains
to be done. The hardcore players are looking for other outlets, other
venues to take up their MMOG time. However, these players still want to
maintain their WoW accounts and maybe jump in a raid or two every week,
thus taking away their $15/month that they’ve allocated to
They are stuck in a conundrum: Do they quit WoW and use their $15/month
on something new? Or do they find a game that won’t break the
Until recently, there wasn’t an answer to this
problem. Gamers everywhere were forced to either give up the game that
they had friends and high-level characters in, or continue playing that
same game and suffer from extreme bouts of boredom. Game developers
scrambled to put out high-level content to appease those players, and
games continued to get more and more high-ended.
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MU Online shook up E3 2004 by announcing they were
free-to-play and had million of users.
Enter the free-to-play game. In 2004, patrons to the
Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) were barraged with blow-up balls
with MU Online written on their sides. There was a palpable buzz about
this game, and I went to go investigate. I remember not quite
comprehending the game when I watched people play, wondering what the
draw was. Then I heard the magic words: “It’s
free-to-play.” There may have been games that were
free-to-play before MU Online, but it was the first big contender that
caught my attention.
Since then, free-to-play games have been slowly pushing their
way into the marketplace, many of them coming from Korea or Japan and
being imported straight to the Western audience. At first, gamers
didn’t “take” to these games, still
pursuing their characters in their premium games. However, the tide is
slowly beginning to shift towards free-to-play games.
Many of you might be wondering how that could be possible.
Often, free-to-play games lack many of the fundamentals of MMOGs that
players have grown to take for granted, like expansive customer
support, high-end graphics, constantly growing content, and more.
Though free-to-play games may offer this, in one form or another, they
don’t always provide the quality that players know and enjoy.
But the free MMOG market is still growing, and – in
this writer’s humble opinion – it mostly has to do
with timing. This year has been spattered with announcements and
releases of free-to-play games. From Sword of the New World to Dungeon
Runners, these games are making headlines and running ads on every
major MMO and video game network. But aside from a small dabbling of
AAA MMORPGs (Age of Conan, Vanguard, and Gods and Heroes) there
aren’t many pay-to-play titles that are generating headlines.
With World of Warcraft’s appearing to have slowed
its momentum, these free-to-play games are simply outnumbering the
pay-to-play market. They’re quick, easy, and often have no
“guilty” feeling associated with them. You can play
them as long as you want, and if you don’t like it, just send
it to the recycle bin. The nomadic nature of many MMO gamers makes the
free-to-play games very appealing to these individuals. They
don’t have to worry about blowing their lunch money on a
premium game to get their “shot” of MMOG diversity.
Pay-to-play games often have several price tags associated with them,
and money is always a big deciding factor.
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Dungeon Runners is one of the first "Made in the
U.S.A." free-to-play MMOs.
But this situation wouldn’t have even occurred if
another game had been released in 2006 that had held it’s own
against WoW. Without competition, Blizzard wasn’t forced to
develop an expansion quickly, delayed The Burning Crusade, and they
haven’t even mentioned another expansion since then. The lack
of a premium MMOG competitor also opened up the news press to headlines
being generated by the smaller games. The marketing and PR forces
behind the free-to-play games are always working, generating as much
content about their games as possible. Add the fact that free games
outnumber premium games and the news machine is getting full of free
On top of all this, free-to-play games answer another issue
that many players have been clamoring over: the need for
“niche” games. Whether it’s dancing or
transforming or golfing or fishing, these free-to-play MMOGs range the
gamut in topics and settings. AAA titles, with their high production
values and expensive requirements, simply cannot compete with the
smaller niche games.
Combine these elements together, and you get a market that is
progressing towards the free-to-play titles. The pump is primed for
companies like K2 Networks and gpotato.com to scoop off all the bored
and stagnated populace of the bigger MMOs like World of Warcraft and
gather those players into their own stables. And the more users the
free-to-play games achieve, the more people will be interested in
exactly what these games have to offer.
Ten Ton Hammer is your
unofficial source for free-to-play
To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our Dungeon Runners Game Page.