Square Enix: Subs didn't hurt The Old Republic and The Secret World

FFXIV director believes there's still room for MMO subscriptions

The director of Final Fantasy XIV believes that the transition to free-to-play for MMOs like The Old Republic and The Secret World is unrelated to the validity of the subscription model.

Speaking to Penny Arcade, Naoki Yoshida voiced an opinion that cuts against the accepted wisdom around online business models.

"I don't think there's a right or wrong for having a monthly subscription model or free-to-play model," he said. "Games like The Old Republic and The Secret World, I don't say those games would've been more successful if they had been free-to-play, for example. The subscription model was unrelated to the success of the game."

The relaunch of Square Enix's Final Fantasy XIV - subtitled "A Realm Reborn" - enters its first closed beta today. The game initially launch in September 2010, but widespread problems caused Square Enix to drop its planned subscription model in favour of free-to-play while the issues were resolved.

Yoshida admitted that Square Enix was "too comfortable" with the Final Fantasy franchise, relying on the power of the brand to draw in the players. He also conceded a "lack of knowledge" of general standards in other MMOs, but Yoshida believes that the company has now created a product that will stand out enough to justify a monthly subscription.

However, the need for a subscription model is inextricably tied to Square Enix's need for stability. According to Yoshida, without investors to supply funding, the instability of free-to-play revenue can make it difficult for a company to operate.

"With the free-to-play model, you'll get huge income one month, but the next month it depletes," he said.

"Most MMOs have investors in the background, and the company uses the profit and splits the profit with the investors. But, if the game's not successful, and it doesn't reach the target, then they have to switch to free-to-play to try and get just a little profit from it.

"Among the MMOs in the market, only Blizzard and Square Enix are making money without investors in the background."

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Latest comments (10)

Anthony Chan5 years ago
Though Yoshida's comments are against all wisdom, he may be right when referring only to Square's own game. Final Fantasy XIV was a complete failure. Only the most loyal Square fans could stomach that game for months and months on end, and even then they complained about the instability, the bugs, and the gameplay.

However, if (and only if) they have rebuilt, revamped, and truly improved the "rebirth" then, I think they can justify a subscription worth paying by MMO players. The reason for this is, FF has never really been a WoW-clone, and has appeal to a different subset of the MMO demographic - hardcore, grueling, and very unforgiving MMO but with a great story. All other MMOs of late (except Secret World) are strong iterations of World of Warcraft - essentially hand-holders of a MMO game where even the most casual players can exact enjoyment. All of which are many steps behind all the "services" and "features" that are currently in-game for WoW. And therein lies the problem. Why pay 15 USD a month for a new game, when an existing game which is essentially the same with lesser graphics gives you the experience, but enhanced with all the improvements that have been hammered out.

Final Fantasy has the potential to carve out its own piece of the pie just like how FFXI did. It just needs to be holy $%^& good. Otherwise, this may be the final nail in MMO coffin.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Anthony Chan on 25th February 2013 7:22pm

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Raphael Honore Localization Assistant Manager, Blizzard Entertainment Europe5 years ago
Don't underestimate the loyalty of SE's fans! For those of us who discovered MMORPGs with FFXI, the hope that Naoki Yoshida will succeed in reviving the spirit of one of the best game ever made is stronger with every picture, every video released. Plus, how many MMOs are designed to be played with a gamepad? I may be getting old, but I can't take all the strafing/jumping around with a quagillion skills to activate with a keyboard and a mouse anymore. A slower paced, cooperation and skill timing-centered combat system make this game a one-of-a-kind experience in the MMO universe. And it's really gorgeous! Take a look at the latest exploration videos.
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Jason Alexander QA - Senior Tester, Blizzard Entertainment5 years ago
It was not a failure due to it being a Pay service. They did not listen to feedback from fans and QA and shipped and unfinished product. SW: TOR , APB…These also went Free-to-Play. It’s not cost effective to create and MMO spend all you company’s cash to make it and it not be a hit. We are not having a drive towards free-to-play service that is just how many games failed at subs on opening. Free-to-play with micro-transactions is genre in and of itself.
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Show all comments (10)
Angus Syme Senior Artist, Lionhead Studios5 years ago
Ehhh.... I think the past decade has proven time and time again that the MMO space is akin to cola. Room for one brand and maybe secondary Pepsi when it comes to subs.

In this case the brand is WoW. Every other title that's gone into that space (bar Rift and eve which is a very different experience off the top of my head) has eventually caved. From reading interviews FF wants to be wow and has reworked the game to match it. And sure it has hard core fans who'll play it and pay for the experience but I'm not sure the numbers of brand loyalists are what SE want after spending so long and so much money reworking the game for launch.
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Brian Lewis Operations Manager, PlayNext5 years ago
"With the free-to-play model, you'll get huge income one month, but the next month it depletes," he said.
I hate to say this.. but this just shows a lack of understanding of the Free to Play business model. Our first game (Last Chaos) just passed its 6h year. It has had regular (and steady) revenue for years. The difference between P2P and F2P is that with the free business model, you have to sell yourself every day (i.e. its a service, not a product). With the paid business model, the approach is different, where you push to sell your product (once). Free to play is highly competitive, and you have to provide the service that the customer desires... or they leave (and take their money with them).

