The massively multiplayer online RPG (MMORPG) genre has thrived in two different payment models — subscription and free to play. If you look at the industry as a whole, it appears as if the subscription model laid the groundwork for the MMORPG, while the free-to-play style has helped the genre expand. However, there is a bit of subtlety to the interplay between subscription and free-to-play models. These nuances provide vital insight into the state of the video game industry and emphasize the importance of colocation and data center services in the sector.

Looking at MMORPG models
If you make a dedicated effort to seek out MMORPGs, you will not find too many games that still use the subscription model. Two leaders in the sector are “World of Warcraft” and “Star Wars: The Old Republic.” WoW has lasted an extended period of time as a leader in the genre and carved a major niche for itself. “The Old Republic,” on the other hand, has struggled to maintain an audience using the subscription model and transitioned to a free-to-play system on November 15, 2012.

These decisions make sense if you look closely at the MMORPG’s emergence. Initially, the MMORPG made sense as a subscription-based model because developers would release high-quality content and update it frequently. Over time, however, more developers realized they could release generally lower-quality games as MMORPGs, and make money by selling in-game items.

As this trend progressed, the subscription model became the choice for high-end MMORPGs, while free-to-play was used primarily for low- and medium-range titles that have a strong place in the market or high-end games that were losing players. “World of Warcraft” was initially released in the heyday of this industry climate. “The Old Republic,” on the other hand, came out toward the end of this cycle.

Considering the economics of free-to-play
In the free-to-play MMORPG model, you make your money by getting users to buy in-game items, such as hairstyles for their characters, special outfits or gameplay-related items, such as weapons or special tools. This provides consistent income for developers and publishers, allowing them to support operations. However, you can’t predict revenue as easily with a free-to-play game as you can with a subscription solution because you never really know how many people will buy items in the game.

As a result, developers and publishers hosting free-to-play content often have to find the least expensive method possible to maintain services. By turning to a colocation provider, organizations gain access to a number of systems that enable better services while providing access to more cost-efficient technologies. Therefore, third-party data center solutions can serve as a strategic asset for online video game providers seeking a competitive advantage over their peers.

To learn more about how data center and colocation services can contribute to the success of your online game, read our white paper, Five Consideration for Building Online Gaming Infrastructure.