Blizzard Backs Away from Subscriptions for Its Next Big MMO

Unfortunately for Blizzard, the gaming world is no longer kind to subscription-based games.

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We don’t know what kind of game Blizzard’s Project Titan will be, or when it will come into existence beyond a tentative 2016 release date. But one thing we do know about the next big project from the makers of World of Warcraft is that it probably won’t involve a subscription.

“We’re in the process of selecting a new direction for the project and re-envisioning what we want the game to be,” Blizzard president Mike Morhaime said in an earnings call this week, according to Develop. Blizzard had previously announced that it was pushing reset on the mystery game, which was expected to be MMO-like in nature.

“While we can’t talk about the details yet, it is unlikely to be a subscription-based MMO RPG.”

Assuming Blizzard stays true to Morhaime’s words and doesn’t go for subscriptions, it would be an interesting sign of the times. World of Warcraft has been a cash cow for Blizzard by virtue of its $15 per month subscription, on top of the price of the game and its many expansion packs.

Unfortunately for Blizzard, the gaming world is no longer kind to subscription-based games, including World of Warcraft, which just lost another 600,000 players. Instead of charging for subscriptions, publishers are taking inspiration from free-to-play games, charging an up-front cost and offering additional in-game items for purchase. (Guild Wars 2 is a wonderfully-executed example.) You no longer need to be tethered to subscription to scratch that loot/raid/quest itch, and games that have tried to go the subscription route, such as Star Wars: The Old Republic and The Secret World, have been forced to change course.

Subscription-based games can survive–Eve Online, after all, is 10 years old and still hosting gigantic space battles–but launching any new game with a mandatory subscription is a risky bet, let alone one that will take at least six years to develop. That may explain why Destiny, Activision Blizzard’s other upcoming massive multiplayer megafranchise, will not require a subscription.


Here's the funny part. Free to play games usually end up costing more. All those "little" transactions add up rather quickly.


It isn't so much subscriptions as it is providing choice.  I see that all the time among the members of my Guild (Sons of Numenor.)

MMORPGs are living communities.  Nobody likes having to leave a community entirely due to not wanting or being able to pay for a subscription.  The best Free to Play model is seen in The Lord of the Rings Online.  You can play, for free, and fully interact, and at select points you may need to spend a little.  Or you can subscribe and generally not worry about buying much of anything.  What is more, the in-game store offers items not related to gameplay that are fun, or what gamers would call “fluff.”  The game continues to add new content and gameplay for the “hardcore” members.  It has balance across all aspects.

Star Wars: The Old Republic made a panicked conversion to Free to Play.  However it failed to continue to develop the right mix.  There is no flow of “fluff” for casual players, nor content that is intended for anybody other than “hardcore” players.  The in-game store is totally unbalanced and comes across like a blunt object to the head, trying to drive people to subscribe.  The only aspect that works is being able to login and be social with your friends, though that too has limits.

All of these games must contend with how players balance multiple games now.  It is common knowledge among gamers that most groups will cycle through several games.  They play on until they are bored, move to another, and cycle through them as updates occur.  Many will shift subscriptions to the games they are actively playing. 

To say subscriptions are dead just isn’t true.  What nobody wants or likes is being told you have zero access to a game because you are not subscribing.  Activision/Blizzard has to look forward towards starting a game with a well polished selection of options that allow players to remain part of their communities even if they are not actively subscribing.