Over the past few months, the MMOG Age of Conan has seen its share of hard times – the population of its servers has been declining, and in turn, so has its revenues. But like the mighty barbarians of the game, publisher Funcom will be fighting to the death as it attempts to turn this downward trend around. However, for a mainstream MMO, the means might be somewhat surprising.
Just this month, the company began a free trial program for the game that will allow users to play, for no charge, for a seven day period. The trial will be offered through Eurogamer and MMORPG.com with 20,000 trial keys each, but this isn’t what is out of the ordinary. With the trial, players will be given three unique virtual items, but unlike competitors such as World of Warcraft, the items will be more than cosmetic. They will, in fact, be meant to make the early game play easier and faster.
The first of these is the “Totem of Origins” which will teleport players back to their home city after level 20, the “Bag of Holding,” which increases inventory space, and the “Enruned Kosalan Ring,” which increases damage. According to Funcom, the objective is to use 120,000 of these free virtual goods to entice 40,000 new players to subscribe.
In addition to the two aforementioned sites, the trial is also available on the game’s main site. The downside to this, however, is that the three promotional items are not available, but any user that purchases the game after the trial period is eligible for two different virtual items (a “Snow Mammoth” mount and a “mammoth bag” for greater inventory).
This is one of the few times a non free-to-play MMO has offered items that directly strengthened a player. In fact, as pointed out in a post by Virtual Goods News, these items are akin to those that one might buy in games such as Mabinogi or Maple Story. Players that take advantage of the trial will have a distinct advantage over others, and considering that Age Of Conan is designed heavily around player vs. player combat, that makes these virtual goods all the more advantageous.
In fact, the company states they are actually shooting to release the beta versions of two free-to-play MMO titles late this year using the virtual goods model. Does this mean that Funcom will be moving away from the subscription business plan? Possibly. Either way, the company is certainly not afraid to try this new approach.