Will World of Warcraft Ever Go Free-to-Play?

Mon, Aug 27, 2012

Free-to-Play, MMOG, PC

Blizzard doesn’t have any plans to make World of Warcraft totally free to play any time soon. Presently, the mega MMO is free to play up to level 20, but Blizzard is showing no new interest to go full F2P, even as an increasing number of game developers adopt it.

Earlier in the month, PC Magazine reported that WoW’s subscriptions dropped by 1.1 million during Blizzard’s second fiscal quarter of 2012. Even with that loss, there are still over 9 million players worldwide, and Blizzard hopes the release of the newest expansion, Mists of Pandaria, will swell their subscriptions back to their full ranks.

What accounts for the dip in subscribers? There are a number of factors, all of which are speculative. But it is worth considering the industry impact of the tonight’s release of Guild of Wars 2 or the new expansion for the moderately successful MMO RIFT. Let’s also not rule out the impact Star Wars: The Old Republic’s move to the F2P model could have on the MMO-playing crowd.

There are also a number of other upcoming F2P games that could chip away at WoW’s supremacy. MechWarrior Online is currently in its beta testing phase, DOTA 2 will likely explode upon its official release and Firefall is enjoying a nice beta reception. The free-to-play model is clearly growing in popularity, with shooters, competitive multiplayer, and even RTS games adopting it.

Is WoW just stubbornly hanging on? The game still has 9 million paying subscribers, so Blizzard certainly has an incentive to keep the cash-flow coming. But a hypothetical move to F2P would likely include in-game transactions in order to maintain revenue. As controversial as it may be, Blizzard could end up introducing Diablo 3’s real-money auction house for WoW.

But Blizzard is not simply ignoring the trends in gaming and holding on to old habits, as evidence by the mention that their developers were looking into the option to bring WoW to iOS devices. MMO gaming on an iPad seems like the kind of innovational concept that only Blizzard could manage. Who knows? In the next few years, can we see mobile gamers populating the Azeroth servers?

What will happen first? WoW on mobile devices, or WoW going full F2P? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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