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Tuesday, September 8, 2015
Guild Wars 2 - Goes Free-To-Play As Heart Of Thorns Approaches
When Guild Wars 2 launched, it was unlike many other massively-multiplayer online games (MMOs) in that it didn’t come with a subscription fee attached. This meant you could buy the game, pay only once, and play forever.
To maintain a revenue stream, ArenaNet included an in-game shop that included items like buffs, costumes, etc. that you could buy with real money. Over time, the developer tinkered with the revenue model, released new content, and will soon launch the major, paid expansion Heart of Thorns. The expansion brings, among other things, raids to the game, which should give players a lot more end-game content.
That release sets the stage for the company’s latest announcement at PAX Prime this weekend: Guild Wars 2 is going free-to-play for everyone, though free accounts won’t share all the same benefits of a paid account. Likewise, “core” accounts without the expansion won’t have access to the Heart of Thorns content. There’s still an incentive to upgrade, but players who can’t afford that or aren’t sure won’t be compelled to do so.
Striking a Balance
“A game like Guild Wars 2 lives and dies by its community,” writes ArenaNet president Mike O’Brien on the game’s blog. “Our goal is to protect our current community but also to make it as easy as possible for you to introduce the game to your friends, to recruit new players into your guilds, to challenge new players to Player vs. Player matches, and so on.
It’s trickier than you’d think to accomplish both objectives. We have to ensure that free accounts can’t be used to abuse the game or its current players (through botting, cheating, spamming, or RMT) while still making sure that free accounts get the authentic Guild Wars 2 experience.”
Free accounts will also have limited chat options and economy restrictions to help curb bots and other problematic account use. There are also limitations on where free accounts can play at first—for instance, free accounts must level up characters to level 10 before leaving starting zones. You can see a comparison chart for features in the new three-tier system here.
The influx of new players to the game will certainly be good for the Guild Wars 2community and ArenaNet alike. Hopefully the countermeasures against spammers and bots will be effective. We shall see.
The Price is Right
The move to free-to-play is one we’ve seen over and over again with subscription-based MMOs. It makes sense from a business perspective to lower the cost of your product over time. The term is “intertemporal price discrimination”—a concept used in all types of products, from gadgets to games to movies.
The idea is simple: You charge the most at launch, whether that’s purchasing a game at full retail or selling expensive tickets to a movie theater. Over time you reduce the cost to scoop up consumers who have resisted previously. So the movie theater gives way to the Blu-ray, which gives way to the Netflix stream and so forth.
With an MMO this is even more crucial, since maintaining a large enough player base is essential to keeping the whales—consumers who keep spending money on additional content—happy and playing.
So over time, a subscription-based model goes to a pay-once model and finally to a free-with-upgrades model. In the case of Guild Wars 2 they simply skipped the subscription, possibly netting a larger player base from the outset but also possibly missing out on all that juicy subscription money in the first six months or year. Now they can lure in new purchasers of Heart of Thorns who like the core game enough to want access to the expansion content.
It works for consumers because we can hold out and wait to play the game until it reaches a reasonable price point. Early adopters always pay the most. Even non-subscription games that remain pay-to-play get cheaper over time. Destiny is a great example of this, but it applies to solo games, too, which often release a year or two later with all additional content and other bonuses for a third the price.
Heart of Thorns releases October 23, 2015. The base game is free-to-play effective now.