The microtransaction-based Free Realms recruited 3 million users less than seven weeks after its launch, inviting players to its casual family-friendly world to buy accessories for their postmen and chef characters. However, its revenue has yet to match World of Warcraft's, which had more than 11 million subscriptions by October 2008. Despite its extraordinary commercial success with a traditional subscription model, WOW lead designer Tom Chilton said the dominant MMORPG could go free-to-play in the future.
In an interview with VideoGamer, Chilton said, "I certainly think it's possible that we could do some kind of microtransaction stuff. Whether or not World of Warcraft ever goes the direction of, I guess like Anarchy Online has gone the direction of going free-to-play with microtransactions. Whether we ever shift to a free-to-play model is really too hard to say at this point."
If the game adopts a free-to-play model in the future, it won't be the first premium MMORPG to switch to a microtransaction-based revenue stream. In June, Turbine announced that the struggling Dungeons & Dragons Online will abandon its subscription-based system later this summer.
Chilton declined to comment on the subscription model for Blizzard Entertainment's upcoming top-secret MMOG. However, the WOW developer-publisher has said that the game will be an entirely new IP unique enough as to not compete with World of Warcraft.