Gazillion Entertainment's president and COO David Brevik believes that MMOs are stuck "in a rut".
In an interview with GamesIndustry.biz at Unite 11, Brevik, who also co-founded Blizzard North, explained that the genre has become more risk averse since the launch of World of Warcraft.
"I think MMOs in general are in a rut. It's still mainly WoW clones," he said. "A lot of people have done these games, but it's been that same kind of gameplay, and that doesn't mean that's what it has to be."
"Look at Ultima Online: it's an MMO, but the experience of Ultima Online was very different from World of Warcraft, yet everybody's gone in that one direction."
Brevik sees the MMO as "a platform" for bringing players together, and therefore not beholden to any one genre, style or game-type. He is currently leading the development of Marvel Universe Online, which, like so many contemporary MMOs, will adopt a freemium business model.
Brevik believes that free-to-play is an obvious step for the genre, and agrees with Sony Online Entertainment's John Smedley that Bioware's forthcoming The Old Republic will be the last subscription-based MMO.
"I have a lot of friends in the industry and... I mean, the budget for The Old Republic is outrageous, but it's the last, large scale subscription game I can think of," he said.
However, if the game fails to gather enough subscriptions to justify its budget, Brevik isn't convinced that it could effectively transition to free-to-play.
"Part of the problem with it is that you aren't going to get the results. This is kind of going back to my talk: if your gameplay is integrated with the very concepts that you're trying and integrated with the platform you're going to get a better experience."
"Converting something to free-to-play works to some degree, but to have the most success you have to have that as an integral part of the game itself."
Brevik is currently in the process of developing a free-to-play experience, and he claims that small differences in what is free and what costs money can have a significant impact on revenue.
"And not only that, but what do you do with your existing subscribers: How do they view this? How do you treat them? 'I've already spent X amount of money on this game. What do I get out of this?' There are some tough problems to deal with if you don't make a free-to-play game right off the bat."
Marvel Universe Online is expected to launch in 2012.
For the full interview with Brevik, click here.