After my Labor Day rundown of my activities in various games, a reader wrote me to ask what I actually spend on a monthly basis. The actual cash number isn't that high - I rarely have two overlapping subscriptions for more than a week at a time, and I'm not above keeping an eye on the calendar around my potential bill dates to see if I can save a buck or two by letting a subscription drop for the weekend if I'm going to be out of town. Overall, I'd guesstimate that I spend less than $20 a month on subscription fees.
Of course, as the goblins say, time is money. How much time do I spend on making this work?
Limited time events generally bump their way to the top of my calendar. The continents of Kunark and Northrend and the Forest of Lothlorien will still be there next month. Brewfest, or the planned Quellithulian Spires Event in the next EQ2 patch (next week?) will not. Sometimes an event appears on little to no notice. Not planning in advance to spend 100% of my cash budget means that I don't need to feel guilty about picking up a second game when the unexpected happens.
The second part of priority-setting, though, is deciding what can afford to wait. WoW, LOTRO, and EQ2 are all getting expansions in the next year, and there are random upgrades scattered through patches (e.g. EQ2's racial trait revamp) in the interim. These changes can make some activities more timely now or more polished and enjoyable down the road.
That aside, the most rewarding part of this exercise for me personally is taking the time to evaluate what I'm playing and why. If there was a lifetime subscription to WoW, I would probably log in once a week to zerg down Wintergrasp and maybe run a five-man or two. There's no particular reason why this needs to be a top priority - I'm rapidly approaching the point where I'm going to run out of things to spend stone keeper shards and honor points on - but the weekly reward seems too good to pass up. It's still fun - I wouldn't be doing it if it wasn't - but so is taking the time to actually explore other games.
The bigger challenge in all of this is finding the time. I could afford to pay the subscription fees for multiple games - with the caveat that a second fee does add up to a lot of extra money over the course of a year - but I rarely have the time to actually take advantage of them. The limited time budget is what really makes me feel that it's worth sitting down and planning out what it is that I'm most interested in doing next month.
Crowding out the new guys?
The one broader bit of commentary I'd offer is that the current state of the market is a double-edged sword for developers. It's great that there are all these options on the market, but time may increasingly become the limiting factor in what new (or old) games I am able to pick up.
If I'm just playing WoW, as I was last August, it's easy to decide that I'm going to take a month to try out Warhammer at its launch. Now I'm playing WoW, EQ2 and LOTRO on alternating months. WoW's got this month for Brewfest, EQ2's patch and event will probably claim next month, and LOTRO's expansion launch will probably be gearing up in November (opposite WoW's 5 year anniversary event). If I do unexpectedly find time, there's that Warhammer free retrial I never got around to using, and I would really like to take Runes of Magic for a spin at some point because it would be nice to have a game where my costs are tied to how much I play the game, rather than a flat monthly rate, somewhere in my rotation.
With all of that going on, when and why would I bother lining up for launch day for a game like Aion or Champions? Someone else can get stuck with the character whose powers got nerfed into the ground by the last minute balance mega-patch, and I can get a more balanced view of the game once the launch hype settles.
Worse, if you're developing some new game and hoping for some free publicity from blogs like this one, you've got a higher bar to meet. When there are so many games that I know I would be happy to play at the moment, asking me to spend $50 on a box for a game that I don't know that I will like is a tough sell. Perhaps FFXIV will make the cut if it lives up to its more solo-friendly billing, but that's the only announced upcoming title that I'm seriously considering at the moment.
It may be a great time to be PLAYING online games, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's a great time to be making them.