Noah over at Channel Massive has some words to say about the news that Age of Conan is going to go free to play, and more to the point, how Funcom are planning to push the game as unrated. I wrote about Conan going F2P last night, but missed the point on the lack of rating. That might have been the lateness of the hour of writing.
Noah makes a few good points about this strategy, including the fact that by unrating the game, Funcom is effectively cutting themselves off from all but the digital distribution channels. At first glance this seems like a bad strategy, but I wonder actually how many boxed copies of AoC are still being sold. My guess is that it’s not very many, and that the digital sales already vastly exceed the box sales.
The other point Noah raises is:
But Funcom has put itself into a dangerous place beyond how the game’s distributed. If this new version just adds a few more fatality animations and more T&A, misinformed media are likely to be the only ones jumping on it, adding fuel to the fire that games are a corrupt, dehumanizing experiences for everyone (especially the children! Oh, the children!).
I’m not sure this move is all that dangerous. Sure, there is some risk here, but there is probably more reward. We all know how the news media, especially types like Faux News, love to jump on the Helen Lovejoy, won’t somebody please think of the children bandwagon when it comes to anything new. Politicians know this all too well, and since they love to be seen so much they love to climb aboard this particular wagon as well.
There is no danger that Age of Conan will be banned due to its content. Politicians have tried to ban games from being sold to minors in brick and mortar stores and they haven’t yet succeeded because the courts see this as an unconstitional attack on free speech. It would be nigh on impossible to succeed in bringing in a law that banned a game being distributed over the Internet.
The thing is, making this much noise about how evil such and such a game is generally doesn’t have the kind of effect that the naysayers would like. They want parents and lawmakers to come down hard and ban the games they don’t like. The fact is most people have more than half a brain and know that games are really pretty harmless (no reputable, unbiased, or peer approved study has ever found a link between games and violence) or they simply don’t care.
All the jumping up and down about games simply advertises the game to people who would like to play it, and they buy. Even some pretty terrible games, and I don’t mean morally terrible, have experience great sales even though they didn’t deserve them.
Honestly, the “unrated” strategy seems like a desperate swipe for short-lived notoriety, something Turbine’s Lord of the Rings Online and D&D Online didn’t need to be successful after transitioning to F2P. Can’t Age of Conan be meritable just for going F2P and adding a new expansion?
That’s true, but LoTRO was a great game from the start, and DnD Online had the advantage of being one of the first western games to go F2P gaining a lot of publicity in the process. Age of Conan suffered from a lack of content at launch and the subsequent bad publicity, and while the game itself has been vastly improved Funcom don’t appear to have recovered from that launch.
By relaunching the game, and perhaps getting some free advertising from the Helen Lovejoy’s for AoCs unrated extreme and sexy content, Funcom is looking to give the game a large initial boost.
The biggest risk Funcom faces is that noone will take notice of the media and politicians, and not play the game.