Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose…
–Me and Bobby McGee, most famously sung by Janis Joplin
ArenaNet seems to be hitting some sour notes with its installed base. First there was the announcement that anybody who purchased the upcoming Heart of Thorns expansion for GuildWars 2 would get the base game for free. At least there was that free character slot goodwill gesture when people were unhappy.
But then there was the second hit of the one-two punch, an announcement that the base game would be free in and of itself. Thanks to everybody who forked over $59.99 or more at launch, but now we’re just giving it away.
Strange times in the Buy To Play corner of the MMORPG market I guess. Certainly ANet never felt the need to give away the original Guild Wars base game back in the day.
But that was then and this is now.
Here I suppose we see an interesting intersection of the realities of the current market.
The problem of expansions… at least the problem with multiple expansions… is an old one at this point in time. EverQuest, EverQuest II, and World of Warcraft have all had to address the “too many damn expansions” problem as the games progressed, which ended up with all of them giving away some content for free.
In Norrath the plan after a while was that buying the latest expansion would roll up all the previous ones as part of the price. There was an interim period of roll-up packages with names like EverQuest Platinum and EverQuest Titanium, but eventually that became too cumbersome. EverQuest II went straight to the “all previous expansions” route with Echoes of Faydwer if I recall right.
People who bought every expansion at launch still paid a lot more money, but it simplified the task for those just jumping in, or those returning to the game, in getting all the right software on their drive. There was an era when you had to buy all these in box form from your local retailer.
In Azeroth, Blizzard’s plan has been to stack expansions at the other end of things, giving you a range of expansions with the base game while leaving the latest and greatest for sale separately. Again, those who waited long enough got stuff others paid full retail price for.
So giving away some content for free that was previously available only at a monetary cost has been established as something of an industry practice, or at least a reflection of industry reality. Not everybody has doe this. I think Turbine has held the line for Lord of the Rings Online, where you have to buy each of the expansions individually and in the correct order. But part of their F2P plan is to sell content, so giving some away would seem counter-productive I suppose… though that is probably why their insta-level option is limited to level 50, as beyond that requires expansions.
But I haven’t heard of anybody making the base game free upon launching an expansion nor doing a bundle deal, base + expansion with just the first expansion.
Expansions for free, sure thing. EVE Online has been doing that for more than a decade. It was also a thing in Lineage II and a few more games. Content keeps people subscribed.
So giving away the base game after building your business on B2P is new. Yes, there are some restrictions that come with free, many of which sound somewhat familiar to those who watch the F2P side of the MMO market, as laid out on this chart, though others, like things locked until level 30, are interesting. You can ask how free is free with that, especially when you can still buy into that sort of odd middle group of players, like myself, who bought the base game at one point but who likely won’t buy expansion. And where are they left in the grand scheme of things?
I suppose they could have decided that they aren’t going to sell many more copies of the base game without letting people play first. After all, they’ve cut the price and then discounted even that by as much as 75% at times to get every last interested customer to buy in. So maybe that cupboard is bare, but they see potential in the now somewhat standard F2P “free with annoying restrictions” model.
Of course, the base game has also lost value over time.
If you bought the box on day one, just about three years back, at full retail price you were looking forward to a couple years worth of special events as part of the deal. All of that, save maybe the Super Adventure Box, is in the past now, never to return. If you joined the game today, you would not get to experience any of that. Perhaps it is too much to ask that people buy a game where much of the content is done.
Or maybe ANet just doesn’t want anything standing in the way of selling their new box.