World of Warcraft Could Go Free-To-Play, says Lead Designer Tom Chilton

world of warcraft

Some things simply don’t change. You’ll have to pay taxes in April, it will rain in the spring, and Square Enix will make more Final Fantasy games. Until today, I would have said Blizzard will collect subscription fees in that list as well.

I can’t do that now, since World of Warcraft Lead Designer Tom Chilton spoke with PC Gamer and expressed his opinion that WoW might not always have a subscription fee. Chilton said,

“At some point, it may not make sense for us to have a subscription fee.”

Now, there’s been a fair amount of news of news about Lord of the Rings Online going free-to-play, but I feel certain that no one really contemplated that WoW might follow the same model.

So, why would Blizzard make that change?

Simply put, there will someday come a point where World of Warcraft goes into decline. As subscriber numbers decline, companies begin to think about ways to revitalize their communities (and their bottom line). Free-to-play MMOs have one thing in common: they all offer microtransactions that allow players to purchase things for their characters for relatively small amounts of money. These purchases can often exceed what a player may have paid in subscription fees.

But this is WoW, right? Blizzard would never do this, right? It’s not as far fetched as you might think. After all, Blizzard is already implementing microtransactions into WoW, selling things like mounts and pets. Korean WoW players don’t purchase the game at all, they just download it and pay the subscription fee. Heck, there are still rumors of Blizzard working on another MMO, and that would seem to be the point where this sort of change might just become feasible.

Turbine’s success with Dungeons and Dragons Online, and their soon-to-be-released free-to-play update for LotRO, make a compelling case for traditional MMOs to consider free-to-play, although WoW certainly has several more subscribers than either of Turbine’s products.

I wouldn’t plan on getting into Azeroth without a monthly fee anytime soon, as Chilton went on to say, “We’re not spending a lot of time thinking about it. It’s not something that’s a reality for us in the near future.” Still, it’s insights like these that point out a reason Blizzard has the largest MMORPG in history: They’re always trying to make sure that the next big thing is their big thing.

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10 Comments on World of Warcraft Could Go Free-To-Play, says Lead Designer Tom Chilton


On June 30, 2010 at 8:29 am

If it does then there is definitely, absolutely no God.


On June 30, 2010 at 9:46 am

It has been on my mind what will happen to Warcraft as LotRO’s change of policy is having an impact across the board.

Warcraft is running out of ideas, it is also running out of room, its becoming more and more formulaic and since Activision took over panders much to the “casual player” alienating the original hard core raider and pvper who made World of Warcraft a success in the first place, unless it moves to the proposed WoW 2.0 where Azeroth is part of a Warcraft galaxy opening it up into a kind of SW Galaxies setting, it has to do something and have these plans implemented sooner rather than later as when the content stops flowing, the subscriptions will drop dramatically.

I think the free to play, microtransaction model is not right for LotRO and very saddened, there will be a burst of new players but the only ones that are going to progress are those with laden credit cards, we can see this in Evony, Lords of Ultima, D&D Online etc etc, its not true free to play in that if you want to walk high with the people online, you will have to pay.

I am lucky as I have a lifetime subscription founders account on LotRO and I think one thing Blizzard should consider is the lifetime subscription option as it will ensure enough of a dedicated player base for some time to come, for if they did follow codemasters along their route it will cause some servers to become desolate as players find other games that suit their tastes, the player base on these games are so different, there are more youngsters on WoW than there are in the more mature LotRO, the point being that the mature players are more likely to cough up the dough, the younger clientele are less likely to have the financial wherewithal to compete.

Both games are special to me, I own Acti stock and I was lucky to have been an alpha and closed beta tester of LotRO (when it was that very small starting area behind Thorin’s Hall), I think Blizzard need to open up the galaxy a little and I think that LotRO are very bold in their move but at least both aren’t going the way of AoC.

One thing to be seen is whether codemasters follows on with its idea to port initially to the Xbox360, with the idea that the Xbox would interface alongside the PC players needing little more than coding for the console, it would open up a new angle capturing the console players who may not have or wish to have a PC, there has been calls for Warcraft to port to consoles too and this is something that could save both from decline, certainly if codemasters finds the Xbox port a success then it would follow the PS3 would see it as well.


On June 30, 2010 at 9:48 am

You know, I was waiting for this day. I usually don’t play wow because of the subscription fees as well as the combat being to slow for me. But I might give it a chance. Also, many people think that WoW controls the RPG market, really it doesn’t, proof is a wonderful thing. And also, they are right… F2P games has a lot of benefits. And actually, more people buy things on F2P than paying for a subscription fee based game. So either way, you are making double as it is.

I will give WoW another chance if this happens.


On June 30, 2010 at 6:57 pm

I come from China, we are still playing “The Burning Crusade”, tragedy:(


On July 1, 2010 at 1:55 pm

what proof? might what to backup a statement claiming proof when you provide none


On July 3, 2010 at 4:46 am

You know what I find funny.
… Aside of Blizzard’s miserable attempts and that people actually enjoy the dramatic nonsensical one-liners.
If nonsensical is even a word.

What I find funny is that China together with Korea are the largest income for Blizzard on World of Warcraft, that’s not steriotyping, that’s the way it is. Europe only has a fraction of the millions of players on the game.

But Kirk claims they aren’t even in WOTLK!

-Well, not to worry Kirk, my dear Chinese friend.
WOTLK is worth missing out. Because it’s just a bad attempt by bad designers and bad storywriters making a bad effort at making a game long past its prime to continue for good money.

I give WoW five years before it’s spat out like a chewed toy. Glad I quit, the only thing keeping people playing nowadays is the addictive E-peen of getting achievements to show off and materialistic wants for silly mounts and armour that makes one look like a pokémon rather than a stoic knight.

Have fun with that.

Easy ModeSucks

On July 22, 2010 at 7:09 pm

WOW is easy mode crap now! Anyone who still plays it is a fudge packing got!


On July 25, 2010 at 1:58 pm

Mich, you are badly informed, until the Netease fiasco WoW had 6 million players. But they admitted themselves they only made up a small portion of their profits.

This is because the Chinese players mostly played for ~6c an hour (changing operators moved this to around 9c an hour), so the total income there was only 200-300 million, the big money was in the US and Europe.


On August 11, 2011 at 4:03 am

Well, I was a subscriber and I wouldn’t give WOW a second chance until they go free to play because us younger subscribers are getting fed up with having to pay so much.

Also, you can’t just keep making WOW bigger and adding more expansions. People will need to pay more for the system requirements on top of the subscription fee. WOW players will definitly drop dramaticaly.
Personally, I prefer WOW how it is now and if they made it free to play then great, it would be worth spending money here and there for WOW.

What im trying to say is go free to play and you will get lots more profit, you will get all your subscribers back and more. What else would you want.

I have a lot of friends that use to play this game, but can’t any more… like I said, not enough money. You’re losing members everyday no matter how you expand WOW.


one dissappointed former WOW fanatic


On October 15, 2011 at 1:37 pm

i think wow should be free