The timeless free trials

December 22, 2009

I think it was either The Chronicles of Spellborn or Saga of Ryzom that were among the first of the subscription-based MMOs to offer free trials which were not limited in time, but rather how far you can get into the game. This approach has then been picked up by Warhammer Online, Age of Conan and Champions Online.

One thing that these games all have in common is that they are not really fighting in the absolute top with regard to subscriber-numbers, so understandably they have to do more to entice people to play. But some of them are still not going the path of “free-to-play” model and some of them keep the same subscription fees. Is an unlimited free trial enough?

In Ryzom you are restricted to the tutorial area, which you can spend a few hours. Age of Conan is limited to the Tortage area, which is also a number of hours, although a bit different game from what is outside Tortage. Champions Online is restricted to the Millenium City crisis zone (the tutorial zone), where someone typically would spend their first 5-6 levels, but in theory possible here to stay until 15. I do not know what the restrictions are for Warhammer Online, have not tried that game.

I guess it is a sign of the times that it becomes more difficult to compete in the MMO space – go back a couple of years and many MMOs were probably doing ok financially even if there were not big blockbuster successes. In the last 2-3 years it has been more of a mixed bag, at least that is how it appears.

I would not be surprised if we relatively soon will see that almost all games will have their first part “free” in some way and unlimited in time, to get people to try it.

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  1. December 23, 2009 at 02:11

    I think the Champions free trial would do much better if they restricted it to the first three crisis zones (MC and Canada/Desert) so that players have a chance to go to the power house and try out their travel powers. That would still limit players to the levels 1-10 (realistically) but give them a much better taste of the game.

  2. December 23, 2009 at 03:01

    I agree with that, just the initial zone is a bit too limited for a trial and I honestly do not see why anyone would even try to get to 15 in that zone – even trying to get to level 7 would be stretching it.

    At least one of the other crisis zones would be a bit better.

  3. December 23, 2009 at 03:03

    Hitting 15 in the initial zone would be about the wort grind I can imagine. Allowing players to go to either the Desert or Canada after that would really allow for a better trial though and players would be able to get to 9 or 10 fairly naturally. I expect we’ll see a change along those lines in a month or so.

  4. December 23, 2009 at 15:47

    Yes, it does not make sense to just have the tutorial zone, which is as close to generic MMO gameplay as you get in the game.
    Play 1 hour or less and you are done.

    With only 2 character slots there are not so many charcter you can keep either if you want to try out a few different variations without deleting a character.

    They will probably add thew other crisis zones later, but it was probably easier to implement just the tutorial zone first.

  5. Tesh
    December 25, 2009 at 01:10

    Wizard 101 started out with a perpetual free trial zone *and* subscription options. That was more than a year ago now. Puzzle Pirates has also had a perpetual free trial, even on their subscription servers. They are at least five years old now.

  6. December 25, 2009 at 15:11

    @Tesh: Thanks for pointing these out. I had totally forgotten about Wizard 101 and have not tried Puzzle Pirates.

  7. Tesh
    December 25, 2009 at 18:07

    I’m sure there are others I don’t know about, too. ;)

    I do find it interesting that the idea is percolating up through the food chain. I’ve always thought it to be a great idea, and it’s good to see that validated to a degree by success stories like DDO.

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