A few weeks ago we introduced Mark Kern's "Circle of Suck." But we also talked to the Red 5 dev about the difficulties of creating a free to play MMO. Turns out it's pretty damn difficult.
"I think there are horrible ways to implement free-to-play" said Mark.
"You've got to understand that for a lot of these large publishers, it's very hard for them to comprehend how free-to-play would work and to take the risk of doing free-to-play with an AAA game."
The Red 5 developer says that too much greed can break the model: "They're under the mentality that everybody must pay; no-one gets a free ride. And so you get these warped models like, 'buy the box, pay a subscription, we'll give you in-game advertising and you have to buy microtransactions or sell power all at the same time.' That doesn't really work."
Firefall will be free to play, but Mark is determined that the MMO FPS won't be affected by the payment method: "The model that we believe in, is: it's free. All the content is free, there's no velvet rope that prevents you from playing with your paying friends, and you're not selling power, you're selling opportunity. A good example of that is the World of Warcraft analogy where WoW has daily quests, for example. Maybe there'd be a way to say, "OK, you can get two Daily Quests instead of one, if you pay a little extra".
Mark says that fledgling Asian MMOs had the right idea, but weren't of a high enough standard to survive: "In Asia, you try everything for free. What was missing was the quality mark."
By contrast, Kern reckons Firefall's budget will ensure that it can survive in the competitive world of MMOS: "We were sitting on an AAA game with an AAA budget - you know, as much as we'd spent on the original World of Warcraft – and we said, 'Why not make that free?' As we did the research and we did the math, it just made more and more sense."
Are you comfortable with free-to-play MMOs, or would you prefer that they stuck to a more traditional subscription model, like The Old Republic? Bioware seem to have copied the WoW model wholesale for their upcoming Star Wars-themed MMO.