EpicToon SmackTalk: Will going Free-to-Play save Age of Conan?

Funcom announced yesterday that Age of Conan will re-launch this summer under the new name Age of Conan: Unrated, which will be free to play with exclusive content for premium subscribers. It will also feature a cash shop filled with powerful gear and mounts.

Russ and Mick discuss this drastic gamble from Funcom and whether it will revive interest for the sexy, savage MMO.

Russ’ Rant

For all those saying this will be the death of Age of Conan: Are you kidding me?

This is the smartest move Funcom has made in a really long time. As a previous player who returns from time to time, it rocks to see the developers fighting so hard to keep this game alive. It’s still one of the most beautiful MMOs out there, and it’s a shame how so few people are playing it.

The timing to go free-to-play couldn’t be better; summer is when the new Conan the Barbarian movie comes out and there will be increased interest for the related game. Even more so if the film becomes a blockbuster smash.

Funcom is already putting all the chess pieces in place. The company has announced content that will tie in to the film called the Savage Coast of Turan adventure pack, which is set 20 years after the events in the movie. This new adventure pack is slated for August, the same month as the worldwide theater release of Conan the Barbarian.

My only concern is with all these marketing plans hinging so much on the success of Conan the Barbarian, a flop could backfire on them hard. If I were them, I wouldn’t put all my eggs in one basket.

Looking at how the game is now (at least compared to their bug-ridden launch version) they can just market it as the best-looking free-to-play game out there. It’s the truth. With the chance to relive your Rachel Nichols fantasies as the sweet, sweet cherry on top.

Mick’s Shtick

Russ may be bullish, but I’m not yet convinced yet that this free-to-play plan, at least in its current form, will bring big bucks and success.

First, the free-to-play perks seem so limited. I know they’re careful to put a big distinction between being a free player to a premium subscriber, but would it really hurt for them to open up the classes (only 4 available to free players) and add more character slots (two only “by default”)?

There’s also talk that because Age of Conan is following the Lord of the Rings Online model, then it will also be very successful. Not quite. I remember that the Middle-Earth game focused less on making free players feel like a second-class citizen; they just barred more high-end content and a few choice classes.

Basic content and features were mostly accessible to LOTRO free players so Funcom should take a cue from that. Because come on, NO dungeons, NO sieges, 50% personal bank space and ONLY 2 raids? Good luck expecting free players to stick around long enough to buy from the cash shop.

Besides, Funcom will only get one chance to woo the influx of new players attracted by Conan the Barbarian. They need to get this right, because if not, it will be a huge wasted opportunity for them.

I say pump up the free-to-play privileges, and if they’re worried about premium subscribers complaining, then just throw the veterans some free stuff from the cash shop (even non-cash shop items to reinforce the feeling of exclusivity) to keep them happy.

Now’s not the time to be stingy because the goal is to get as many people playing as possible. Profits will follow with the cash shop. So Funcom, either sweeten the deal or go home.