Free to Play from East to West

Free to play MMORPGs like Perfect World and Dream of Mirror Online have been commonplace in China and South Korea. MMORPG juggernauts like ChangYou in China and Nexon in South Korea have been embracing the free to play business model for years and years. In fact, pay to play subscription MMORPGs rarely ever succeed in Eastern markets. The only exception to this rule is World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy 14, which have both done well in East Asia. The interesting this is that pay to play games like WoW have been the norm in the U.S. and Europe. Free to play games were only recently embraced by Western studios.

Final Fantasy 14 – Success Subscription MMORPG

Blizzard Entertainment for example, has seen huge success with the free to play business model. Their HearthstoneCCG raked in over $100M in revenue in 2014 while their upcoming games Heroes of the Storm and Overwatch are expected to be hits. It’s not just Blizzard though. Even smaller game developers started embracing the F2P model. Even independent MMOs like Unturned and Robocraft are set to release as free to play with microtransaction based cash shops. The number of Western developed free to play MMOs has skyrocketed over the years from nearly zero to dozens with more launching every month.

Unturned Screenshot GameplayUnturned Gameplay Screenshot

The reason free to play games are growing in popularity in the West is likely due to the enormous success of League of Legends from Riot Games, which brought in over $1 billion in revenue in 2014. The game’s success has led to a craze of game developers churning out competing MOBAs. Turbine released the DC Comics based Infinite Crisis to try and grab a piece of that MOBA pie. Aside from Turbine, S2 Games released their much anticipated Strife on Steam in late April of 2015. I have my doubts whether these new MOBAs will take market share from League of Legends, but I’m happy to see more Western companies utilizing the same free to play model that the East popularized. It’s also worth mentioning that free to play games generate more revenue than ever, nearly 4x more than subscription based games according to data from superdataresearch. Besides MOBAs, even FPS games are launching as free to play. Firefall from Red 5 and Warface from Crytek launched from the get-go as free to play. I actually expect the next Counter-Strike and Left 4 Dead games to be free to play, but that’s just my thoughts.


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