It would take an extensive rework to get an F2P model working.
Even though Blizzard's popular MMORPG World of Warcraft is still bleeding subscribers, the company has no plans to introduce a free-to-play model to bring in new players. The news arrives after the company reported that the number of subscribers dropped 100,000 in 3Q 2013 to 7.6 million. That's good news despite the loss, as the MMORPG shed a whopping 1.3 million subscribers in the first quarter, followed by 600,000 subscribers in the second quarter.
"We've always approached the business model out of what's appropriate for each individual game. In World of Warcraft, the first 20 levels are free, anyone can download it...without paying a subscription," explained Blizzard president and CEO Mike Morhaime at BlizzCon 2013. He also added that the MMORPG was not designed as a free-to-play game, that he didn't see that kind of transition happening.
SuperData Research believes that eventually the game will need a free-to-play model that depends on an in-game store. Games with micro-transactions have long been trumping subscription ones in total revenues in the US, the firm's report said, but the decision to switch to a hybrid or F2P model was one that didn't make sense for all games, especially World of Warcraft in its current state.
"With a dedicated player base and relatively stable Monthly Active Users (MAUs), WoW would need a convergence of factors to make the switch beneficial. It looks like those factors are starting to stack up, but haven't hit critical mass," the report said.
Once an MMORPG switches over to a free-to-play model, there's an influx of new players and a spike in revenues. This can be sustained if the developer/publisher has the proper setup to keep players engaged with the game enough to willingly play money. But World of Warcraft can't suddenly switch over to a sole F2P model; it would be too much of a jolt, the firm said, and doesn't make sense with the current metrics.
"We didn't make the game to be free-to-play," production director J. Allen Brack told Eurogamer. "We would have to rework the game pretty significantly in order to make it free-to-play. It's not something we're currently considering."
Brak, along with Blizzard, is hoping that the recently announced expansion pack, Warlords of Draenor, will bring in new and previous players who jumped ship. Morhaime pointed out that player response to content thus far has been good, and that an increased engagement has helped taper off the subscription bleeding as seen with the Q3 2013 numbers.
"We'll continue to invest heavily in World of Warcraft to deliver frequent, high-quality content to our players," he said. "But in terms of the content and developing, we have more resources focused on developing content for World of Warcraft than ever before. So we expect to continue having a long and happy life."
I so need to start playing again.