Ask a Dork: MMO Payment Models
“What is your stance on MMO-entry. Should the base game be free to download/acquire with a monthly fee or does it still need an entry price? How should people pay, monthly or per hour?”
Wow. Came off my hiatus to a doozy of a question. I guess I can’t just say “different strokes for different folks,” can I? Here’s the thing: most people posed with this question will instantly say that they want a free-to-play game with no initial game purpose. After all, no commitment is the best commitment. However, this mob mentality is exactly why subscription models, providing they’re accompanied with decent content, work.
To pose an example, when Star Trek Online was first released for the PC it required initial purchase and a monthly subscription. At the time, in-game purchases were few and servers weren’t too bogged down by players. Unfortunately, the game also didn’t have a ton of content and wasn’t exceptionally profitable. That’s when something magical happened: Star Trek Online went free-to-play. When I was talking to Cryptic Studios CEO Jack Emmert at Pax East this year, he told me that Star Trek Online’s player population increased exponentially almost overnight. An MMO that had begun to stagnate suddenly was booming again, and with added digital content it had generated a solid revenue stream.
That’s all well and good if you want to play with clustered servers and somewhat noncommittal gamers, but it doesn’t work if you’re like me. Personally, I don’t mind paying a monthly fee if the people I get to play with are super into the game and the content itself feels worth it. To provide another example, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn costs $39.99 up front and roughly $15 each month thereafter. I don’t mind paying because that’s what a lot of my MMO friends will be playing in the near future and I dig Final Fantasy anyway. Also, it really helps that the people playing now are all very much into Final Fantasy XIV and servers won’t be so sluggish in the long run.
So yeah, as much as I appreciate the Guild Wars model of “buy once upfront and never again,” I can’t say I’m against buying once and paying a fee. If the experience justifies the cost, I say you take it unless money is a huge issue or you aren’t really into the game.