Funcom CEO Ole Schreiner has suggested that the team certainly "have the tools to turn The Secret World into a free-to-play game", but insisting that there's still money to be made from a subscription-based business model, even if the expectations of the gaming audience are shifting as F2P becomes more and more prevalent.
"The Secret World was developed as a subscription-based game and the decisions made during planning and production was based on that business model," he told GII. If we had designed The Secret World as a free-to-play offering we would have made some different decisions along the way, for example in terms of how the in-game store works and how our post-launch content plan would play out. We tried leaving our options open during development so that we could launch with a different model should we have decided during development that's what we wanted, but eventually we did settle on the subscription model and that's what informed much of the game's design.
"That said we definitely have the tools to turn The Secret World into a free-to-play game - or even hybrid - should we decide to do that somewhere down the line. We did that with Age of Conan with significant success. We all know that trends and expectations in the gaming business, and perhaps particularly the MMO genre, is evolving quickly, and we're regularly re-evaluating our business model against the changing currents of the marketplace and our own player base as well. Not only in terms of The Secret World, but also our future games."
The Secret World has enjoyed some success, but in the face of a burgeoning free-to-play market, and the enormous sales of a buy-to-play blockbuster MMO in the shape of Guild Wars 2, Funcom have been hit with layoffs and a drive towards focusing on "more focused, systems-driven games". Schreiner doesn't shy away from the fact that it's becoming increasingly ifficult to convey a sense of value to players when it comes to the subscription-based model, even if he doesn't feel that it's quite dead just yet.
"I believe there is a market for free-to-play, subscription and hybrid business models," he continued. "What's most viable for your project depends on what sort of game you're trying to make, what your focus is and how you're going about putting it together. I do think that as that as free-to-play offerings keep raising the bar in terms of quality and longevity, it's becoming more and more difficult for subscription games to live up to player's expectations. If you're demanding a monthly fee from someone they obviously expect more value than they get from a similar free-to-play offering. There is no way getting around the fact that a growing number of gamers expect MMOs to be free-to-play, or at least buy-to-play (such as Guild Wars 2), so building a successful subscription-based MMO is becoming more challenging."