In MMO games, when everything else fails, run for the free to play model! That is clearly the mindset of many studios, always trying to become the next World of Warcraft, enjoying some alluring success for the first 6 months or so and ultimately crying their hearts out when the playerbase decreases to 3 players and a trained monkey. This is loosely what happened to most of the games in this top, which are still very active and profitable thanks to the decision to add a free to play option. This is our Top 10 Pay to Play Turned Free to Play Multiplayer Online Games.
* This top will be updated regularly
Age of Conan: Unchained is the free-to-play MMORPG based on the popular, adult and extremely violent Conan series by Robert E. Howard. Funcom first launched the game in 2008 to a lot of criticism, since it had many bugs, missing zones and lack of end-game content. It was also very tame in the sexual side of things, but that’s how games usually go. The game got genuinely better a couple of years after release, and although it’s not the most popular around, it’s still worth a look.
9: STAR TREK ONLINE
As it usually happens with Cryptic Studios’ games, Star Trek Online benefits from an impressive character creation system. But that’s not all; you can choose to play for the Federation or the Klingon Empire, which is a cool touch. However, while the space battles manage to be pretty good and capture some of the excitement of the show and movies, things are overly familiar when you’re on the ground. Ground combat has gone through a lot of improvement through the years and is fairly exciting. Star Trek Online is a game that offers a wealth of content to go through and fans should be pleased, if not amazed, by Cryptic Studios’ work with a decidedly difficult franchise.
8: DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS ONLINE
While not reaching the heights of The Lord of the Rings Online, Dungeons and Dragons Online proved that Turbine has all the makings of a great MMORPG developer. Launching in 2006 and turning free to play in 2009, Dungeons and Dragons Online is still getting quite a few modules and updates every year, proving that this game is still very alive and kicking. Credit has to go to Turbine for dealing with such a difficult license, balancing the pen-and-paper RPG rules while managing to keep it compelling as a videogame.
The Lord of the Rings Online launched in 2007 to a warm reception by fans of Tolkien’s middle-earth world but also for any good MMORPG fan. This is one of the most played MMOs and offers an impressive amount of content for free players as well as subscription options that don’t sound like a complete rip-off. Lord of the Rings Online is a rare example of a game based on an extremely complex and in-depth franchise that manages to respect the original work and truly make it shine.
6: DC UNIVERSE ONLINE
DC Universe Online is currently the best superhero MMORPG, which isn’t saying much since the competition is a bit tame: Marvel Heroes is more of a Diablo with superheroes, City of Heroes is dead and in the process of being reborn, and Champions Online is solid but not that appealing. DC Universe Online is action oriented and does a great job of getting you close to your favorite superheroes and villains such as Batman, Superman or The Joker. DC Universe Online is available on the PC, PS3 and now the PS4 platforms.
5: STAR WARS: THE OLD REPUBLIC
When a game that cost over a $100 million dollars such as Star Wars: The Old Republic fails so quickly, it leaves you wondering how any studio is able to keep up with the subscription model. The Old Republic was a good, widely praised story-based MMO that had a lot of what made World of Warcraft popular. What it didn’t have and what ultimately cost it the move to free-to-play was time. Time to add more content, to fill the world with more places to properly explore instead of being taken by the hand. Now as free-to-play, there are quite a bit of limitations to fully enjoy it, but it’s still a good MMORPG with a lot to enjoy.
Aion is one of those games that seem like definite proof that the subscription model only works for a lucky few. Selling like hot cakes when it was released in 2009, NCsoft had to rethink the business model due to a swift playerbase decline and ultimately added a free-to-play option in early 2012. Despite criticism of being pretty much the same as most other MMORPGs and having a considerable amount of grinding, Aion is still highly regarded due to its polish and art style.
World of Warcraft killers are usually a dime a dozen, but Rift was one of the few that genuinely had a few arguments to steal a million or so players to Blizzard’s behemoth. It was one of the most solid MMORPGs ever at launch and the dynamic rift events added a great touch to what is a somewhat generic fantasy world. If you’re tired of WoW and want a similar, also very good game, Rift is the one.
2: TERA RISING
You may point your finger at Tera and scoff at the somewhat repetitive quests, but when an MMORPG tries to do something different with combat and succeeds, they deserve a pat in the back. You can even use a controller instead of the keyboard and mouse, something that many regular console players appreciated. We also love how the seamless game world is just beautiful, a real pleasure to explore. Tera is a good game, sometimes a great one. Although the quest system is too generic and gameplay can get somewhat grindy, this has almost everything an MMORPG player can ask for.
1: TEAM FORTRESS 2
Oh Valve, you just keep on spoiling us over all these years! Not only you’ve screwed a generation by launching awesome franchises like Half-Life, Counter-Strike, Left 4 Dead or Portal, you even had the nerve of launching the amazing Team Fortress 2 when everyone was already labeling it as vaporware and laughing in your face. And when you decided to turn the game free-to-play, everyone said yes: gamers were happy to play one of the best action games ever and you saw your revenue increase by a boatload. Life is just wonderful, isn’t it?
Well, not quite. Just give us Half-Life 3 already, dammit!
Like it or not, and although clearly far from perfect, the free to play model is taking over. We bet that during the coming years a few more games will be added to the mix, such as The Secret World. And who knows, perhaps in a couple of years we have to remake this list with games such as Wildstar, Final Fantasy XIV or The Elder Scrolls Online. What do you think?