Dungeons and Dragons Online is enjoying a second life in terms of player count and buzz, all thanks to a new business strategy: giving the game away. Turbine is making their MMO as accessible as possible, and that includes making players who don’t pay anything as happy as possible. Subscriptions are up 40 percent. Ars explores how free can be very profitable.
The counter-intuitive upshot is simple: charging money for the game client was a loser. Making the game play free, but being good at commercializing the space around the game, was the winning strategy. The analogy for the music industry is pretty obvious: digital music has zero monetary value by itself. Digital music, as a tribal flag, has as much value as the tribe is willing to claim for itself, and the monetary future belongs to those who can reach far beyond the mere musical realm and organize (and monetize) a larger cultural phenomenon. And of course this is precisely the thesis of the MTT article The End of the Music Album as an Organizing Principle.
Amazingly enough, D&D reports that the free clients have encouraged hundreds of thousands of new users to join the game, and subscriptions have shot up 40%. Needless to say, any band that can encourage hundreds of thousands of new listeners to pay attention and drive paid merchandise by 40% should carefully consider what the real-world D&D strategy means to them.