Tobold's Blog
Friday, May 22, 2009
Alternative WoW subscription plans

Wolfshead calls the current one-size fits all World of Warcraft monthly subscription Welfare for Hardcore Players, because the players who play the least subsidize those who play the most. And he suggests alternative WoW subscription plans at lower price, for example just the basic edition, or packages without PvP, or without raiding, for people who don't use that sort of content anyway. There could even be packages with better customer support, or including world events. Most other forms of entertainment, for example cable TV, cost more the more content you want to have access to.

Do you think alternative subscription plans for World of Warcraft would be a good idea? Should people who take up more of the developers time pay more than those who just use the vanilla content? And which package would you choose for yourself?
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I think it is not that easy to divide up content.

Besides that, if people can afford 15$ per month, it does not matter that much if it is 10$ or 12$ but minus some minor part of the game that I rarely play.

As I said on Wolfsheads page, I fear this is going to end with an item mall and MUCH more pay to play content.

In the end we might end up paying more than before.

These system have this tendency to charge a little tiny bit for this or that, and in the end it often sums up.

The Hardcore nonstop players would pay probably much more than Joe Casual, which sounds right, but better "subsidize" them than having all of us pay more in general.
I couldnt see such a move making more money for Blizzard (and this would be the only reason they would do it, they are a company after all). Wolfhead's examples prettymuch only offer packages where a player can save money, not something Blizzard would likely consider unless research pointed to cost being a major factor in a players decision.

The comparison to cable TV doesnt work too well either. The cable company pays each channel for each person they have subscribed to it. The channel has less subscribers, the cable company pays less money. They have fixed costs such as employees and cables but its covered in that basic 'even if you only pay for one channel you pay $x' (well in my country thats how it works!)

As a finance guy I would hazard a guess that Blizzard has to keep paying the small army of employees the same amount if the player plays WoW vanilla for 10 minutes a month or WoW WotLK 15 hours a month. The player uses the same servers and bandwidth as long as they are logged on, no matter what they do.

You could end up flipping the situation so that the hardcore ended up subsidising the casual :)

Also regarding $ per minute. If your wanting to get your players addicted (and they do) you dont want a voice in the back of their heads saying "log off! this is costing you money!"

Part 2!
"Enlightened Pricing Means Better MMOs"

To draw on the TV/Movies analogy again it creates a glut of content around one type of consumer and everyone else starves for content. 9/10 movies are hollywood blockbusters and every morning TV show is a clone of the same format. Is it good for consumers? maybe. Is it good for the game long term? Dunno.

Free Realms... judgement on its success should be 6 months down the track rather than now. You can't hold it up as a success due to its pricing model *ever*, was it the gameplay? the fact that its free? who knows?! (what makes a game succeed is a magical formula nobody has really cracked, if blizz makes huge MMO #2 I'll say they have!)
No, the current model works perfectly.

You pay your $15 a month like everyone else. There is no limit to how many hours you can play per month. There is no limit to how much content you can experience. You don't get special content, and you aren't deprived of any content.

It's akin to paying $40 a month for cable television. No limit to how many hours you can have your cable box turned on, no limit to what channels you can watch. Same deal as WoW.

Just because you choose to play for 15 hours a week and someone else chooses to play for 50 hours a week doesn't mean that you subsidize the other players' time.

Unless you are putting in tickets every 15 minutes, griefing and cursing in trade chat, or exploiting the game, Blizzard doesn't spend any more time or resources on the person playing 50 hours than 15 hours.

tl;dr: it costs 2¢ an hour... 2 cents an hour... to play this game.

If that is too expensive for you, maybe you should check out Free Realms. Hivemind ^^
I use all the content, classic, expansions, raids, pvp, everything. Honestly though, if my sub went up because of my desire to use all the content I would just consider quitting. A game at this stage in it's lifecycle, with more than enough alternatives, needs to try and hang on to it's subscribers (as vast as they are in Blizzards case). I would certainly welcome a reduced sub for everyone at this point as my interest is starting to wander and there will come a time where I won't be able to justify paying for the two accounts that I do, just to pop on for dailies.
The WoW subscription is £8.99 a month. I just don't understand people who quibble about that. The cost is almost nothing and yet people debate on how they could save £2 or £3! Seems kinda ridiculous.
I like the idea of having pay as you go options as opposed to monthly subscriptions. It wouldn't work for everyone but I could see that appealing to some players who might otherwise quit.