Free can do well with a poor product, and good service. Paid can do well with a good product, and poor service. However, with a poor product, and poor service.. it doesn't matter what model you choose.. you are going to fail.
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Ian Brown IT Developer / IT Infrastructure 5 years ago
I'll probably stick with PSO2 if this is sub based as I can't justify paying for a game once then subscribing to play the same game and being sort of forced to play it or just waste money not. The game looks visually miles ahead of PSO2 and I'm interested but subbed games have never taken hold of me for the fact it takes so much game time to have any real fun in MMO's typically when you get to the top levels.
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Yiannis Koumoutzelis Founder & Creative Director, Neriad Games5 years ago
Brian i was thinking of exactly the same thing. had even written a long post and then decided not to publish it :)

in short, the business choice of going F2P can't change the quality of a game. that was stated correctly. but bad implementation of monetization can! they admitted that they didn't fully understand massive games when they made this game. and that was a mistake. now they do not fully understand how F2P works and that is risky as well!

Unfortunately, on top of that i am not entirely sure how they understand or plan to implement the ultra flexible, and super-fast update deliveries and monetization event strategy that F2P games need in order to provide stimuli. Most of these studios are used to plan of an update every 9-12 months.
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Joshua Rose Executive Producer / Lead Designer, Storm Eagle Studios5 years ago
I think the real money makers in this whole market space are the ones that have found a healthy synergy between F2P and P2P.

Have a very fun, balanced, and playable F2P option where people can play the game and enjoy themselves without ever having to spend money or spend a little at a time via micro-transactions. But also have PASSIVE advantages to having "premium" playtime: better XP/money gain, access to exclusive things (that don't provide unfair advantages over F2P customers), visual customization, etc.

The best examples I can come up with, which have been mentioned time and time again are as follows.

PlanetSide 2: No number of shiny objects can shadow great gameplay. PS2 has rather balanced gameplay (in my own experience). A subscribed person may gain xp faster (in return getting cert points to spend on upgrades), but that doesn't always put them with an unfair advantage over the free to play player. Sure somebody can spend station cash to get a better gun for their tank or get a new sniper rifle... But you can also earn those guns through cert points, which is very time consuming. Everything in the game also has it's advantages and drawbacks. For example, there are several sniper rifles in the game that have different roles. You can get one that has great accuracy at very long range but has a slow reload time and is bolt action (no rapid firing), or you can get the medium range one semi auto, lower damage, higher rate of fire, faster reload. It's a tradeoff for everything in the game.

MechWarrior Online: Great example, period. You can by all the hero mechs you want and fit them with whatever the hell you can slap on it and still have it meet weight restrictions... But I can still out pilot you in my 'paid-for-with-earned-game-money' Dragon fitted with an Ultra AC/5. MWO lends itself VERY well to the F2P pay method. The best way I could possibly put it.... You can't buy SKILL

Star Wars: The Old Republic (or Star WoW as my online gaming friends like to call it) isn't exactly the best example because EA did a VERY good job of sucking out almost everything in the game and making it pay to play. You can do the whole storyline, sure... But can you use all the equipment you get from storyline quest rewards? Not without paying cartel coins. Want to use a medical probe instead of having to start back at the closest med station (which could be across the map)... Sure, but you can only do it 5 times a week. But you can buy more! Want to do PVP warzones, SURE!!!! Five a week... Oh you wanted to do more? Pay up. Don't get me wrong, SWTOR in my opinion still has the best storyline out of any MMO I've seen to date. You can tell they spent a lot of money on the game (somewhere around 300 million USD I think?) Even the basic non storyline quests have their own fully choreographed fully voiced cinematic, which really helps with an immersion factor seldom seen in MMO's today. They also did a great job of keeping a lot of what made the original KOTOR games great. Unfortunately The best part (the leveling and combat system) would not have worked well in an MMO format. But the reason I mentioned it in the first place is because it directly contradicts what Yoshida says about subs not hurting them. There is hard evidence that their subscription base declined within 3 months of release. It steadily continued it's decline until they went with the F2P format. Since then they've seen a large increase in players (both F2P and subs). The Age of Conan game is another example where the subs killed them, then going free to play gave the game a whole new breath of life.

Last but not least, the one everybody knows and loves (well, most people love)...
World of Tanks: What else can I say that hasn't already been said about the game that laid the foundation for the free to play PC game market space?

If Yoshida thinks they have a product that's worthy of a subscription fee that's great! But the proof is in the pudding... or at least in the wallets of their potential subscribers.
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Benjamin Crause Supervisor Central Support, Nintendo of Europe5 years ago
At first I think it is important to realize that free to play is not the solution for each and any game. It works for many. But there are also enough who could not succeed with it. A good example of switching from P2P to F2P was Star Trek Online. For them it was probably a heavens gift. For SW:TOR it was just another nail on the coffin. SW:TOR's problems was not the subscription but the game itself.

I am a huge FF fan and long time FF11 player. FF14v1 was horrible. Not because of the subscription but because they turned a prototype into a game. FF14v2 looks like it is shaping up very good. I hope they do not make another FF11 because times have changed and I do not want to play the same game again. Neither do I want a full WoW clone but something that takes the good things out of it and combines it with the creative ideas of the SE developers and merge them with the Final Fantasy lore.

A game like FF14v2 is suitable for subscriptions because it brings stability to the game. I would not ever want to see it go F2P. Its all about content, the level of polish and system stability with an active task force that takes care of customer support, bugfixes and hunting down RMT. Because of FF11 and it all went I know they can properly pull this off. Have some faith.
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Jameel IT Service Desk Agent II, Atos5 years ago
Clearly deluded. The failure of TOR isn't entirely subscription based, no. There were bigger problems such as the fact that the game was incredibly linear, or that the space missions were 100% on rails. Maybe the fact that the levelling felt more like a Pefect World entertainment game than a premium Pay to Play MMO. Maybe the fact that some of the classes like Consular were just incredibly unsatisfying, regardless of DPS/Heal role.

Above all, paying for a game that came out of EA and felt like it came from a South Korean micro-transaction farm, is what killed the game - not the fact that it had a sub.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Jameel on 1st March 2013 8:00pm

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