Dungeons And Dragons Online Highlights How Free Can Work As A Part Of A Business Model

from the nice-job dept

Pretty much everyone who reads Techdirt seems to be sending over the story of how Turbine has changed the business model for Dungeons and Dragons Online, going away from charging people $50 for the game and then $15/month to play, to a model where you can play for free and there are additional benefits to actually paying. And, so far, it seems like a massive success. Many more people are playing than before... and many of those who would never have paid (or played!) at all are realizing that there are good reasons to pay for some things within the game. While these sorts of situations can be a fine balancing act (if the company gets too focused on trying to convince people to pay, it could make the free stuff annoying), it appears that Turbine has done a good job finding a sweet spot -- making sure that if you just want to play the game for free, you can absolutely do that and it's perfectly enjoyable all the way through. Putting money into it just gives players certain additional benefits that they feel is worth it. Suddenly, paying the company money becomes a reasonable per transaction situation, rather than an ongoing chore. While it's still early, it should be worth watching to see how well this particular business model experiment goes -- but the early indications suggest that it's yet another example of how "free" can work as a part of a business model.


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  1.  
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    william (profile), Oct 13th, 2009 @ 2:24pm

    "Pretty much everyone who reads Techdirt seems to be sending over the story..."

    I guess most of techdirt readers are in that demographic playing D&D... haha. ;-)

    Seriously though, these free-to-play with micro-transaction games will probably be the future of MMORPG. Players these days really don't want to commit to games by paying 30-60 dollars up-front. I can remember multiple times in the past where I bought a MMORPG only to play through the trial period and never to play again. Money wasted.

    And I think the ars article has a good point, by removing the monthly fee structure, you are free to choose however much you want to pay at any given month. When you are spending a lot of time in it, you might pay more than $15/month to get all the stuff/packs/quest you need. When you are taking a break, you are free to park your character without having to pay.

    In addition to this, ppl who are into it might be consistently paying more (good for the company). The trap of micro-transaction is that each amount is small and you don't feel the effect until you get the bill later. I mean, how many people have spent over their budget to realize, at month end, that each $1 song on iTune really adds up. ;-)

     

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    Dark Helmet (profile), Oct 13th, 2009 @ 2:45pm

    Seems to me

    That this is also a great way to build longevity into the game. As the MMORPG world continues to evolve, hopefully you will have an evolving set of needs (or RtB) that will mimmick innovation patterns in the real world.

    This way, instead of paying legions of developers to come out with the NEXT D&D game, less developers can concentrate on developign the existing world and creating future needs of the denizens, and then creating rewarding and useful ways to address those needs for a price.

    But part of it also, as William noted, is the ability to "park" your character w/o paying through the nose and then returning, say, months later...BAM! the world you knew has changed. There are new threats, stronger denizens! The weapons race of the MMORPG world has been continuing while you wasted time in the REAL world, and now you are woefully unprepared for the fantasy world (at least parts of it). That kind of thing can build excitement and bring existing gamers back into the fold, and paying once again.

     

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  3.  
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    Anders, Oct 13th, 2009 @ 3:03pm

    Capture outliers

    To quote Adam Caplan from Super Rewards:
    "We went back over the last 6 months, looking at the highest monetized individual on the Super Reward platform and we found an individual who spent US$ 30000 across two games in 6 months. You need to have a model that can capture those outliers, and no one can tell me in this room a pay-to-play or a monthly subscription model that can capture US$ 30000 of value from one individual."
    Here is a link to the video

    Anders
    The Business Model Database

     

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  4.  
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    Alan Gerow (profile), Oct 13th, 2009 @ 3:07pm

    Standard Anonymous Commenter Response Sheet
    (please check ONLY ONE response, as checking both options will result in a tear in the space-time continuum as if you divided by zero)

    [X] This ONLY works because it is an established franchise with name value recognition. It would NEVER work for the small-time developer without massive amounts of marketing.

    [ ] This ONLY works because it is a small venture without the need for a lot of money. It would NEVER work for a big name established developer that needs to pay the bills.

