Dual Wielding: let’s talk business models

Dual Wielding: A series featuring two bloggers writing on one topic and answering the question, “If the pen is mightier than the sword, what happens when you dual wield?”

Don’t miss out on Ironweakness’ take on the subject.

Now this is a topic you probably haven’t heard of in a while: business models. Is free-to-play a bad thing to happen to MMORPGs? Should they all be subs? What about buy-to-play? What is a fair business model? Let’s take a look at that, shall we?

The curious case of Wildstar

No surprise there

Since Wildstar’s announcement that the game will go free-to-play, there seems to be a discussion going on- you know, like every time an MMORPG makes the transition. And it still is viewed as a failure of the game in question. Before i get to my opinion, i want to express something first: a transition to free-to-play is in the plans of every newly released Triple-A MMORPG. The “suits” already know that their game will change business models, i’m pretty sure about that. Maybe the devs don’t know, but those responsible for giving the green light to a shift do. Since the Turbine leaks we also know that subscriber numbers are being kept somewhat secret even within the companies.

If we continue to be “surprised”, think that there are ways to avoid that transition or think of an MMO as “failed”, because it switches its business model, i think we’re playing those people into their cards who have no real interest in the games. We “punish” the devs by saying something along those lines- and you know what? The devs are the ones who are enthusiastic about what they do. So i think we should stop pretending that “we knew from the beginning” or “why haven’t they launched the game as b2p/f2p to begin with?”. The answer to the latter is: because it makes them more money faster.

What went wrong?

However, i do agree that the switch wasn’t expected to come quite so fast- we know Wildstar isn’t doing well because of the NC quarterly reports. I think the reason might be something else than the obvious. Of course, i’m dangerously close to extrapolate my experience/opinion on others, but for me, the main reason i didn’t like to play Wildstar is that i couldn’t relax while playing it. The housing spot might make a difference, but out in the wilds, mob count was too high, spawn time too quick and the game was constantly shouting things to do at me. All of this won’t change when Wildstar goes f2p, but the difference is that i can just log in without financial commitment when i feel like playing.

It’s not about “playing for free”, it is about “logging in for free”.

Business models

Let me begin by describing my personal situation: i’m a husband, father and i have a job. I also have the desire to do something else in my free time than playing an MMORPG. This leads to a wide range of play time during any given month. Sometimes, there are months when i play 20 hours- in another month, i might come close to 70. That’s about the range we’re talking about here. I’d be fine to pay a monthly sub in either case, if i were happy with one game only. Alas, i’m not. I play different games at different times, even if i expressed my will to stop doing that several times on this blog already. There’s no ideal game and there are almost no (commonly known) MMORPGs that i really dislike.

The subscription

Many pro-subscription arguments revolve around the fact that it is a “fair” business model and the only one that guarantees content updates. I think it is neither.

When a new subscription game releases, there will be the launch hype crowd- the servers will be full, everybody’s rushing in to get started and everybody is excited. I’ve seen people plan their holidays around game releases – they’ll play 2 weeks straight, finish all the available content, cancel their subscription and wait for new content to arrive. They paid 50 bucks to see everything. Meanwhile, i need a lot of real time. The only case i can make really fair comparisons is when Rift released. I played this game exclusively for three months. I needed 3 months to reach the max level. I paid about 90€, to see the same content all those who cancelled earlier saw for 50. Now tell me this is fair.

When you buy a book, the author gives you all the time you need to complete it- you don’t pay him 0.50$ a day to have his or her permission to read it if you’d like.

As for content – well, there are three subscription MMORPGs i know of: World of Warcraft, EVE Online and Final Fantasy XIV. EVE and FF14 do provide a steady flow of content- WoW doesn’t, and it is even charging extra for expansions, mounts and whatnot. On the other hand, f2p MMORPGs also evolve- SWTOR added many systems to the game since going f2p. The Secret World expands, as well. Maybe it is slower, but the company isn’t asking for any money in the meantime.

And don’t get me started on the deadly EX’es – PLEX, REX, APEX, CREDD, whatever they’re called- they are a way to monetize newbies in favour of loyal players- you could view this as a just reward for the veterans, but i see it as the squeezing of newbies.

Free-to-play

Free-to-play isn’t quite fair, either. Usually, in this system, you’ll need to pay more if you are more deeply involved. That isn’t so good, either. Usually, there will be some kind of mechanic that involves the cash shop, some kind of convenience veterans find useful.

Also, it’s exploitive- by using lockboxes, for instance, allowing people to spend hundreds of dollars on virtual goods.

Buy-to-play

Let’s come to the fairer models of buy-to-play. Sure, usually, there’s also a cash shop involved, but basically, these games sell content. Everybody pays the same for the same content- discounts aside. Ideally, these games would sell content only, but of course they rarely do. I still find TSW’s business model to be the best around, followed by ESO and Guild Wars 2.

See, content really should be what studios charge for- of course, this wouldn’t be the most profitable route for them, but it would be the fair business model for us, the customers. There may be some concerns regarding the separation of the community, though, but as far as i know, that’s not really a concern for The Secret World and Guild Wars 2.

The minute sub

Another way of making everybody pay the same would be to charge by the minute- or, more general, ingame time. They could even charge a “monthly” sub (30 days ingame) and charge that time everytime i log in. So i’d have 30 days, and when i log in, no matter if it is for 5 minutes or 5 hours, i’ll have 29 days left when i log out.

Conclusion

In the end, i’m fine with all the business models out there. One might be better suited to me than the other, but if a game is good, i’ll pay a subscription, as well. But then again, i have to say that i overspent only in subscription games- by paying for subs i didn’t need in the end, for instance. The other options allow me to spend some money on my time- and they also allow me to log in everytime i like to, without charging a subscription. So in the end, it is more likely that i play a f2p or b2p game.

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2 thoughts on “Dual Wielding: let’s talk business models

  1. “Another way of making everybody pay the same would be to charge by the minute- or, more general, ingame time. They could even charge a “monthly” sub (30 days ingame) and charge that time everytime i log in. So i’d have 30 days, and when i log in, no matter if it is for 5 minutes or 5 hours, i’ll have 29 days left when i log out.”

    For time based payment, i just like to point out a thing i quite regularily do in TSW when i just have a little time left. (Waiting for a raid, waiting for my girl to get ready or just reading some blogs while being semi-AFK in game. ) I move to the Kingsmouth area and enable the #Sanctuary chat channel. That channel along with Kingsmouths general chat, allows me to regularily read and answer some beginners questions. (Yes, it’s mostly the same questions every day, but hey, somebody is looking for answers, so somebody is giving them. )

    Another problem i see is when playing in group: often when doing NMs we have one or two weaker players along. Killing is a bit slower, we might wipe a few times, but things are allright. Would we pay per time in the game, the weaker players would drive up the costs of the stronger players. In effect, this would very likely push them out of the harder content, instead of giving them a chance to try, learn and improve.

    Would the payment be time-based, it would be more reasonable to log off then to help beginners. So i consider B2P the superior concept, everybody pays the same for the same content but is not “punished” for helping others or for being slower in doing content than others.

    1. Good points! Although it is quite the same with the subscription, but to a lesser extent. So if time-based, i guess giving “30 days to log in” and removing one if you do would be the better way to do things.

      But all in all i have to agree, buy-to-play is the fair one. Of course, content alone won’t feed the devs, so there has to be other stuff to sell, as well. But i don’t see the ingame shops of GW2, TSW and ESO as being very disturbing.

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