Free MMORPGs? Watch out for the strings attached…

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stu-mugshot2.jpgStuart Dredge writes…

When it comes to generating revenues from games, you can’t argue with Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) like World Of Warcraft. They have passionate userbases playing for dozens of hours a week, and happy to pay a monthly subscription to do so.

On the face of it, the business model ain’t broke. However, that hasn’t stopped NCSoft from launching Dungeon Runners, a new game whose main innovation is that it’s free to play. Well, in theory.

If you’re a PC owner, you can download Dungeon Runners for free now from its official website (be warned, it’s a 420MB download). It sounds pretty good too, mixing standard ‘duff up monsters and collect loot’ gameplay with a more humorous take on the MMORPG genre.

dungeonrunners.jpgAnd it’s free! Hallelujah! Except alongside the free option, it’s also possible to buy ‘membership status’ which costs $4.99 a month. Members can use more powerful items, weapons and armour, have priority for getting into the game when the servers are full, and get 220 more inventory slots to carry items than non-members.

So that free option isn’t looking so attractive any more. Don’t get me wrong: NCSoft isn’t mis-selling the game – the idea is presumably to get people to sign up as a free player to see if they like it, then progress onto membership when they realise the benefits they can get.

But it does call into question of how viable an MMORPG is that has two tiers of users – some paying, with access to lots of cool stuff, and some not. As a potential player, will I be persuaded to sign up by the site of full members swanking about with their amazing weapons, or will I be turned off?

Should we even be in the same game world, or should there be a cut-down version for us cheapskates, and the full monty world for the paying players, so we don’t get in each others’ way? Dungeon Runners is a really interesting launch because it’ll provide answers to some of these questions.

Stuart Dredge