Free-to-play World of Warcraft a possibility

Blizzard lead designer says subscription fee for massively successful MMORPG might not make sense after studio's second online game launches.

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Blizzard Entertainment's World of Warcraft has largely cornered the massively multiplayer online role-playing market since its launch in November 2004, boasting a current paid subscriber base of some 11.5 million. However, a number of other MMORPGs have been able to carve out a spot by employing a free-to-play, microstransaction supported business model, including Dungeons & Dragons Online, The Lord of the Rings Online, and a wide variety of Asian titles.

Microtransactions could be WOW's future.
Microtransactions could be WOW's future.

So would Blizzard consider a free-to-play model for its already massively successful MMORPG? Maybe, according to WOW lead designer Tom Chilton. As part of an interview with PC Gamer magazine, the veteran game designer noted that having players pay for a $15 monthly pass might not always be the best option in terms of monetizing WOW. However, Chilton also said that the trend toward the free-to-play model isn't necessarily a reaction to WOW.

"I feel like they're doing that to compete with other games that are on a similar subscriber level to what they were at," he said. "I imagine that when one of them went free to play it cannibalized some of the other subscribers. I can definitely imagine that being the case with World of Warcraft. If another game comes along and blows us away it may not make sense for us to have a subscription fee. Or even further down the line, when we have another MMO out."

Though WOW remains a subscription-based game, Blizzard has already implemented a number of microtransaction features into WOW. In addition to in-game services ranging from server transfers for in-game characters to name and faction changes, the studio also sells in-game items such as the $25 Celestial Steed and $10 Lil' XT pet. Blizzard also offers gamers remote access to manage WOW's in-game auction house from a Web browser or mobile phone for an extra $3 a month.

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