The trouble with charging premiums for endgame content like raids and PvP is that both of those things need a large playerbase in order to work. So by charging more, you're making it harder for the people who want to do those things to find others to fight with/against.

I'm also not sure where the notion of 'charging more for popular content' might lead. If every single new feature has to make money, I wonder how many of the things I like about MMOs would make the cut.
This American obsession with only paying for what you personally use when the cost in contention is $15 a month is none too bright. Sexing it up with terms like "welfare" makes it sound even less bright.

If some of us pay less (and I don't play very much so I would probably benefit), then others would have to pay more. Blizzard can't offer discount plans for the "lite" users while still charging just $15 for the full service. The only possible result of such a plan is reduced revenue from all the "a la carte" users and no increase from the full-service users. You'd have to charge the hardcore players more money to get the same thing they're already getting. Not a good plan if you want to retain those players.

I can't think of anyone who would pay $5 a month for a WoW subscription who wouldn't also pay $15. It's either a game they like to play the most or it's a game they are taking a break from. I don't see offering a cheap subscription as a realistic way of getting more total subscriptions.
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This may be a relative income thing but I have to agree with Gordon, the $15 or £8.99 a month, whatever you're paying is absolutely nothing, really, it isn't.

Considering that going to the cinema in the UK costs me around £7.50 to see *one* movie, I view my £8.99 a month in quite positive relative terms. Hell, a beer in my local pub costs £3, three beers in a pub is more costly than my World of Warcraft subscription!

Trying to play around with that figure etc, would only make sense I suppose if £8.99 or $15 a month actually was something you'd notice in your monthly expenditures (i.e. for kids, or those on low incomes/unemployment) and, to be honest, for those individuals, the account probably represents the best value for money entertainment they can purchase with that money (one of my unemployed friends plays 30 hours a week, which works out about 2p an hour for him to play WoW a month..)

Interestingly of course, if you look at the pricing structures used in China and the Far East and the play per hour model they use there, I could see that as more likely, but, tbh, I have to agree with Longasc here, that idea is only going to lead to other ways for the games company to make money (micro-transactions probably).

As Kash comments, and I agree, I can't see that kind of move making Blizzard money; just the opposite, so it would make absolutely no business sense.

I think the bottom line for me is, once you throw in regular content downloads, patches and so forth (Argent Tournement etc) into the mix, I think £8.99 a month is very, very small beans for around 10-15 hours entertainment a week.
I'm not interested in any system that is effectively "pay more get more". Having cheaper versions without PvP or Arenas or Raids or whatever is functionally the same deal. It creates an uneven play field.

There's some of this in WoW already with collector's edition pets, blizzcon pets, and all the TCG loot items. But they're all cosmetic non-functional items, and a reasonably small percentage of the total number of such items available in the game.

The pay per hour on the other hand is another matter. I was going to say no way, I'd hate the clock watching. But then I remembered this was the pricing model I cut my teeth on mudding back in the 80s. I can still see it being an issue though. "Sorry, can't raid this week as I've been playing too much this month already." It's fine for solo play but I reckon it would create unnecessary dependencies within guilds around how much play time people commit to each month.
Absolutely excellent points, Tobold.

It's a shame thinking that games like Free Realms will influence MMORPG design though as personally I don't want my MMOs to be full of micro-transactions or aimed at younger audiences.

Ironically, the success of Free Realms will probably be pegged on the above statements and not on the facts that it was well made, polished, accessible and marketed well.
The Cable/MMO sub comparison doesn't work.

I can watch my TV without a cable subscription. I can tailor my own channels, and pay more (or pay less) and get more (or less) features. I get to choose and I get to pay with my wallet.

MMO vs Cable sub is more similar to having to subscribe to one Show (you only get one game when you sub to WoW). You can buy 'Dancing with the Stars' for $15 a month.

