Secret World "not going free-to-play anytime soon"

Funcom insists it's sticking with subscription model for MMO despite disappointing sales

It's become ordinary for a subscription based MMO to have an underwhelming launch and quickly switch to a free-to-play model, but Funcom's The Secret World is anything but ordinary. In a post-mortem interview on Eurogamer, studio representatives insisted that a switch to free-to-play isn't on the horizon for the supernatural themed MMO.

"No it's not going free-to-play any time soon," Funcom communications director Erling Ellingsen told the site. Creative director Ragnar Tornquist then suggested there's no telling what the business model would look like in a year, or two, or five, which prompted Ellingsen to step in and acknowledge the company is "always looking" at the possibility.

"It's a fast changing business and we have to adapt ourselves," Ellingsen said. "But right now there's currently no plans."

One reason for sticking with the subscription fee is that the company believes those who paid it should be entitled to get their money's worth. That also means the company isn't planning to produce expansion packs for now, opting instead to release new content in monthly updates for subscribers.

"It's really important to us with the business model we've chosen," Secret World game director Joel Bylos said. "It sounds very emotional, but I almost feel like we need to prove that this business model has not gone the way of the dinosaur by delivering content constantly to people, and making people feel like there's value in it."

The Secret World launched in June through the EA Partners program, and sold only 200,000 copies through August. After the disappointing debut, Funcom instituted a round of cost-cutting initiatives, including layoffs.

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Latest comments (4)

Zidaya Zenovka Blogger, Writer, freelance artist. 5 years ago
This game had a ton of potential and could have been so much better and would have done a lot better if it had adopted Guild Wars 2's approach. I still can't understand why more developers haven't seen this coming. The demise of subscription-based games began as far back as 2008 or so-this game should have done better, and now that it's lost most of its key personell-the people behind the fantastic vision-I really don't see a reason to invest a single penny in this.

Admit that you screwed up, make it free to play and hire the original people back, if you can convince them to come back, that is.Otherwise, this game might go on but it will have lost much of the potential it once had and will just be another cheap grindfest.
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Curt Sampson Sofware Developer 5 years ago
I don't know if I'm typical or not, but for me the main issue has been the combination of the big up-front cost and the subscription. Paying fifty euros just to see if I like the game or not simply isn't worth the risk to me, whereas if I could get started with just a one month subscription (or better yet, for free, the way I can with Blizzard's games) I'd be willing to give it a try.

What's the general marketing idea behind having both a monthly charge and a high entry fee?

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Curt Sampson on 3rd October 2012 8:33am

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Raphael Honore Localization Assistant Manager, Blizzard Entertainment Europe5 years ago
There probably are few, if any, mechanics in place that would allow Funcom to draw revenue from microtransactions.
Quest packs ala LOTRO? This would work just fine for this game, which is centered on quests and exploration.
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James Terry5 years ago
Secret World's current micro-transaction model is vanity items like clothing, pets, and titles. Nothing in there to give players an in-game advantage or access to new content. Switching over to free plus pay for content could alienate the players that are willing to pay a subscription by making them feel like they are being nickel and dimed.

There are plenty of continually successful subscription MMOs: EVE, FFXI, and of course WoW. The key is to getting a stable population. Satisfying your current players is a good way to get stable, then think about expanding, and from what Funcom has said, player satisfaction and retention are high.

Funcom needs to keep their numbers and prevent them from dropping, a massive change to the game could swing them from stability to decline, but could also swing it from stability to growth. I'm not sure that is a risk they want to take right now though.
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