For the first time since 2002, the overall cash generated by MMO subscriptions has dipped. The culprit? Free to play games.

Eurogamer reports:

In 2010, MMO subscriptions amassed $1.58 billion. Very good. But not as good as the year before – five per cent less.

Compare that to growth of 10 per cent in 2009, and growth of 21.6 per cent in 2008, and you can appreciate why Screen Digest believes 2010 to be a pivotal year.

From here, Screen Digest predicts, the hill will slope downwards. By 2015, we’re told that the annual MMO subscription haul will diminish to $1.33 billion.

The report found that money made by micro-transaction games had, on the other hand, increased sharply. In 2010, micro-transaction MMOs made $1.13 billion – 24 per cent more than in 2009.

Money made by all MMOs, therefore, rose only 5 per cent to $2.7 billion in 2010.

Eurogamer makes a specific point to say that this dip is not indicative of any specific drop in the subscriptions of any particular MMO. World of Warcraft is still pulling in stupid huge amounts of cash, and will continue to do so until Blizzard launches another MMO.

That said, it does seem that the free to play model is the wave of the future. It’s simply easier to lure in gamers with promises of free gameplay, and despite petulant internet whining, players really don’t seem to mind supporting development via ads and microtransactions.

As Eurogamer says, “subscription MMOs will slowly become the exception rather than the norm.”

I can’t fault the logic, but, as a long-time MMO player, I have to wonder what this economic shift might do to the larger, more creative titles in the genre. Will developers still be granted free rein to cobble together creative, expensive games if the publisher paying the bills isn’t guaranteed the sweet revenue stream generated by monthly subscriptions?

Are we going to see smaller, less immersive MMO titles purely by virtue of shrinking development budgets?

Alternately, are MMO developers going to have to seek out more “creative” methods of keeping the money rolling in? Are we only a few years from playing Taco Bell Presents Dungeons And Dragons Online: Chrysler Sebring Edition (Brought To You By GE)?

Don’t laugh. You’d play it.

Source: Eurogamer

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