Sunday, April 29, 2012

Subscriptions - MMO's and Cable TV

A bit of travel and an impromptu spring cleaning weekend have added up to keep me out of town and away from my new gaming rig over the last week.  My old laptop will kind of play SWTOR, but I've definitely been spending less time in game than I otherwise might have as a result.  I knew this was a possibility when I picked up the game and started my 30 day subscription (which did qualify me for the "loyalty" minipet), but I find the contrast striking.
  • In LOTRO, I own access to the current expansion and all the high level content to consume at my leisure.
  • After a triple station cash sale in EQ2, I now have the balance needed to pick up the "optional" expansion (required for the current AA cap increase) and pay for either gear unlocks or even a brief subscription while exploring the new content in the new patch (which most likely would have been part of the expansion, had it been ready in time for the launch window).
  • In STO - which has been offering 50% bonus duty officer cxp this weekend - again, I can play at my leisure.
  • In SWTOR, I had to pay for this stretch when I knew I wouldn't be in game much, because it sat on days 10-20 of my 30 day subscription.
Bioware's people swear up and down that their model - effectively the 2004 model with few changes - is the only way to finance development on the scale of their game.  But is it really the subscription that's propping the game up, or rather the sales of more than two million boxes at $40-60 each in a market where most non-subscription customers never pay a dime?  Judging from their aggressive promotional efforts, Bioware's problem with SWTOR appears to be less about getting people to try the game and more about getting them to stay.

I recognize that there are still arguments in favor of the subscription.  Even so, I can't help but notice the parallels between my recent SWTOR experience and the reasons why we got rid of our cable TV subscription.  Much like the MMO subscription, we found that we were paying a flat rate for a large bundle of stuff that we don't care about packed in with the handful of shows we do watch.  Like the MMO subscription, we were forced to pay for many days when we did not want or use the service in order to have access when we did want to do so.  Much like the SWTOR story experience, there is some content that we lose out on because its owners have not seen fit to provide it through any other channel.

Like the MMO subscription or hate it, it's starting to feel like it's on the wrong side of history.


  1. I don't see the sub going away too quickly. It offers stable income for the developers. $15 whether you play every day or once, and with automatically renewing payments players are likely to keep paying. Though seeing as non-WoW MMOs have managed to survive and do well, consumer choice my overpower the goals of the producers.

  2. I don't think games are purely replaceable. I have a lifetime sub to LOTRO and have had many hours of happy play out of it, but free access doesn't do me much good if it's not the game I want to play now. (atm this is because I'm really really enjoying SWTOR and think it's well worth the money.)

    I do find that paying a sub makes me more likely to join a game's community, which is an interesting side effect. A F2P game I'm more likely to drop in and out, mostly play solo or with friends I know outside the game. A P2P game I'm more likely to join a guild.

    So in one sense, if paying a sub means that the player base is likely to be more community minded (which it might, although I'm not sure), as a social player that's part of the value.

  3. I have now hit the point where I'm not interested in buying MMOs that only offer a subscription model. I have far more excellent MMOs available to me already for no cost at all than I am ever going to have time to play. I understand the convenience of the Subscription model for people only really interested in playing one MMO at a time, but I think that kind of player is becoming increasingly rare.

    It does depend how you play, but for MMO players who never reach level-cap, far less become invested in the "end game", which is probably most of them, the opportunity to play for nothing more than, at most, the box cost and often not even that is just an inarguable improvement. Once someone reaches the point where they are sufficiently interested and invested to *want* the additional content/access/services/fluff that need to be paid for, chances are they will not only be willing to pay for it but will enjoy getting their wallet out.

    One thing I think MMO blogs frequently skate over is how much many people actively enjoy spending money on things they like. I work in a bookshop and every day people who love to read tell me how much they are enjoying buying the book they are paying for - they talk about giving themselves a treat. I'm sure anyone working in a cinema, clothes shop, gallery or any other place that sells things people buy for themselves for pleasure would hear much the same. Being able to buy only the things that interest you rather than having to pay an access fee to be given a package that includes a lot of stuff you don't want seems like an all round better deal to me.

  4. i too, cut cable tv and subscription mmos. if i like the game enough, i don't mind dropping a little cash in the store. or if it was a matter of being charged for time played, i could get behind that easier than being charged up front for a game i may spend 1-2 hours a week or month on.

  5. @Spinks: I agree that MMO's aren't replaceable in the short term. As to community, I think the subscription is a double-edged sword on that front. The people who stay are more committed, but how many others who were on the fence leave rather than pay? What is the effect on their guilds and servers?

    When you look at what Bioware is up to - unprecedented grants of game time to endgame players, hard at work on character transfers, and doing everything they can to dispute the need for the dreaded m-word (merges!) - I'd suggest that the picture isn't all good. Perhaps some of this upheaval could have been avoided if they had gone with any of the various more flexible server solutions that have been tried since 2004, but it is going to be very interesting to see where this settles out.


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