    OPTIONAL
    (you may check as many of these options as you like, relevancy not required)

    [X] They have a right to get paid!
    [X] Won't someone think of the children!
    [ ] If they have nothing to hide, then what's the problem?
    [ ] It doesn't matter how many lives get ruined as long as no guilty person goes free.
    [ ] Copyright/trademarks/patents are good, if you are against them you are an anarchist.
    [ ] Mike is a poo poo head.

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 13th, 2009 @ 3:10pm

    Re:

    Socialist. Mike is a socialist.

     

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  6.  
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    Solohan50, Oct 13th, 2009 @ 3:12pm

    Re:

    You forgot an option:

    [] Mike is a socialist

     

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  7.  
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    Lucretious, Oct 13th, 2009 @ 3:18pm

    The practice of charging for the MMO client and THEN charging a monthly fee is a western thing. 99% of the Asian MMO's give the client away for free and recoup costs by either microtransactions or charging a monthly fee. Western publishers claim that giving the client away devalues or "cheapens" the game in players eyes which is why they do it.

    Yes, its pure bullshit.

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 13th, 2009 @ 3:23pm

    Korean and Chinese game companies have been doing this for years. NCSoft, Nexon, Ariea Games, etc.

    While US and European companies were settling into a monthly subscription, Asian servers were putting out "Freemium" services. You could play for free, either for a set level, or without some aspect of the game which potentially gave it greater value.

    Turbine is just adopting an existing business model that's been working for several other companies.

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 13th, 2009 @ 3:41pm

    I recently started playing DDO having never played an MMORPG before. All of my friends were a bit baffled as to why I had never played WOW or EQ since I had been a pen and paper guy for over 15 years. I don't like paying for something over and over, simple as that. Despite that, I got hooked in by the free to play and realized that I actually enjoyed it and I wanted access to the pay to play content. I doubt I'll play WOW but DDO has earned my cash... and it has been worth it in my eyes.

     

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  10.  
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    Valkor, Oct 13th, 2009 @ 3:59pm

    Re:

    "Pretty much everyone..."
    Well, I loaded up Techdirt to submit the story, and there it was.

    Frankly, the idea of a subscription fee for an MMO is about as appealing as a subscription fee for a music service. I like this plan because I can incrementally reward Turbine for my enjoyment of the game. I've done the same thing buying new installments of Guild Wars. I think I've given $185 to NCsoft for games and upgrades, and I'm the biggest cheapskate I know. All DDO has to do is prove its value.

     

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  11.  
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    bobvoo, Oct 13th, 2009 @ 4:52pm

    free online mmo

    a listing of free mmo

     

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  12.  
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    bobvoo, Oct 13th, 2009 @ 4:54pm

    Re: free online mmo

     

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  13.  
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    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Oct 13th, 2009 @ 5:42pm

    Re:

    "I guess most of techdirt readers are in that demographic playing D&D..."

    Yeah, but a lot of us are not in the demographic using Windows. Which would have been nice to know before creating an account. Bastards.

    *goes to listen to his D&D podcast again*

     

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  14.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 13th, 2009 @ 7:42pm

    Re:

    The difference, I think, is that most Asian games basically require you to pay them money if you actually want to experience the game. In those cases it's more like a free demo, then you pay to upgrade to the real thing.

    I haven't looked into the D&D game that much, but several comments made it appear as though much of the paid content won't make or break your playing experience.

     

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  15.  
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    Liz, Oct 13th, 2009 @ 9:25pm

    DDO limits you to level 4 (or 20) and you have to buy the majority of the "Adventure Packs" separately. Plus there are two character races and classes which also need to be purchased.

    Yet there is an in game "Favor" system where you can earn Turbine Points (the company's currency) to purchase these in-game premiums. This is done by completing a number of quests at a set difficulty level. A number of players have figured out how to game this system to avoid paying for extra content.

     

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  16.  
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    TechNoFear (profile), Oct 13th, 2009 @ 10:12pm

    Turbine has reported a 40% growth in subscriptions since F2P.

    Sounds great, but still unanswered is how much impact will the Turbine v Atari lawsuit have on the game?
    [given that Turbine has said Atari must OK all new content and if Atari is correct in the audit, Atari could terminate the licensing contract.]

