Much talk has been given to the rise of social gaming. The Facebook apps that flood people’s status updates are exceedingly popular. So much so, that the top seven games have more monthly players than the most popular Massively Multi-Player Online game, World of Warcraft, which has just under 12 million subscribers (although game companies can juice their stats). However, this is not a slight against the quality of WoW’s gameplay or community. This is an indicator of the friction it takes to play a game like WoW.
Unlike Farmville (Facebook’s most popular app/social game), which is mostly a mouse click menu game that is set up through a Facebook account, MMO games like WoW require separate software and account information, which need to be installed on both a host computer and server. The player creates a character and then plays the video game simultaneously with countless other players who went through the same steps. There also is one noticeable piece of friction with WoW: it has a paid subscription fee.
Of course, a 12 million strong user community of people who have gone well past the point of friction presents its own barriers to entry. Like many social networks, these things often can only be cool before everyone is part of it. Which is why developers of other MMO’s have had to come up with some unique features to not only attract users to commit to a new game, but also to draw players away from WoW.
One of the more popular MMO’s after WoW is Sony’s DC Universe Online (based on the popular DC Comics line.) Launched in February of this year, DCUO would appear on the surface to be a conventional MMO in both gameplay and pricing. It does, however, separate itself in a few key areas. For starters, the game works on both PC’s and Sony’s Playstation 3 video game console, which targets two distinct sects of gamers. It also has a unique user community. There are the conventional players who look to form their own superhero stables and interacting both in game and on community forums. There is also has a comic book published about events in the game universe, thereby engaging comic book fans who may not have thought to play the game. Most importantly, the game lets the player hang out with Batman.
No, most importantly is that less than one year into its launch, DCUO is changing its pricing structure. While not a radically new trend in the MMO world, this switch is still rather remarkable for such a high profile release still new in its life. The game is going “freemium.” This means that instead of charging players for the software and subscription fees, the developers are giving everything away for free- to an extent. Players are limited in what they can do in the game world, but can purchase upgrades a’la carte, or pay the flat subscription fee for unlimited access to the various updates and options available. They have essentially gone from this:
Since DCUO has the added bonus of being available on a home gaming console, the potential to reach a vast audience that rivals WoW’s user base is there. Over 51 million PS3’s have been sold world wide, and the hardcore PC gamers can also potentially be added into community. The questions still remain though: is MMO a niche gaming sector that only appeals to people willing to move past the friction, or will the chance to hang out with Batman for free prompt millions to signup? More importantly, will users like what they see so much that they will become engaged in the community and *gasp* pay for content to enhance the experience? And does anyone want to form a Justice Stable with Power Horse (the horse with horsepower!) in late October when the game goes freemium?