I am not sure if this is old news, but yes, you read it right. Age of Conan will go Free to Play in Korea, land of the F2P MMOs. Currently in the Open Beta stage, Funcom and publisher, Neowiz Games, after several rounds of negotiations, have somehow struck a deal for the game to remain free with an optional Cash Shop option. Neowiz representatives assured players that the Cash Shop items will not bring imbalance to the gameplay. Is this the sign of things to come for Funcom North America and Europe operations? Turbine did went Free to Play with their titles too, with Lord of the Rings Online next in line.
Update: Below is the post from AoC’s Game Director with regards to the future of AOC (English).
That is a very common business model in Korea.
Korea is a very different market to the west. Micro-transaction based games are for more common than they are here, and indeed are how the majority of game operate, including the games run by our partners in Korea at Neowiz.
They key point in bringing the game to Korea was finding the business model that is right for that market. That is why we went with an experienced partner in that territory.
What is right for one territory is not necessarily right for another, and as we have always said what we care about in terms of business model is finding the correct model for the project. We were one of the first companies to explore the free to play / hybrid options in the west with Anarchy Online, and we would never rule anything out that might make sense for Age of Conan at any given point. We have always been open that we constantly assess the market and consider all available options for our games.
That isn’t a ‘yes, it will happen’ or a ‘No, it will never happen’ it’s a ‘We will always keep our options open and be open minded to business models that will most benefit the project.’…being close minded one way or another is rarely a good thing.
At any rate, on the original subject, the two markets are very different and we are doing some things in Korea that I think we are very unlikely to do in the west and vice versa, and there are some elements we may consider. So maybe it wouldn’t be a stretch to do what other western companies offer and consider adding a store that sells vanity items for example (as you see in EQ2), maybe we wouldn’t consider the items people presume are more common in Korea (that effect power), and all the items that they will sell, as we already offer some of them as veteran’s rewards etc for example and would shape what we offer appropriately. It should also be noted we have worked long and hard with Neowiz to ensure that the game balance works well with the new systems and the different business model. It is very much a partnership that we were very serious about, and serious about finding the right way for it to work for that market. In particular as this was the first of our games we were bringing to Korea.
The key thing is that it works well with the combination of business model and gameplay, and works for the expectations ad demands of that territory.
That is why we have different versions of the game. They are different markets, work in different ways, with different traditions and expectations and we will always endeavour to try and ensure the right decisions are made for the game in each specific territory, and for those decisions to be different as appropriate.
So just because the Korean version features any given business model or mechanic it does not mean that you will necessarily see it here in the western versions.