The hidden cost of free

The other day I read on RPGFan.com that Turbine would be unteathering its hit MMORPG based on Lord of the Rings from its current pay-to-play format and into a free-to-play model.

My first thought was, “Awesome!” Now more people would be able to experience this game. My second thought was, “How do they plan to make money?”

With most online games, the creator of the game has to have at least one server set up for everyone to play in. They also need customer support, tech support, and other people to ensure the game continues to run smoothly. Being able to add new content on the fly is helpful too, as it keeps in players who have “done everything” a game has to offer.

To this end, the usual monthly fee comes into play. The player not only buys the install discs at retail (or download), but also has to pay for the privilege of being able to play the game every month. The normal subscription fees for most MMOs today are around $11.95 to $14.95 per month.

I can only vouch for Final Fantasy XI here, but it cost $12.95 per month for one character. An additional character was an extra dollar. I had two characters, Yugdaba and Abadguy. Yugdaba was my main character, at the end he was a lvl 69 Paladin. Abadguy was used as extra storage for items. So in the end, I was paying $13.95 per month.

I played from March 2007 to October 2009. Which is somewhere around 32 months, which would be $446.40 in monthly fees . In that time frame, I bought the core game for $20, an expansion for $20, and two other mini-expansions for $20 ($10 each). So that’s $60 in game data. Altogether I gave Square-Enix $506.40 of my hard earned money over a year and a half.

Anyway, getting back to LotR, how does Turbine expect to make money on this move? Easy. Microtransactions.

There will be three levels of player in the new LotR game, VIP, Premium, and Free.

The Free Player has severe restrictions on them. They can only have a maximum of 2 gold on their character, they can only play on one server, can only have three bags, etc.

If a Free Player wants to carry more gold, they have to pay for it in real world money. If they want to play on more servers or have more bags, it also comes down to real world money.

You can effectively play the game for free. The Turbine points used to purchase the add-ons are findable somehow in the game, or you can use your credit card or PayPal and buy them from Turbine, or buy them in a brick and mortar store.

One thing I’d love to find out is if this new free-to-play format will allow more goldsellers in the game, or hinder them since everything will be buyable directly from the game’s publisher.

LotR Online website
RPGFan article

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