Blizzard: 'makes sense' for World of Warcraft to go free-to-play

"For Blizzard it makes sense [to go free-to-play] at some point," lead designer Tom Chilton said.


Numbers in World of Warcraft are dropping. And while having subscribers drop is bad for Blizzard's bottom line, it's impressive that they've managed to keep more than 7 million players in the MMO nearly a decade after its launch. One of the reasons for WoW's ongoing success is its push towards more casual fans.

"We would have been in bad shape," lead designer Tom Chilton said of Mists of Pandaria, an add-on designed for more casual appeal by introducing "accessible raiding."

Still, with servers being merged to adjust to the game's dwindling population, it's clear that drastic changes need to happen. Namely, moving to free-to-play--like pretty much every other MMO on the market.

"For Blizzard it makes sense [to go free-to-play] at some point," Chilton told Polygon. "But a lot of the risk is in making that transition. You hear stories about developers going free-to-play and getting double the number of players, but you don't always know it works out that way and how long it stays that way."

The fear may be warranted, but the switch to free-to-play has benefited a number of games. Revenue in Star Wars: The Old Republic doubled after the F2P switch, while DC Universe Online went up sevenfold.

Andrew Yoon was previously a games journalist creating content at Shacknews.

From The Chatty
  • reply
    August 23, 2013 2:30 PM

    Andrew Yoon posted a new article, Blizzard: 'makes sense' for World of Warcraft to go free-to-play.

    "For Blizzard it makes sense [to go free-to-play] at some point," lead designer Tom Chilton said.

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      August 23, 2013 2:33 PM

      That would be roughly $105 million a month in revenue they'd lose in subscriptions...but I'm sure they could make up for it with adding more $30 mounts and $15 helms. They'd gain back a lot of players...myself included.

      • DM7 legacy 10 years legacy 20 years
        August 23, 2013 2:35 PM

        Yeah if it was free to play, I'd come back. If I could play my old characters again. :)

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        August 24, 2013 4:47 AM

        Going free to play might be enough to get me to return to play it a bit casually but as far spending money again on the game probably not. I generally don't like micro-transaction gating in RPGs but to be honest there isn't a whole lot to monetize unless they think people are going to pay top dollar for cosmetic transmogs or mounts.

        Quite frankly there are too many free to play games reaching out for your wallet every few hours and these games often require an insane amount of effort to stay competitive if you try to attempt the free route. I don't know if the lore and setting is enough to get me to return after having burnt out on the game.

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        August 24, 2013 6:10 AM

        thats 7 million combined users, the account fees are not the same elsewhere in the world. so you cannot assume that china for instance is paying the same rate as we are in america.

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        August 24, 2013 6:52 AM


        There are still subscriptions in F2P games.

        People paying a subscription now will probably do that even after the game goes F2P.

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        August 24, 2013 8:55 AM

        Reminder: To match $105m a month of revenue they'd have to sell 2.5 million sparkle ponies a month. Every month.

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          August 24, 2013 8:58 AM

          Sorry, 2.6 million is based on assumed revenues of western world subscribers. To match $105m a month of revenue, they'd have to sell 4.2 million of those a month.

    • reply
      August 23, 2013 3:16 PM

      Is this a news item, or a blog entry? It is mostly uninformed guesswork and opinion. it is hardly clear that so-called 'drastic changes' needs to happen when WoW has more paying subscribers 8 years in than any other MMO has ever had.

      They've said they are currently planning 3 expansions in the future, I doubt they have any concrete plans to consider free-to-play in the next 4 years or so that those releases will span.

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        August 23, 2013 3:25 PM

        An expansion would actually be a perfect place to convert to F2P because of how many mechanics you could change all at once.

        And you're assuming that F2P means free expansion when it clearly doesn't. Ill bet the breakeven subscriber threshold is ~$50 million per month because they'll know that they have lost 75% of the potential. No way to know, but sub-25% penetration makes the upside a lot bigger than the downside.

