THQ's Danny Bilson discusses possible Dark Millennium Online business models

Partnering with Game's Workshop has been a lucrative investment for publisher THQ, which has launched a variety of titles tied to the Warhammer 40,000 universe. Sometime in 2013, THQ is set to jump into the massively multiplayer online space with Warhammer 40,000: Dark Millennium Online from developer Vigil Games. But the MMO landscape is changing, with more games launching (or eventually turning to) free-to-play as its business model.

Speaking with THQ executive VP of Core Games Danny Bilson, he discussed his company's plans for Dark Millennium Online and responds to Sony Online Entertainment president John Smedley's comments that Star Wars: The Old Republic will be the last game with a traditional pay-to-play model.

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"We have a lot of different models about how it can be monetized," Bilson said, noting that when the game gets closer to launch, THQ will rearrange "the content" in a way that best "represents the gamer."

"At that time," Bilson asks, "what would be the most effective?"

In a recent guest editorial on GI.biz, Sony Online Entertainment president John Smedley postulated that EA's upcoming Star Wars: The Old Republic may be the last MMO to adopt a traditional business model. Though Bilson wouldn't go into his company's stance, he did offer personal opinions on the thought.

"I believe that the content can dictate what's worth subscription, or not. I think a lot of [the MMOs] that go 'free-to-play' go secondarily 'free-to-play.'" Recent examples of titles switching business models include a slew of titles from Smedley's own company, including DC Universe Online.

"What I'm seeing from Dark Millennium Online's development is that it's extremely premium. But, really, the whole online culture may shift and [Smedley] may be right. He may be wrong. [Dark Millennium Online] is set up for all kinds of monetization. We're going to move it into whatever makes the most sense for its launch."

Bilson is acutely aware a game with a traditional subscription model must achieve a certain number of subscribers to make up for a company's time and resource investment made to develop the product. "You have to hit a minimum subscription base in that model. There are other models and then it gets into [Monthly Active Users] and all that stuff. But for subscription base? Sure."

Working out the equation with his finger on the palm of his open hand, Bilson outlines the core questions asked related to the traditional scale: "Game costs this to launch. Game costs this to support live, ongoing. How many subscribers does it take to be profitable? How does that work?"

"That's just a model that is being tuned right now... or re-tuned," Bilson finishes.

The amount of time Dark Millennium Online has been in development is not lost on Bilson, who chuckles in agreement when I say that it has been "in the cooker" for quite some time, but he says that THQ is "honing in" on reveal and release plans now.

"Making MMOs is an epic endeavor," Bilson tells me, saying that Dark Millennium Online is a big title. On top of that, the THQ executive admits that it must be good. "It has to be phenomenal. The stuff that we've built is," he says, but couldn't go into detail as to when the game will finally launch.