Great, but you go on vacation and miss 2 weeks of the show. You are still stuck paying $15 a month. I suppose shame on you for going on vacation and having a life outside of the show watching!

Season 2 starts, and although you paid $15 a month for season 1, the Cable company tells you that in order to keep watching Dancing with the Stars you have to pay a 1 time $40 'new season' fee then continue to pay $15 a month for shows you may or may not get to watch.

I am sure there are a ton of people who would love to watch Dancing With the Stars but may not get to watch every week. So why not let them pay by episode, tailor their viewing habits (and their income) to the amount of time they are able to watch the show? Why not charge them for when they consume the show instead of "hey, you can pay equal for the CHANCE to watch the show, not the show itself!"

WoW won't change, as already mentioned, because the majority of their playerbase probably falls into that casual crowd who would pay less under a time/$ model.

A clever developer will recognize this, launch a premium MMO with payment options that 1) still is a great deal for the person who plays 20+ hours a week AND 2) still is a great deal for the person who plays less than 5 hours a week. It has to start that way though, you can't change mid stride (shareholders, and all that).
It would be a money loss to charge less for less content. so the way to make this work would be to charge more as people play more. Part of the appeal of WoW is that it is unlimited. It's a very cheap form of entertainment and changing that would drive away many customers.

A per-time system would be damaging to the community as well. Who would log in without knowing that they'd have a group right away? They could do dailies while waiting, but once those are done, if there's no group, staying online means paying for nothing. Currently WoW doesn't penalize someone for taking two hours to find a group or enchanter or whatever else.
3 problems:

1) WoW is an integrated whole. Cable channels are discreet units. I can't see how you could quantize WoW without breaking it.

2) Its cheap: even going month to month WoW is $15/month. Its 1 CD, or 1 movie ticket?

3) What benefit? The entry costs to WoW would be the bigger barrier I think, computer, internet connection, buying the box.

4) A lot of the fun of an MMO is dependent on the size of the community. Purposely making your community--or even parts of your community--smaller is bad.
The problem with this idea is that if this happens some users will be playing a worse product than others. If you divide up content among players depending on how much they are willing to pay clearly one tier of content is going to be better than another. As someone with an extremely limited income I'm afraid what tier of service I would have to settle for would not be worth the time or money spent on it.
As it is now, every user receives the same game, thus all of Blizzard's time and energy goes to making sure that this one tier of service is great for everyone.
Don't try to fix what isn't broken.
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Personally I have to completely disagree with this. Hardcore players have multiple accounts. (I have three.) I would not be surprised to find out that the vast majority of hardcore players have multiple accounts as well.
A part of the attraction of WoW's fixed pricing scheme is the psychological message: For a fixed price, you have access to the best gear and hardest content in the game. What's stopping you? Only your time commitment, skill, and social networks. In some sense, it's a purely fair democracy/meritocracy that most people don't get in any other realm of life. Not everyone can drive a Porsche, but everyone can ride an Amani War Bear or Mekgineer's Chopper.
Stock answer:
Market SegmentationSnark answer:
Asking people who are happy with the status quo is going to wind up with a lot of self-evident shouting down of alternatives to the same. As has been aptly demonstrated.

You should be asking those who aren't playing but who are interested in doing so.
I don't see any real advantage in alternative subscription plans for Blizzard, or for players really, since it's only $15/month anyway.

It's also a well-known bit of consumer psychology that consumers like simple flat-rate plans. When you begin to offer them a array of plans with different rates and different access options, you create confusion and decision-making anxiety and you can actually drive away some consumers because the easiest decision when faced with confusion is to say no and opt out.
This plays into my idea of offering an adult oriented server without actually having to enforce age checks.

Most of the people I play with are adults and would gladly pay another, say, $5/month to have an online experience that was rid of most of the infantile behavior. My solution is for an MMO publisher to offer "premium" servers that have some value add like better tech support or in-game GM help. Make it something that appeals to adults with limited time or less experienced gamers but would not be valued by kids. The point is really not the premium service but the self selection mechanism for people who don't care about another $5/month. It wouldn't be a perfect discriminator but I think it would go a long way towards providing a more mature online experience for those who value that.
One could argue that the price of the xpac folds in an added expense for those wanting new content.

