With many major massively multiplayer online role-playing games adapting the free-to-play model, could Blizzard's immensely profitable World of Warcraft one day make the switch? Lead designer Tom Chilton says that one day the game's subscription model "may not make sense".
With MMO titles with strong licensed properties behind them like Dungeons and Dragons and Lord of the Rings Online going free-to-play, even the king of the castle, Blizzard Entertainment, has to sit up and take notice. Speaking to PC Gamer, World of Warcraft lead designer Tom Chilton pondered a day when his highly profitable MMO goes free.
The chances seem slim, however. Chilton suggests that games like Lord of the Rings Online go free-to-play in order to compete with games that have similar subscriber levels. Perhaps Dungeons and Dragons Online going free took away some LOTRO players, and Turbine responded in kind.
The same thing could happen with World of Warcraft.
"If another game comes along and blows us away it may not make sense for us to have a subscription fee. Or even further down the line, when we have another MMO out."
That's a rather large "if". We've been waiting years for the fabled 'World of Warcraft killer' to come along. It hasn't happened yet, and judging from the current crop of up-and-coming games, it's not happening anytime soon.
World of Warcraft already has piece in place, should the change ever occur. Blizzard has been experimenting with micro-transactions, offering pets and mounts through the Blizzard online store and receiving a tremendous response from the game's player base.
So should it ever happen, Blizzard will be ready. Just don't hold your breath.
"We're not spending a lot of time thinking about it. It's not something that's a reality for us in the near future."