Rift Goes Free-To-Play: The End Of An Era

What This Means For MMOs

Rift’s conversion to free-to-play is the end of subscription MMOs, at least as the main way to monetize an MMO. Expect to see far more free-to-play games and far less subscription games on the market. It is, after all, in good company. Every other big-name MMO that has come close to World of Warcraft – TERA, Aion, Lineage 2, and others – has also gone free-to-play. With Rift’s shift of model, the last of the big contenders has given up trying to capture World of Warcraft’s success. That’s not to say that there will be no subscription games anymore – they do have their niche – but rather that modern MMO developers will be focusing on free-to-play.

This is excellent news for MMO fans. World of Warcraft has always been an outlier in the MMO space, and companies chasing its success often found themselves with dwindling subscriber numbers and mediocre games. The most notable game to do this is one of my personal favorite MMOs: Warhammer Online. Despite originating many of the conventions that are now commonplace in the MMO world, Warhammer Online bled players like crazy a few months after launch – starting with one million subscribers, it dropped sharply to 300,000 by the end of the year – thanks to a number of issues exacerbated by being a subscription-only game. It was forced into direct competition with Wrath of the Lich King – never a good thing to do – and was bereft of end-game content – essential to all subscription-based MMOs. When the chips were laid down, people went to the game they knew, rather than the risky proposition of Warhammer. While things have since improved – surprisingly, EA didn’t give up on the game – WAR has yet to approach anywhere close to the number of launch subscribers.

Free games are always appreciated as well. Free-to-play might engage in some dirty tactics from time to time, but it’s easy to filter out games that are so shamelessly awful in their treatment of the player. Free-to-play gives both developers and players what they want without compromising either party too much. Developers get increased revenue streams thanks to the “whales” dumping far more money into their game on a regular basis. Players get a game that they can either play on a budget or go whole hog into. It’s a model that is far more lucrative than subscriptions, and it’ll be interesting to see what existing free-to-play models and new freemium features will emerge from the genre going forward.

Trion’s move heralds the next generation, and it’s a free-to-play one. Developers are likely to stick to their microtransaction guns for future MMOs, and players will be allowed to “try before they buy” instead of being forced into archaic subscription models. Any shift in the landscape of gaming that brings in a greater diversity of players and games is fine by me.

How do you feel about Trion’s move into free-to-play games? Is it great news? Are they shooting themselves in the foot? Leave a comment below!

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4 Comments on Rift Goes Free-To-Play: The End Of An Era


On May 30, 2013 at 5:45 pm

I’m hoping Defiance will be a late bloomer, every update they add changes something in the game that makes it slightly more enjoyable, adding names to locations on the maps, increasing frame rate, tweaking the instancing system.

But Defiance is pretty much a direct rip off of Tabula Rasa, and TR was actually really good ad way more in depth so who knows.

Show is still awesome though.


On May 31, 2013 at 12:57 pm

Subscription based mmo’s are a dying breed. How long will it take till thats said about the free to play model. Maybe when people get tired of mmo’s in general?


On May 31, 2013 at 1:18 pm

With even WoW having lost close to 4 million subs in recent times, I really hope Blizzard is really thinking things over for Titan…

Chris Swiedler

On June 2, 2013 at 6:47 pm

As the engineering development director for Rift, I appreciate your article on our free-to-play transition. We’re super excited and we think that it will be a great thing for our players and our game.

But please, stop saying that Trion laid off 70% of its staff. That’s just crazy untrue. We didn’t even lay off 70% of the Defiance team, much less the entire company. The Rift team was completely unaffected–in fact, we’re _hiring_ engineers. Defiance still has a good team behind it (although a smaller one) and lots of good things ahead. This is just how the game industry works–for big projects, live teams are going to be smaller than development teams.

Thanks, and again–good article otherwise.