How do you turn a free product into a profitable enterprise? That’s normally the challenging issue to be faced in today’s increasingly competitive online market. Internet giant Google continues to have issues attempting to monetise its expensively acquired YouTube daughter. Yet game developer Turbine is looking to do exactly the opposite, converting their current business model into a subscription-supported free product. But does ‘free’ pay?
It certainly appears that Turbine’s decision to offer their MMO Dungeons & Dragons Online for free has paid off. Hundreds of thousands of new players have signed up to take advantage of the new offer, and despite the ‘free’ price tag, subscriptions are up 40%. In addition, many players are taking advantage of an in-game payment mechanism to buy additional items and open up new sections of the game. Previously the game had required players to pay a one off purchase price, followed by a monthly subscription fee. Now just about anyone can download the game and be playing within half an hour, paying or otherwise. Turbine also maintain that some players are paying even more per month than the previous subscription fee alone, removing an important cap on how much individual players could pay into the game. Rather than seeing players who play without paying as freeloaders, Turbine are confident that such players bring their own benefit to the company, generating interest, advertising via word-of-mouth, and thereby generating new subscriptions and one-off payments.