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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