Norwegian games developer Funcom has recently announced that they’ve opened up their MMORPG Age of Conan Hyborian Adventures as a free-to-play game, with caveats, of course. Players that download the client, register, and start playing what Funcom calls a ‘trial’ between now and January 1st, 2010 won’t have to pay a dime. At least not for the first 20 levels, which includes the Island of Tortage, the game’s first starting area. After which point, Funcom is banking on players enjoying the experience so much that they’ll be willing to fork over some cash for the subscription service.
“Our original seven day trial has been very successful so far,” says Morten Larssen, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Funcom. “But with the holiday season coming up this is the perfect time to shake up our trial offer a bit and try out something new. So everyone who downloads the trial before January 1st will be able to play the first part of the game for free, forever. We are confident that many of those taking advantage of this offer will choose to become permanent players, allowing them to experience all of what the game has to offer including all the additions and improvements introduced since launch.”
Ok, not a bad promo. Unless of course, you look at the less than stellar performance Age of Conan has seen since it’s launch. While Funcom bills the title as a “smash hit in retail,” looking at some of AoC’s past ‘achievements’ reveals a slightly different story. Remember, AoC is the same title that saw half of it’s servers shut down at the very beginning of the year. Only a few months later, Funcom’s financial report revealed that AoC was clearly not living up to the company’s expectations. Funcom then moved on to giving away virtual goods as a way to draw in more players, as well as initiating the ‘free trial’ program Larssen’s statement refers to. To top it all off, all of this Age of Conan activity has been taking place post Funcom announcing that they’ve got not one, but two free-to-play titles in the works.
Again, with the talk of free-to-plays in development, combined with the proverbial flogging of the dead horse – calling a play from the Turbine handbook doesn’t seem too far off. Remember Turbine’s flailing Dungeons and Dragons Online? Almost banished to the depths of obscurity, Turbine made the move to convert DDO to a full fledged free-to-play, and has seem massive interest, action, and associated sales and revenue arriving via the in-game shop. Now if I were a betting man….I’d be playing an all in on 2010 seeing Funcom do the very same with Age of Conan Hyborian Adventures.