Rival designer John Smedley thinks all major MMOs will be free to play after The Old Republic.

In 2004, World of Warcraft blew the pants off everyone’s sales expectations after it quickly grew to more than 12 million subscribers in just a few years, breaking the previous record set by EverQuest who once boasted a paying audience of almost 1 million. Sony Online Entertainment’s library of MMOs now includes EQ and EQ2 that charge a monthly subscription, but CEO John Smedley is busy converting all his games to a free to play model. He firmly believes that charging up front or a monthly fee is a barrier to entry that most people will not penetrate, and he has the market research of Lord of the Rings Online, many Asian MMOS, and his own Free Realms to back up that claim. In fact, Smedley thinks that BioWare’s The Old Republic will be the last major MMO to use the subscription model because the Star Wars license will carry at least 2 million customers.

“There’s another large juggernaut coming out soon in Star Wars: The Old Republic from EA/Bioware,” Smedley wrote in an op-ed piece for Games “That’s a game that I think has a legitimate shot at a 2 million subscription user base and I believe they will stick with the subscription method. In my opinion, this is going to be the last large scale MMO to use the traditional subscription business model.”

Well, it’s at least nice to see that Smedley isn’t bitter for LucasArts pulling the Star Wars license from Galaxies, which will close its servers in December.

After carefully observing the Asian market in Korea, China and the emerging audience in Japan, as well as seeing the successful transformations of LOTRO and Champions Online, Smedley can read the writing on the wall. “The world is moving on from this model and over time people aren’t going to accept this method,” he said. “I’m sure I’m going to hear a lot about this statement. But I am positive I’m right.”

Smedley is putting his money where his mouth is by converting an EQ2 server to free to play, and recently announcing that Planetside 2 and the PS3/PC action MMO DC Universe Online would now also follow that model.

Even World of Warcraft seems to be inching towards a free to play model, with microtransations like mounts and minipets making up a large portion of Blizzard’s profits and an unlimited trial period until level 20. With Firefall‘s Mark Kern vehemently fighting for free to play for his shooter MMO, and it looks like Smedley might be right.

TOR will likely be the last subscription-based MMO.


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