Plus, having different content per user would further complicate the goal of an MMO: cooperative play.
I'm not opposed to different revenue models, but I don't think there's a viable one.

If you have a $/time system, people will freak out a lot more about how much they're playing, and play even less than $15 worth, losing Blizzard money. If you have a "raids/Arena cost extra" model, you have to charge that on top of $15, because going to "$10, +$5 if you want Raids" will leave 75% of the population saving $5 a month, and Blizzard making no extra money.

Also, it's hard to re-price something once it's started, because people will feel fleeced. They'll feel like they're overpaying, even if its still a good deal. Not to mention that Blizzard benefits from your paying being "behind the scenes" out-of-game on a credit card, so you don't even think about it. For the casual people who play a few hours a month (the real cash cow), that's something they want to avoid.
The cable analogy is absurd. Watching TV is by definition a solo/family experience, while MMOs derive their whole appeal from having a large playerbase to play with. Now different servers with different content packages I can see, but within one server do you REALLY want to heavily fragment your playerbase?
A little long but i couldn't say it better myself

Mmog palyers are very hardcore hobbyests but only pay 20$ a month for there hobby. This facts drives the suits in the mmog bussines nuts they know the hardcore would be spending hundreds of $ a month if not more in in most other hobbies. This idea is just a atempt to try and suck more money out of players pockets.
It's not as if Blizzard hasn't figured out ways to get you to spend more money. Besides the game itself, you can buy shirts, jackets, hats, miniatures, a CCG, a boardgame, books, beer mugs, swords, and more I'm sure.
I'm in a situation where I'm able to spend very little time in the game at the moment. Maybe get to play a couple of days a month. And even that is unpredictable.

So to me the issue with pricing is a feeling of fairness. I wont be consuming all that end-game raid content on my kind of schedule, wont be taxing the instance servers, and only rarely impacting the world servers... why should I pay an hourly rate that is 10-30x higher than the "heavy" users (probably more actually) when I require less from the game?

I'd be happy to pay a 2-3x higher rate for the flexibility of using my time when it works for me.
The subscription model is a scam and it needs to go.

-Michael Hartman
Excellent arguements. I think the only thing that can be done now if they wanted to change their model is to go to a timed based system. The segmenting of the code or microtransactions probably wouldn't make sense. However, I personally could see paying a small fee for cool things like pets or increased leveling speed.

Anyway the subscrption model is the addiction component. There is no way i would have been addicted if I was required to pay say $1 an hour. I probably would have played for a few months and left it at that. Now I'm on two years and hundreds of days played; there is just no way I could afford that if it was time based.

Also I'm not sure it would be profitable to them if they had a subscription model; usage would likely plummet as user costs increased. If they had a two-tier system, ie unlimited for $15 and 20 hours a month for $5, that would probably cut into their profits alot, since there are many players that only play a handful of hours a month.

Anyway i think this model is spot on for the amount of content.
I really like the question Tobold. Yes, I think it can work. I haven't read any of the other comments, but since I play in mostly general guilds with a handful of players that like to level build, some like to PvP and others like to raid. I believe that they could simply have those options available to WoW.

I would get everything cause that's how I roll, but I could see many people going for vanilla, where you could just level to 80 or whatever and not be bothered with dungeons or PvP.

I think as a new player, I probably would have taken the option for vanilla just to get my main up to speed and then upgraded to full at the end.

Good call on the question and the good blog!
How about simply expanding the current subscription model. For example adding a two week subcription option priced at more than half the monthly subcription. I am not currently playing WOW but would probably return if I could do so for 2 weeks out of every month.
I think shorter subscriptions wouldn't solve my issue.
I'm never going to get a period where I can play solidly for even a week. Its always going to be a few hours here and a couple of hours there, usually with less than a few hours prior notice. A shorter time span just means a higher chance of not using it.

Certainly most people will not be in my situation, but life can be unpredictable for some people.

What I'd love is a plan that works for people with unpredictable and low usage. But theres nothing like that... so I've let my subscription lapse for now :(

I'll be back sometime, but probably not for a while.
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