Article published on Friday, May 6th, 2011
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In a recent interview with the head of Carbine Studios (owned by NCsoft West), Jeremy Gaffney talks about the free-to-play and microtransaction business model with Gamesindustry.biz. He talks about how the free-to-play model is a great way to sustain a user base for a game but there are a bit more money to be made from subscriptions.

Q: Given you’re wearing both developer and exec hats, where do you stand on the creative issues around free-to-play and microtransactions? How much can the business model be reconciled with not compromising the game design?
Jeremy Gaffney: My take on it is that there are certain games for which it’s very appropriate, and others for which it’s really not. The kind of games which really benefit from it as those where there’s a low barrier of entry, you can get in quickly, but on the other there’s benefits to sustaining. We’ve seen some really big successes recently - League of Legends and similar games like that, where it’s really easy entry but you can double down on the microtransactions. As we’re doing it with more of our projects, I think what we’re finding is it’s a really great way to sustain a user base that’s very passionate about a game. It gives a way to invest in it. In Korea you would see for a long a time that people on the Korean version of eBay would spend something like four times as much money as they would actually pay to NCsoft. What’s interesting about that is it means in a way you’re not serving your customers’ needs, because they care enough that they want to spend this money. You’re not giving them an outlet to do it. It’s a very interesting situation.

Q: How much is NCsoft still experimenting? Are you anywhere near to a unified, de facto business model for the time being?
Jeremy Gaffney: We’re a developer-friendly company all around, so our developers chase different business models that they find interesting. We don’t have a boiler plate that we stick on all our games. Guild Wars 2 has been in development obviously for a bit; Guild Wars 1 really defined, I think, the ’free’ MMO in terms of having a different business model than anything else. So we’re agnostic - I don’t think there’s a company philosophy on that so much as developers know what’s best for their games, so let the developer dictate that.

Q: You’re not feeling that the subscription age is over then?
Jeremy Gaffney: No, there’s still a lot of money being made in subscriptions right now. Worldwide there’s a lot of money being made in transactions, but there’s probably a bit more money really being made in subscriptions worldwide.

Q: How much do you think the trend of big launches from the last few years switching to free-to-play will continue?
Jeremy Gaffney: I’m not sure free-to-play is really the kiss of death, or even a resurrection method, because the games that moved over to it have made a bunch of money from it. There’s been more interest from the big publishers in moving over to it early in the life cycle. You’ll probably see more games from big publishers which launch with free-to-play from the outset. But because that perception exists, I think it also makes publishers leery to move over to it because they don’t want the perception of "oh, hey, we’re shifting over because there are fewer players now." Players in many ways demand it, you know. Anecdotally in our industry there are lot of games that have resurrected themselves by moving over to that model, players flocking in, lot more money to be made off it. In a lot of ways it’s better for players because you get to opt-in only to as much as you want to. If a game’s that important to you, you’re probably willing to put that much more money into it - or want to even, because they experience more and more of the content.