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      August 23, 2013 3:17 PM

      "at some point" being another 5 years from now I'm sure.

      I just don't see a F2P model making any sense in the short term for WoW unless I am severely misinformed about their current player base.

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      August 23, 2013 3:36 PM

      "at some point" being the key phrase.

      That some point will be when the population shrinks to under a million.

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      August 23, 2013 11:44 PM


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        August 24, 2013 6:38 AM

        I'd like you to take a moment and think through what you just wrote. These things you described, paying to see dungeons, renting mounts on an hourly basis, etc., they are repulsive to you, right? They're repulsive to me, too. In fact, I'm sure if you walked into a giant stadium with thousands of people and proposed this idea to each of them, there wouldn't be a single person there that would say, "yeah, I'm okay with that, where do I sign up?" And that's just anecdotal: research on the burgeoning "freemium" concept of business in gaming is revealing precisely where consumers' thresholds lie with respect to microtransactions, and those thresholds are not nearly as high as where most companies would like them to be.

        So, with such universal aversion firmly established and acknowledged, I ask you: why on earth would Blizzard, developers of the most commercially successful MMO on the planet, a level of success that implies some level of savvy and ability to assess customer interest, ever choose to do the things you've described?

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      August 24, 2013 6:39 AM


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        August 24, 2013 6:46 AM

        ...and the start of an eBay era for me when I start selling these accursed cards to collectors

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        August 24, 2013 8:25 AM

        That's what Hearthstone is for.

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      August 24, 2013 7:32 AM

      If it went free to play I would come back

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      August 25, 2013 5:20 AM

      This is just terrible reporting, not to mention it has been entirely missed that there was a "might" before that "make sense". So it's entirely misquoted, cut up and made to sound more sensationalist and shocking - when in reality it's just a passing phrase and has no bearing on World of Warcraft for the forseeable future.

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        August 25, 2013 5:23 AM

        Actually I'm having to reply to myself - I was wrong. I checked it more in depth, there was no might, that *was* an interpreation - not quoted from the source. Sorry for my rage. Now.. if only I could find a delete button..

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      August 25, 2013 9:31 AM

      It's about damned time...

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      August 26, 2013 12:16 AM

      I will not play if I'm not paying for it.

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      August 28, 2013 11:52 AM

      I would love if WoW went full F2P. I need a WoW fix every now and then (using my high lvl toons) and F2P would be a great way to do this.

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      August 29, 2013 6:21 AM

      "One of the reasons for WoW's ongoing success is its push towards more casual fans."

      No it's not.

      From 2004-2008 the game had a primary raid difficulty in both 40-man and 25-man dungeons. If you wanted to raid, you had to be a skillful player, gear up your player, and attune yourself to those dungeons. You also had to find a guild and show them your capabilities. Those were the growth days of WoW.

      In late 2008, Wrath released Naxxramas, except it was a watered-down version of the most challening dungeon previously released in 2006, this was the start of casual. It was only a few months later in 2009 that subscriber growth began to cease, and the numbers were stable, but ever since the death of Arthas and the growth of casual acceptance, this game has lost numbers and the player turnover rate is higher today than it has ever been.

      Patch 5.4 is upcoming, and players are still leaving in droves--mostly due to finding out that the Alliance returns Orgrimmar back to the Horde and that the Sunreavers seem to remain in Dalaran. It's all really goofy and makes no sense at all, the story is not going anywhere and now there is talk of an item squish, which in essence would turn all existing 90's into Level 40 numbers. So instead of progressing ones player from 2004-2013, suddenly your stat and output numbers would go backwards to days long thought gone.

      You can't really repair this game, except offer Classic & TBC servers for players, make it free to play, get rid of Real Money transactions in the game. Today's WoW is not 2004's WoW, nor is it 2007's WoW. It's a completely different game and I fear the path Blizzard is taking it for the eventual Warcraft IV RTS.

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