Activision Blizzard recently revealed that the number of active World of Warcraft subscribers has dropped to 8.3 million as of May 2013 — a far cry from the game’s record-breaking 12 million subscribers back in October 2010. Subscriber numbers for the pay-to-play massively multiplayer online role-playing game, or MMORPG, have been steadily decreasing in the past year.
Though WoW still remains the largest and most successful pay-to-play MMO on the market, its steadily decreasing player base has been a major sign that the MMO market has drastically changed.
Most other MMOs like Everquest 2 and Star Trek Online haven’t enjoyed the success that WoW has had in the past; many aren’t able to hold onto their initial player bases and lose revenue quickly. Developers are forced to shut down servers or convert their games to a free-to-play model.
The free-to-play market is relatively stable and profitable. In the past few years, many gamers have flocked to free-to-play games and forgone their pay-to-play counterparts. Star Wars: The Old Republic, which was a significant monetary investment for Electronic Arts, launched as a pay-to-play MMO, but disappointing sales and a lack of subscribers forced EA to switch the game to a free-to-play model. Since then, The Old Republic’s revenue has doubled.
Many people are now saying that the pay-to-play model has died out and free-to-play is the future for MMOs.
But is this really the case? One successful pay-to-play game, Eve Online, is a prime example of how the pay-to-play market is not dead.
Oddly enough, the basic premise of the game makes it the least likely of success stories. Eve Online is a science-fiction MMORPG that allows players to pilot various spaceships as they explore a large galaxy and take on various professions and skills to interact with other players.
Much of players’ time spent in the game involves simply flying their spaceships. Combat in the game is also limited compared to the typical MMORPG; players spend most of their battles against spaceships watching the action rather than being actively involved, unlike other games, such as WoW.
Despite this, Eve Online has turned into a phenomenon that has attracted steadily growing subscribers since the game was released in 2003. It reached its all-time high of 500,000 in February 2013.
Part of Eve’s success can be attributed by its player-driven economy. CCP Games, the creator of the game, rarely intervenes with the open economy of the game. Nearly anything that can happen in the game is allowed. CCP also allows players to use in-game currency to purchase an item to pay for their subscription fee. After players become skilled enough at playing the game, they can essentially play for free. As a result, making money in the game becomes crucial to many players.
To facilitate moneymaking, players form corporations and alliances with other players. Diplomacy between them must take place to avoid bloodshed, and if that fails, massive wars are waged where the equivalent of massive amounts of real world money are lost in the battles.
Eve’s player-driven economy has created a metagame that’s unmatched by anything else currently on the market. It is not the mechanics of the game that make Eve a great game, but it’s the monetary and social dynamics of Eve that has kept the game a success.
Eve players will tell you their wild stories of forming alliances with the sole purpose of trolling other players or betraying their alliances at the worst times possible to steal all the alliance’s money. Some players even have to go through scrutiny of real life screening processes to verify their identities before joining corporations or becoming diplomats to speak with other leaders to prevent wars from occurring.
The indefinite number of ways to play Eve Online makes it a powerful and unforgettable experience, as well as a reminder that the pay-to-play model still works.
The decline of pay-to-play MMOs can be attributed to creators’ falling into the unoriginality trap. Developers can learn from Eve Online that taking risks and creating unique gaming experiences make pay-to-play a still viable gaming outlet.