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Will Riot‘s Upcoming MMORPG be Free-to-Play?

Hey friend! If you‘ve been following Riot Games and their insanely popular titles like League of Legends and Valorant, you may have heard whispers and rumors about a new Riot MMORPG in the works. I know you‘re probably wondering – will this ambitious new game follow Riot‘s successful free-to-play model or take a different approach?

I‘ve dug into all the available info to give you the full scoop. Keep reading for details on Riot‘s history with free-to-play, what we know about the MMORPG so far, expectations around pricing and monetization, and more!

Riot‘s Track Record of Free-to-Play Hits

Let‘s start with a quick history lesson. Riot has established themselves as a titan in the gaming industry by making some of the most popular free-to-play games ever created. Just look at these stats:

  • League of Legends – over 100 million monthly players as of 2016 according to Riot
  • Valorant – over 14 million monthly players as of 2021 per Forbes
  • Legends of Runeterra – over 14 million downloads on mobile alone via SensorTower

These games share a few key traits:

  • 100% free-to-play – no purchase required to download and play
  • In-game purchases – cosmetics, characters, battle pass monetization
  • Games as a service – continual updates and new content

Riot has built an empire around the free-to-play, microtransaction model. League of Legends alone brings in over $1.75 billion in revenue per year through optional in-game purchases.

Early Details on the League MMORPG

Riot co-founder Marc Merrill first teased that an MMORPG based on League of Legends was in very early development back in 2020. However, in a 2022 interview he pumped the brakes a bit, saying there are "no guarantees" the game actually gets released.

Developing an MMORPG is a massive undertaking, often costing between $150 million to $500 million. The sheer amount of content and systems required makes them one of the most complex and expensive genres to create.

Here‘s what we know so far about Riot‘s plans for their League of Legends MMORPG:

  • It will be set in the Runeterra universe of League of Legends
  • Greg Street (aka Ghostcrawler), who has worked on World of Warcraft and League, is leading the project
  • The game has been in early development/pre-production for a few years now
  • Riot acquired the studio Hypixel (known for Hytale) to expand their MMORPG team

So while the project seems to be in the early conceptual phases, Riot is clearly investing talent and resources into making this ambitious game a reality someday. Which brings us to the big question…

Why a Free-to-Play Model Makes Sense for Riot‘s MMORPG

While Riot hasn‘t officially confirmed pricing for their upcoming League MMO, all signs point to them sticking with the free-to-play approach that has worked so well across their other titles.

Lower Barrier to Entry

Releasing the game for free removes a major barrier to entry and lets them attract the largest possible player base from day one. MMORPGs depend on having thriving in-game communities and economies fueled by tons of players.

A $60 upfront purchase price would deter many people from checking out the game. But offering it for free gets players in the door to hopefully get hooked on the world and gameplay.

Fits Riot‘s Games-as-a-Service Model

Riot has focused on continually updated, evolving games powered by in-game purchases and Battle Passes. An MMORPG is the perfect fit for this games-as-a-service approach, with new content, seasonal events, expansions, etc.

Relying solely on upfront purchases would not provide the ongoing revenue stream Riot‘s business model requires.

Recurring Revenue Needed for Live Games

Speaking of revenue, developing and running an MMORPG does not come cheap, with costs often over $400 million. The game will require recurring revenue through monetization to fund ongoing development and server expenses.

A SuperData report estimates that MMORPGs generated $8.6 billion in 2021 through free-to-play monetization strategies. Riot will be eying similar recurring spending from its players.

Successful MMORPG Precedents Like Guild Wars 2

Other hit MMORPGs have successfully adopted free-to-play with in-game transactions rather than mandatory purchases. Guild Wars 2 is a prime example – it‘s now the 5th highest grossing MMORPG with no upfront cost.

Riot can follow this proven framework already established in the genre.

Riot‘s Plan for Monetizing the MMORPG

If Riot‘s League of Legends MMORPG goes free-to-play as expected, how exactly will they monetize it? They have a few options already working well in their current games:

Cosmetics and Customization

This includes skins for characters, weapons, mounts, houses, etc. Players love collecting and showing off cool cosmetics. Riot could even allow cosmetic customization of abilities/animations.

Battle and Season Passes

These provide structured progression paths with juicy rewards to work towards. Riot‘s current games utilize Battle Passes extensively.

Convenience Boosts

XP/progression boosters, inventory upgrades, etc. appeal to players‘ desire for efficiency.

Premium Currency

Riot Points could potentially carry over from League of Legends for purchasing cosmetics, season passes, etc. Tying real money to virtual currency increases overall spending.

Allowing free access to actual gameplay and progression, while monetizing these supplemental elements provides a very viable business model for Riot‘s MMORPG.

Potential Downsides: Security Concerns with Anti-Cheat

One controversial aspect of Riot‘s current games has been their extensive anti-cheat technology. Valorant requires an always-on kernel driver called Vanguard that has faced criticism over privacy concerns and computer security risks.

MMORPGs also require strict anti-cheat protections to prevent hacking of items/currency that are tied to microtransactions. Players may have similar concerns about invasive software running constantly in the background.

However, Riot claims Vanguard has proven safe after extensive internal and 3rd party testing. The developer must strike a balance between protecting fair play and avoiding perceived privacy risks.

The Verdict: Bet on Free-to-Play

Given Riot‘s unparalleled success with free-to-play games monetized via in-game transactions, I‘d bet my favorite League skin that their ambitious MMORPG will follow suit. Though the project is still in its early stages, all signs point to a free-to-play model based on Riot‘s business foundations and the vast budgets required for MMORPG development.

Some form of upfront purchase is not out of the question as an option for cosmetic packs or starter bundles. But the base game will almost certainly be available entirely free as the gateway into Riot‘s massive new virtual world. Riot will then rely on those same in-game monetization methods powering their current hits to fund ongoing development and expansions.

While nothing is set in stone yet, I‘m hopeful Riot can translate their winning free-to-play formula into an awesome new MMORPG. But we‘ll have to wait for official details as the game progresses past the early conceptual stages. I don‘t know about you, but I‘m excited to eventually explore a brand new Riot universe with friends!

Let me know if you have any other questions about Riot‘s history and approach to pricing. I‘m always happy to chat more about one of my favorite game developers.



Michael Reddy is a tech enthusiast, entertainment buff, and avid traveler who loves exploring Linux and sharing unique insights with readers.