A Free to Play Transformation
The retail subscription based model has been profitable for years, but that may be changing soon with the transition of Dungeons and Dragons Stormreach from the subscription based model to a free-to-play model. Free to play MMORPGs aren’t new, they’ve been around a long time now, since the days of text based MUDS and MUSHs, but today’s gaming market has been dominated by big retail productions that demand a monthly fee from users in order to put their favorite characters through further adventures.
Turbine’s Dungeons and Dragons Online has followed a subscription based business model since its launch in February of 2006. Players purchase the game client, and then pay the monthly fee of $14.99 to enjoy a gaming experience with other players around the world. It’s a model that’s tried and true, having existed since the release of the first modern MMORPG Ultima Online. But Dungeons and Dragons Online is scrapping the model in favor of a new item shop gaming model, which brings question to the free in free to play.
While the game has increased its soloable game material, Dungeons and Dragons online was always intended to be a party-centric game, and low population levels have tended to make quick creation of balanced parties difficult. With the free to play model Dungeons and Dragons online is looking to increase its player population, which is the key to profitability for the company through its item shop. The more people playing, the more business expected for the new shop to cover the losses from subscription users.
Shopping for Adventure
Here’s how the new item shop works. Players buy either service/account options, or consumables. Service/account items include such things as character slots, premium classes, and premium races. While consumables would run more along the lines of arrows, potions, low-level magical items, etc. This would seem to give a very high advantage to those willing to spend money in the item store, but developers have offered assurances that store points may be earned in game by earning favor points from various game factions, though the rate of doing so has not yet been released and is still being fine-tuned in the Beta.
There are nine categories of items available in the item shop:
- Premium Items
- XP & Loot Boosts
- Spells & Potions
- Level & Stat Boosts
Goodbye Subscribers, Welcome VIPs
For those who are already subscribers there’s a Dungeons and Dragons VIP option available. It’s an all-access pass to the new game which offers a number of features that are limited or unavailable to the free players, all for a $14.99 monthly subscription cost.
The differences between the VIP and Free Player plans?
Turbine Points which allow purchases in the item shop are buyable and earnable for free players, VIPS get 500 a month free.
Classes are all free or unlockable for VIPS, whereas free players get basic classes for free, and must pay to unlock Monk and others.
Races are all free or unlockable for VIPS, free players get the basic races free but have to pay to unlock Warforged and Drow.
Geography, all areas included free for VIPS, free players get free access to Stormreach and its vicinity
Adventure Packs are all included freely for VIPS, some are free others require purchase for free players.
Character Slots for VIPS 10, for free players, 2 with more purchasable.
Shared Bank Slot included in the VIP package, purchasable for the free player
Login Queue, VIPS get priority over free users
Chat, Auctions, Mail, Gold Storage, all unlimited for VIPS, all limited for free players
Customer Service is fully available for VIPS, with online self-service for free players
Beta Priority is given to VIP players
A New Era in Free To Play?
Dungeons and Dragons Online is not the first major retail MMORPG to make the transition from subscription model to free-to-play. Shadowbane and Threshold RPG both did so in the past. But with an item shop included, how playable it remains for those who choose not to purchase additional items or services is hard to tell. With three payment levels, the VIP subscriptions, the shop users, and the free players, there appears to be something on offer for everyone. Along with the new change in payment plans comes a new name; Dungeons & Dragons Online Eberron Unlimited. Developers believe the change is more in keeping with the traditional pen & paper game the MMORPPG is based on, where additional content in the forms of book and module release always came at an additional price. But the industry is watching closely to see if the changes being implemented will prove profitable for a major MMORPG release, and if others will follow suit. The launch date set for the new implementation of the game is on August 4th, 2009.