When I first heard about having to pay a monthly fee for a game it was in Everquest. At first I thought the idea was just plain stupid. Who in their right mind would pay to play a game every month? Less than a week later I was hooked and even when the subscription rate went up I was fine with it because it was a fun game and I understood the reason for the cost.
However, one thing I did notice was that I did not buy or play many other games. One point was that I was enjoying Everquest so much I did not feel the need to play other games, but I also felt justified for paying a monthly fee because I was not buying a fifty dollar game each month.
Now when a new game with a monthly subscription came out I found a new dilemma. I liked the new game, but I still loved EQ and had not only spent a lot of time in it, but money as well. I was torn between trying something new, giving up EQ or playing both. I found it hard to justify playing two games that took time to level your character and gear up and paying two monthly fees.
Now there are several good MMO’s out there and many more on the horizon. Some MMO’s like DC Online Universe cross over into consoles where many are finding the idea of a monthly fee hard to swallow. Does having an almost universal monthly fee of $14.99 hurt gaming and gamers? Perhaps it only hurts MMO’s because people are less likely to play and pay more than one at a time.
Subscriptions aren’t a bad thing as long as the players are getting something in return. In general, it makes the developers keep their games fresh and updated or they lose subscriptions. The gamers themselves get a game at a $14.99/month price point; much easier to swallow than the $50 for a console game a month. The players know that $14.99 also implies regular updates and content to a game which they already enjoy. Most people still pay more than $14.99 for their TV a month yet likely use it less than any game they have on subscription.
Games that charge a monthly subscription have to stand up to the rigorous competition offered by a crowded field of quality entertainment options. So, in short, the de-facto standard of $14.99/month is good for both game makers and players. There’s no doubt that making games, especially subscription-based games (MMOs if you like), is a difficult and expensive proposition. And as much fun as it looks like on the outside, making games is a business like any other business. It all comes down to creating and maintaining a product that enables the company to recoup it’s investment and (ideally) make some profit.
I think monthly subscription fees are good for premium games that are released from major studios, like a Starcraft 2 for example. But for smaller MMOs and especially new ones trying to break in, there are simply better payment structures to use that can appeal to a wider range of customers depending on their level of commitment to the game. When you’re only collecting per month, you are forcing the customer to spend that amount per month when he might like to spend less or more than that each month.
In general, I don’t have a problem with a subscription model. If a developer is doing regular work to support a game, such as maintaining servers, adding new content, and moderating the game world, it makes sense that players would pay for this service. On the other hand, I think a subscription model leads to something more insidious: the pressure for developers to create “addictive” games that keep players paying the subscription fee month after month.
I think the MMO genre is in trouble if it can’t find a way to reduce the cost to players. Like you said, people are generally unwilling to abandon a game they’ve committed thousands of hours to and they are also unwilling to try a new one while the old one still – even if it stinks. I’d like to start seeing a meta-service or MMO Portal where I pay $15/mo and then switch between several MMOs over the month.
MMO’s having a monthly fee of $14.99 is good for gaming and gamers, although the exact price is not important. The fact is that running a MMO’s costs money to maintain its persistence and update its content as well as the support the players. If an MMO is not charging a monthly fee it is going to be trying to recoup the costs in other ways, which will probably be advertising or micro purchases.
I don’t see that most hard core console players play for-fee MMOs, and vice versa. So while there is a little overlap, I don’t feel that one is crowding out the other. After playing my first MMO (Everquest) I was interested in the genre all right, so when new MMOs came out, I would pick them up. They usually came with a month to three months free, with the purchase of the game, so could get the feel of the game.
Honestly, I look at playing and paying for MMOs of any sort to be my “entertainment” expenses for the month. While I still go to a movie or two in the theater, I don’t spend money going out to the bars and drinking. The money is spent on something I enjoy, something I can look back at and see where I’ve spent the money.
Everquest was also my first experience with a pay per month gaming model. At first I was pretty taken back by the idea of having to pay a monthly fee. However, as I played, I realized that the game was providing a unique experience that I couldn’t get elsewhere at the time. Pretty soon I was hooked and found the monthly cost pretty easy to justify. After all, in college, didn’t I spend more than $10 a month on much more frivolous things (potato cannons, pirate costumes, bail money); why not on a game?
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