Is the subscription MMO model dead?

Is there any future for MMOs that charge a monthly fee? Unless they're called World of Warcraft, maybe not. This article at Kotaku takes a look at the increasingly free-to-play MMO landscape and concludes that the subscription model is dead.

In the past few years, numerous big-name MMOs have ditched monthly fees in favor of tempting players with in-game items that can be purchased for real-world cash. Newer subscription-based titles like Star Wars: The Old Republic and The Secret World have struggled to attract and maintain subscribers, according to the article. Even the mighty WoW, which continues to charge a monthy fee, has seen its player base shrink by 10% in the past year.

As the author points out, it's becoming increasingly difficult for subscription MMOs to compete with their free counterparts. Gamers expect titles to go free-to-play eventually, and they have no shortage of alternatives to play while they wait.

Monthly subscriptions are rare outside the MMO sphere, but we're already seeing other games adopt the free-to-play model. Shooters like TeamFortress 2 and Tribes: Ascend won't cost you a dime to play—unless you want a fancy hat. Some games are moving in the opposite direction, though. The latest Call of Duty and Battlefield games have started offering premium memberships loaded with special features, including early access to new content like multiplayer maps. Those memberships include the DLC, of course, and they cost less than six months of World of Warcraft.

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