Since 2008, over 20 Eastern-developed, free-to-play MMO titles have launched in the US, and more will be released before this year is out. The list includes Atlantica Online, Deco Online, Florensia, LaTale, Runes of Magic, and many more. With these titles comes a new way of thinking: free-to-play.
While the Western MMO market has stuck largely with the monthly subscription model, Eastern MMO companies have been successfully giving their games away for years. Instead of relying on every user for payment, they offer in-game perks and items for a small fee (aka: microtransaction) and let users decide how much to spend.
The downside, obviously, is that the revenue stream is somewhat unpredictable. In an interview with Gamasutra, Daniel James of Three Rings revealed that only 10% of Puzzle Pirates players spend money on microtransactions. The upside? Users who do spend money spend an average of $50 per month, significantly more than the average monthly subscription fee. Combine that with reduced development costs, zero packaging costs, and lower barrier to entry for new players, and you have some serious potential.
Considering the number of F2P games that currently coexist in the Asian market, it’s hardly surprising that the microtransaction model can be profitable… but can it truly be competitive in North America?