Surrounded by a hundred or so tanks, and a few dozen of his most Tank-obsessive fans, Victor Kislyi, CEO of Wargaming.net had a few choice words to say about the state of subscription MMOs in an interview with PCGamesN. His thesis: that the business of games is being eaten alive by the free-to-play mode. “Boxed is dying off, and by that I mean consoles too, and subscription,” said Victor. “Because what is a subscription but buying a box again?”
"Name one game apart from World of Warcraft with a subscription that is doing well,” challenges Victor. Only a few names spring to mind. EVE Online? Star Wars: The Old Republic?
Victor laughs. “You can have a huge sci-fi license with the biggest budget of any game, and what do you get? No success. It’s dying off. I think subscription tops the list of problems [with MMO development.]”
In Victor's mind, the only alternative is the free-to-play mode. “The good things in life are free," says Victor. World of Tanks has been Free to Play since release, with the entire development of the game since then being funded by the players spending money on the in game store. There is no box to buy, only a download.
But Victor has a warning for any MMO like The Old Republic that might consider turning to free-to-play. “Unfortunately for everyone, Free to Play is not easy to make. You can’t convert a subscription game into Free to Play easily. You can’t just shove in a free twenty levels and an item shop and have it work.”
What developers need to do, says Victor, is listen, respond and act on what the playerbase is saying and doing. "The gap between a successful and an unsuccessful MMO is very thin. Why? Because it’s social. Everyone talks to everyone else. Good news spreads very fast. The problem is when bad news, or when they’re suspicious of bad news, it spreads just as fast, if not faster. If you screw up even one little thing, the bad news is so strong with the community and word of mouth, you can’t control it. If you do one little thing too badly, with the monetisation, make it a little bit too expensive, then you’re done. If you make it too easy, or free, some people will pay, but it’s not going to be millions of players, so you’ll be bankrupt. The line is very very thin."