Free Dungeons & Profit

About six months ago, I suggested we should check back later and see how DDO’s experiment with free-to-play has gone. The answer, according to Turbine’s current executive this week, is pretty well:

The response from players to DDO Unlimited has been nothing short of phenomenal. We’ve known all along how great this game is and by implementing an innovative new model that put the players in charge of how they pay and play DDO Unlimited, we’ve successfully expanded our reach and injected new energy into the game.  Without a doubt, DDO Unlimited is a hit!

Equally important, of course, is the five-fold increase in revenue. Mild critical acclaim doesn’t hurt, but the bottom line drives development for Turbine as much as any other company. From what I hear, the newfold success has allowed for a mild increase in support and in future plans for the franchise.

It’s worth wondering why the free play structure appears to have worked so well with this product. I considered in my last post how both D&D players and MMO players include a great deal of highly price sensitive players. I still think that’s true. Giving those players a chance to try something new– without the $50 buy-in, even without the $15 monthly fee–is a good idea. I wish I had managed to convince the former regime in Westwood that DDO needed a different business model back in 2005. Because there are millions of lapsed D&D players out there, created by more than thirty years of the property. And now there are also millions of lapsed Warcraft players, and MMO players generally willing to consider something new. Give those people an easy opportunity, and some of the will stick around and put money in your pocket.

If you’re making a new MMO these days (even if you have a killer IP and a killer reputation like our corporate friends down in Austin), I encourage giving extra consideration to support a get-in-the-action experience. Include a demo or sample that can lead to subscription or other investment.

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