Turbine Makes Free-to-Play a Compelling Element in the MMO Space

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Turbine was there at the beginning of the modern age of massively multiplayer online games. The modern (also sometimes referred to as the Second Generation) age of MMOs kicked off back in 1996 with the release of Meridian 59. A year later saw the release of Ultima Online. In 1999, two games released—Sony’s first EverQuest and Asheron’s Call from Turbine.

Since the first Asheron’s Call title, which is still in release, Turbine has gone on to make Asheron’s Call 2, Dungeons & Dragons Online and The Lord of the Rings Online. What is, perhaps, the most noteworthy of Turbine’s accomplishments is that the latter two games are free-to-play. (Asheron’s Call 2 closed in December 2005 after three years in release.)

The F2P model is unique in that it allows players to play the game free (without the monthly subscription rate), to a certain point, and then pay for content that they wish to unlock for their gaming experience. This can be a double-edged sword. While it allows players to avoid monthly fees for game content they do not care about or even use, it also puts the onus on the game development team to create content that is compelling enough that it is purchased by gamers.

Turbine recently released content expansions for both D&D Online (Menace of the Underdark) and LotRO (Riders of Rohan). It seemed like a pretty good time to chat with the studio about F2P and MMOs.

Boise Weekly: In a nutshell, why has Turbine moved its MMOs into the free-to-play category?

Turbine: Turbine was an early pioneer in the free-to-play space when it first transitioned Dungeons & Dragons Online to a free-to-play model in 2009. The Lord of the Rings Online followed in 2010. We knew that there was a huge market of gamers that would never touch a game that required a subscription so we added the ability to download and play the game for free. Both games experienced a significant increase in player base and revenue.

What is the lure of having MMOs in the free-to-play space and why does it work?

It is less about being “free” and more about giving the consumer more choice. Many people would like to play a game, but can’t commit enough time to justify that cost of a monthly subscription. Free-to-play lets those people play your game and spend when they want to spend.

What about developing for an MMO in the F2P space (where consumers are essentially rating all your work by choosing to pay for the content or pass on it) is so challenging? Is it harder to work in that space?

Making a great game is always challenging, regardless of the payment model.

What has Turbine, as a company, learned about the whole process (again, in a nutshell, because I am sure that you could write an entire book about it) of F2P and the communities that play in the space?

The most important thing in the F2P space is that you give the consumer as many ways to both play and pay as possible. It comes down to choosing to spend time or money. If players have less time, offer them the ability to buy things that make their short experience enjoyable. If they have time, let them earn new content or currency through gameplay.

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