Star Wars: The Old Republic

EA, Cryptic, Riot discuss "dead" subscription models, free-to-play's influence

Omri Petitte at

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GamesIndustry sat down with members of various studios for a lengthy exploration into the industry's shifting perception of freemium game development, the climbing popularity of free-to-play MMO subscription models, and the shaky balancing act between "money-grabs" and quality free ventures. EA (Battlefield Play4Free), Cryptic Studios (Star Trek Online), Riot Games (League of Legends), and 22 Cans (Curiosity) shared their thoughts on the steady-yet-rocky proliferation of free content.

"I don't think the industry has figured out the right free models for many types of games, so a rush into free-to-play may end up limiting the kinds of content choices that are available to players," Riot Games CEO Brandon Beck said. "That would be a travesty, because we all want to see rich, linear eight-hour experiences continue, as well as many other kinds of games that don't fit into the conventional free-to-play box."

"We may be in for an over-correction; too many companies are going to shift into this model thinking that it's the winning formula and end up getting distracted from what really matters," Beck added.

Cryptic Studios COO Greg Zinkievich—whose MMORPG Star Trek Online beamed back a far stronger population after transitioning to free-to-play—predicted the appearance of many "failures" within a two-year span as the industry shirks the stigmatizing concept of the free-to-play model, saying, "Many who are entering the market right now are doing it as almost a money-grab."

He added quality-oriented MMOs and shooters carrying free systems foment player excitement for the model instead of driving away audiences, claiming subscription fees are "dead": "At the same time [free-to-play] is becoming more 'evil' in the social market, what many free-to-play shooters and all the incoming free-to-play MMOs have done is actually get the core gaming audience more excited about free-to-play now than they would have been three or four years ago. It isn't as tarnished as it may seem.

"But subscription is dead. Star Wars: The Old Republic was the biggest possible swing for the fences. There is no longer any argument over whether that can be done. Free-to-play is the way of the future. It is the new world," says Zinkievich.

The rest of GamesIndustry's feature contains equally interesting input from 22 Cans' Peter Molyneux and Spicy Horse's American McGee on free-to-play and other topics, so take a look here.