Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Everquest's $200 Legacy

"Our opinion is that today's MMOs, and I'd include ours in that mix, are stagnant and stuck in this model that we frankly helped create with EverQuest, where we put new content in the game, and they go through it at an incredibly fast rate because of sites like Thottbot and that kind of stuff," Smedley said." - SOE's John Smedley

Keen has some commentary up on Smedley's latest views, including his philosophy on business models.  While the model of killing ten rats to loot and wear their stuff is indeed a core part of MMO's today, I'm wondering if a curious side effect of the old subscription model doesn't cast a larger shadow over the state of games today.  With its monthly fees and expansions, Everquest and the other subscription games appears to have created an expectation amongst a significant segment of the market that the maximum they should be asked to pay is roughly $200/year (i.e. 12 months at $15 per and the occasional expansion).

Under the circumstances, we should have foreseen the downfall of the subscription model for all but the few games that still retain a quorum of the old MMO core.  If you can't make more from your core, you must expand the market, and that means lowering entry barriers.  I don't think it's a coincidence that core MMO players are now standing around wondering what happened to their sandboxes of old.  By holding the line at $200, they voted against this model with their wallets. 

The irony, though, is that Smedley may be wrong.  It's one thing to bring in less dedicated players, but quite another to retain them in an increasingly crowded marketplace - why should I spend $15 for a cosmetic mount, when the same sum will grant me access to an entire different game?  It's distinctly possible that the old core MMO player - the one who chooses the MMO for the community where their friends are playing rather than the one that is the current best game - is still the best option for stable revenue. 

What portion of the churn and instability that we are currently seeing in the market comes out of increased reliance on players with fewer ties, who are more likely to churn out?  How much of the drive for content - which Smedley now maintains is unsustainable - comes from the attempt to retain players who by their nature cannot be retained?  I don't know how to answer these questions, but the bills do eventually need to be paid somehow. 

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