What Do You Get For A Subscription

Giving SWTOR’s move to F2P and the apparent downfall of subscription based MMOs, it begs the question as to what you get for your 15$ a month.  If you look at a year’s sub, you’re spending over 150$.  Think of a F2P game and the need to spend anywhere close to that amount.

Let’s start off by putting the games into 3 boxes.  Subscription-based, where you get all options, all content unlocked.  Free to Play components, where you have unlimited access to content you have purchased (dungeons, expansion packs, bags).  Free to Trial, where you have limited access to various components (x number of dungeons/day, etc…)

The first type is more like WoW, RIFT and EvE.  The second is DDO, LOTRO, STO and most western F2P games.  The third is more like the Asian games – Vindictus is a good example and from what we’ve seen, SWTOR will be like this too.  Every Facebook game is like this too if you think about it.

It’s also important to state that some games in the 2nd type are so overly restrictive, that they function like the 3rd.  EQ2 is a perfect example of this, where even if you bought everything in the store, you still would need a subscription to have access to more stuff.  This model, to me, is simply a free trial where they milk you for more money.

So for 15$ a month, you should be getting access to everything the game has to offer.  Even in F2P games where subscriptions are an option, you’re given a stipend to buy additional items if you so wish.  The rate at which you can access items is interesting though.  A F2P game must release content (items, dungeons, etc.) at a decent clip, otherwise people won’t have anything to buy.  Take a look at WoW’s development cycle.  You get new content every 6 to 8 months.  In a F2P market, your playerbase would buy that upon release and maybe for a month or 2 after but then your entire money flow dries up.  This, by the way, is the reason WoW can’t go F2P.

If you do decide to just buy what you want to use, then you have to make sure that the other people you’re playing with have this as well.  Dungeon Defenders might be cheap but if your friend doesn’t have DLC #6, then you can’t play that content with them.  In said games, the social aspect is ultra important for the developer to make money.  This adds a peer pressure mentality to it all.

The Free to Trial type of game is an odd-ball.  Designed for the ultra casual, some in-game limitation essentially prohibit you from any long play session.  This is sort of the arcade game mentality that if you want to play longer, you have to pay more.  This revenue stream is extremely odd in western cultures and hard to balance.  Do people need to run 1 dungeon a day?  5?  How much should an extra run cost?  What do they get out of that run other than time spent in game and the chance to wipe for 2 hours and get no rewards?  Zynga’s extremely large financial downfall over recent months is a prime example of how this revenue stream is risky.

Now, I love me some F2P games and the entire business model.  I don’t want to pay 150$ a year for 1 piece of content.  For that price, I could buy everything in the store for DDO and have enough left over for a nice supper.  Giving players choice not only gives power to the players but great analytics for the developers.  If you see that 25% of the players buy X and 50% buy Y, then you should make more Y while improving X.  Who in their right mind would have bought the Troll package in WoW 4.1?

The next successful MMO will be one that launches with the 2nd business model and next to no player restrictions within the game.  GW2 has a chance for this.  Firefall too.  If I was the mind behind TESO right now though, I’d be crapping my pants.

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