Are Subs Still Relevant

I would think that many folks that read this blog also read MassivelyOP, which has a recent post on the value of subscriptions in 2021. I have opinions, and I will write them! (In all seriousness, the Massively Overthinking column is probably my favorite one.)

Remember the old days when you didn’t have any choice? Them’s was the good old days, where you paid out of pocket and that was that! If you didn’t like the cost, then you farmed and sold some virtual assets on eBay. In 2021 dollars, I made a lot of money off UO this way. As Evercrack exploded, and the internet in general, a whole lot of dev studios formed to send us out half-baked ideas. WoW + EQ2 are still around, but there aren’t many left from those days anymore. With a bit of internet gaming history, there remained a east/west development wall. The concept of gaming arcades and internet cafes exploded in the east, where the west put internet into your house. That created two different ideas that stayed apart until the wide-scale use of the iPhone.

I won’t lay this all at the feet of mobile devices, but F2P absolutely owes a damn big chunk of it’s existence to it. This is primarily due to the AppStore interface and the ability to sort by price in a sea of garbage. For console/PC games, you could get a decent idea of what the game was by reviews. This is near impossible for mobile games, and the amount of pure garbage on the AppStore at the start was impressive. F2P meant that you could install a game, try it out for free, and then optionally invest money over time. The devs just wanted the app on your phone after all. This model was extremely effective, and it’s pretty much the gold standard for mobile games today.

Success begets copies. We may harp about horse armour being the first amazingly poor-value DLC, but the trophy really does go to EA’s ability to make it pervasive. Box price + micro-DLC for death by a thousand cuts. FIFA makes crazy mint from it! That this model moved into the MMO space only makes sense. MMOs only work if there are people. Even a few free players are going to be an audience for the paying ones to show off. Devs then hope they can get enough whales (or optional subs) to make it all work. SWTOR took this path, though it certainly took the long path to get there!

Value

Paying for something means that as a consumer you are able to estimate the value of an item. You wouldn’t pay $50 for toothpaste, when you know that the there are options at $5. This is possible due to choice and market size, so that you can compare. As items become more widespread in the consumer space, the foundational cost becomes set. When you are presented with a different price, your brain automatically questions the value. If I see a cup of coffee at $1, I am automatically assuming it tastes like old socks, where a $10 coffee better come with a massage. I wouldn’t blink for a $2 cup though.

MMOs aren’t much different. For the older players, we sort of have it burned into us what the value should be. For newer players, that have only every known a world of F2P options, every subscription game looks like a $10 coffee. Why would you spend that there, when you can spend $0 instead? Then there’s the comparison between games. Is there sufficient content in WoW to spend $15 a month? I don’t think so. For FF14? A bit for the content, but more for the environment. SWTOR? That’s entirely the social aspect for me. Look at ESO and GW2, they have no subscriptions – though that then makes you question the up-front cost of any expansion/content.

So perhaps the question is less about what subscription price point is acceptable, and more about how much you want to spend per month on an MMO. I’m less interested in the content/mechanics present in most F2P games, as they drive a different game behavior – which really sorts itself out because I don’t like the actual games. I’m good at the $20 per month range, at least in terms of usage I get out of it. I certainly spend more than that in my social settings, assuming I like the people I play with and the content being presented. I currently spend about $60 a month on gaming in general, so this is just a slice of that pie.

This meandering post really does go into that more general concept. How much do I want to spend on my hobby per month, and then how much of that should be aligned to MMOs. Which then bleeds into the question of what is an MMO in 2021 anyways?

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