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Dungeons and Dragons Online goes free

By on June 11, 2009

Turbine has just announced that Dungeons and Dragons Online is about to change its business model.

It’s moving from being a traditional subscription based MMO where users pay $14.95 per month to being a game that anyone can download and play for free. Users will be able to “purchase additional content and items in the new DDO Store to enhance their experience.”

GamaSutra quotes Adam Mersky, Turbine’s Director of Communications, as saying “Looking at DDO having moderate success, but definitely a niche game, it was definitely well-suited [to trying a new business model]”.

So what are the implications?

  1. Turbine is trying to take a fully-featured MMO that was previously making subscription revenue and gambling that the business model that has been successful in Asia will take over in the US
  2. Atari, which was the publisher of Dungeons and Dragons Online, will presumably struggle to sell a boxed version, when the game can be downloaded from the web for free
  3. Codemasters has stated that it will not be implementing the new business model for DDO in Europe. This seems likely to be difficult in the long term, and I wonder if it really means that Turbine didn’t consult them in advance?

I’m hard-pressed to tell if this is an innovative approach from a mainstream developer or if Turbine was finding that DDO was no longer generating sufficient revenues to justify its continued existence and had to do something or else simply shut it down.

Either way, it will be an interesting experiment in whether a premium subscription MMO can successfully transition to a micro-transaction business model that has been predominantly exploited in browser-based MMOs in the past.

About Nicholas Lovell

Nicholas is the founder of Gamesbrief, a blog dedicated to the business of games. It aims to be informative, authoritative and above all helpful to developers grappling with business strategy. He is the author of a growing list of books about making money in the games industry and other digital media, including How to Publish a Game and Design Rules for Free-to-Play Games, and Penguin-published title The Curve: