IGN has an op-ed piece on subscription fees for MMOs up for debate.
World of Warcraft is casting a long shadow with eight years of iteration and fresh content under its belt, asking anyone to pay the same for a new release seems ludicrous.
Above all, this is the most important quote to keep in mind for the argument and it applies to more than WoW – it applies to EvE just as much.
When SWTOR came out and people got to max level in a month or so, they looked at the game and then said “what now”? The problem wasn’t that SWTOR didn’t have much to do (ehhh) but that compared to it’s competitor, it had a fraction of the things to do. RIFT suffers from this as well and to its credit, it contains more in the recent expansion pack than WoW currently offers (minus pet battles) but even at that, it struggles to maintain market share.
It is extremely hard to argue that any new game coming to market can succeed with a subscription model unless it can maintain a core set of users and not require more than say, 200K players at any given time. Other than WoW and EvE, the next game with the highest subscription is RIFT or LOTRO with about 250,000 subs. 200K, to me, would be a massive success.
This brings us to the The Elder Scrolls Online and Wildstar. The former has been blunt to state that it’s going subscription while the latter has been mum on the subject. TESO is directly competing, in every shape and form, with the existing fantasy themepark tropes and I see no reason for it to be able to break the 200K mark. If the Star Wars IP can’t maintain the numbers (remember, it dropped subs by 90% from 3 million), how can this one?
Wildstar is a wild-card though. While it does take the fantasy setting it is less themepark and more sandbox/themepark hybrid and doesn’t seem that it will require the same break-even point as TESO.
Are subs dead? I wouldn’t say so exactly, more that subs are going to be smaller in scope and that any dev expecting to get a subscription game to market AND pull more than 100K players is taking a massive risk.