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MMO business models must become more sophisticated - ICO

Core, subscription MMORPG will remain, but must be tuned to audience, says consultancy

Thomas Bidaux and Julien Wera of ICO Partners believe that, even in the face of strong opposition from freemium and microtransaction models, the subscription-based core MMO still has a future, but must adapt and become more sophisticated in order to flourish.

The comments came as part of the second half of an interview with the pair at Nordic Game last month, published today. With Star Wars: The Old Republic looming large on the horizon, GamesIndustry.biz asked, is there still room for multiple old-model MMOs in the market?

"Personally I don't think that AAA, subscription, high-end MMOs are going to go away," offered Wera. "There aren't going to be many, that's the thing. You have the top, then then you have the browser-based stuff at the other end of the spectrum. Some years ago you could have some games in the middle - subscription-based but not that high end. They could survive, but I don't think they will survive in the future, unless they really cater to the niche.

You're not going to be able to say, my game is very different to yours, but with the same business model. That's going to be like shooting yourself in the foot

Thomas Bidaux, ICO Partners

"There was a lot of talk [at Nordic Game] about Eve Online, it's very high end, very deep, very complicated. It's perfect for a certain type of player. They don't need ten million players. They've got a high revenue, they've got high quality, they've got a retention rate that's crazy. I think they were saying that 50 per cent of people who bought the game at launch are still playing now. It's been eight years.

"That's probably the highest retention rate of all of the online games. That's the kind of game that can actually make it. You see different games that are high end and hardcore - free to play games like World of Tanks. Very niche, but very well executed so very successful in its niche. League of Legends is the same. It's extremely hardcore, but it's extremely well executed so it does very well."

Bidaux agreed that core games will always have their market, and additionally argued that subtle and appropriately pitched business models will be key to the survival of all types of online title.

"I think that it's going to change, but I think that big, subscription-based MMOs will not die either," he agreed. "I think there's always going to be an audience for those games in the same way that there's always going to be an audience for big AAA single player console games. I just think that their market share is going to change, back and forth in some ways. There'll always be a place for that.

"I think that the business models are going to become more sophisticated. We came from a really dumbed-down business model which is 'give me money, I'll give you the game' to something with a lot more options.

"There'll still be pay to play stuff, but it'll be that you get the game free but pay a subscription or microtransaction - it's going to be more complex, possibly, but a lot more integrated into what is each game's experience. Each experience is going to become more unique. You're not going to be able to say, my game is very different to yours, but with the same business model. That's going to be like shooting yourself in the foot.

"That's what we've been doing with online games for the last five years, and I think that's why a lot of games fail: because they try to apply business models which are fundamentally flawed for that game's experience."

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