     

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  17.  
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    wow addict # 100048847757768473, Oct 13th, 2009 @ 10:58pm

    Re:

    DOOO EEET

     

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  18.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 14th, 2009 @ 4:35am

    Like the point already made, this isn't a new business model. NCSoft has been doing it for years. I've been playing Guild Wars since 2005. Once I bought the license keys, I haven't been required to pay for anything. Which doesn't equate to I haven't bought anything. In fact, I bought another complete set of the campaigns for a 2nd account and extra character slots. Now, I will admit, that some of the original campaigns were gifts, but they were still purchased so as far as I'm concerned, they count. All total NCSoft has been well paid for the game either by or for me. I continue to play it, and am awaiting Guild Wars 2. However, NCSoft recently launched Aion which I wiil not try simply because it has a monthly fee.

     

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  19.  
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    Carl Cravens (profile), Oct 14th, 2009 @ 6:31am

    Wizard 101 has been using a similar model.... client is free, the core area is free and there's a lot to do there. While you can get unlimited access for a $7 monthly fee, you can also pay-as-you-go... you buy credits in advance, and then it costs two or three dollars to unlock the next region. My son and I played for many hours across three months on just $10 each.

    The thing I really like about this model is that you can take a break for awhile and not worry that you're spending money on a subscription you're not using. Very handy when the player is an 8-year-old who loses interest for two months and then suddenly wants to play again.

     

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  20.  
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    Zombie_Doc (profile), Oct 14th, 2009 @ 6:43am

    Re:

    I am an anarchist! And yes trademarks/copyright/patents are lame, I think the USPO should be burned with the rest of the government!

     

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  21.  
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    Woadan, Oct 14th, 2009 @ 12:11pm

    I had tried out DDO on a trial basis when it first came out, but I never got much into it since all my friends were playing WoW.

    The folks at DDO had my email address, and they sent me an invite to the free game. I followed the link, but I didn't download the software because they use a third-party app to download updates and/or content while playing the game.

    I had never heard of the company before, and being the ever wary techno geek I am, I elected to not install the game. I don't want software on my system that may do things I don't want it to do, or may open me up to exploits.

    To be fair, I do not know if that is the case in reality, but why open yourself to the potential risk? Upon learning now that it isn't really free to get the "whole" game, I feel now, more so than before, that I made the right decision.

     

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  22.  
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    random, Oct 14th, 2009 @ 1:22pm

    Re:

    Liz Sez: DDO limits you to level 4 (or 20)

    Nope. There's an item you find that lifts the level cap every 4 or 5 levels. You can purchase the item for points($) or just find it by playing the game. The lower level ones are very common.

    LS: Plus there are two character races and classes which also need to be purchased.

    One of the classes was always unlocked after a certain amount of "Favor", but now you can buy it early (points$) if you want.

    LS: A number of players have figured out how to game this system to avoid paying for extra content.

    It's not really gaming the system to play, gain Favor like you always have, and use the bonus points($) to unlock stuff. Players have always needed to gain Favor to unlock the higher-stat character option, so now they get bonus points for doing it anyway. If you're talking about someone deleting and re-creating a low level character to get the quick low level bonuses, I don't think many people do this since it's still a crazy long amount of time.

    The other thing to remember is paying monthly is still an option. $15 a month (or whatever) to have full access to everything and some free store points($). The sad part is, it's not a great deal for most people, since you could spend the monthly fee on points to permanently unlock the content that gets re-locked if you unsubscribe.

    Not to be completely defending Turbine, their advertising is over the top and fairly offensive. There's constantly new deals and in-game prompts to open the store and buy things. "Aww, the Orc killed you, buy a Potion of Beefcake in the Store to get revenge!"

    It's an interesting experiment, and I'm glad to be able to tool around for a few hours a month on it without paying anything, but I don't see it fully catching on in the US.

     

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  23.  
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    random, Oct 14th, 2009 @ 1:25pm

    Woadan (and anyone else interested) - Yeah, beware the "Turbine Download Manager". There's an option to just download the full (3-4 gig) installer on the download page.

     

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  24.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 14th, 2009 @ 2:44pm

    The important question would be this: If all of the players stopped paying for "extras", how long could they afford to keep the business running?

     

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  25.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 14th, 2009 @ 8:02pm

    Re:

    Yeah, irrelevant hypothetical questions aren't important. Try again next time.

     

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