Friday, May 27, 2011
MMORPGs are too cheap
The average American spends $58 per month on hobbies. The 90th percentile, which would be the kind of people with a college or higher degree and a good income, not the super-rich 99th percentile, spends $130 per month on hobbies. A dedicated stamp collector might spend $2000 to $4000 per year on his hobby. And in most hobbies the range of possible spending is wide, so a bicycling enthusiast might spend $400 for an okay bike, or $5000 for a top-of-the-line one.
Spending on hobbies is by definition "wasted". That's the point of having a hobby, a way to waste your time and money! While other people's hobbies tend to appear strange to us, we pursue our own hobbies with a lot of energy. In a world where less than half of employees are satisfied with their jobs, people who are more passionate about their hobbies than about their job aren't all that rare. Thus spending a considerable chunk of your disposable income on your hobby is pretty much normal.
In all this, MMORPGs as a hobby look somewhat strange: They are too cheap. Even if you buy a new game or expansion once a year, plus a monthly subscription, you end up with a lot of hours of entertainment for just $200 per year. Of course you could also count the cost of your PC and internet connection, but a game like World of Warcraft doesn't need a high-end PC, and you're likely to have internet in the house anyway.
Curiouser and curiouser, not only are MMORPGs very cheap, but there is a strong negative attitude towards even the *possibility* to pay more. People react with outrage if a game adds $10 mounts or $25 sparkly ponies. But fact is that there is a strong demand from players to be able to pay more for their MMORPG hobby. Which is why games that switch from a monthly subscription fee to a Free2Play model often significantly increase revenue. Some Free2Play games report average revenue per paying user (ARPPU) of $60 per month. Which is pretty much in line what the average American spends for his hobbies. Not counting the fact that MMORPGs are a somewhat geeky hobby which is more likely to attract those people with college degrees in the 90th percentile than those in the 10th.
Could you imagine a stamp collector complaining about another stamp collector having a better collection because the other guy spent more money, and demanding that spending on stamp collections should be limited? That sort of ridiculous notion only exists in MMORPGs. With MMORPGs being predominantly PvE, it is very hard to see how somebody elses purchase of a sparkly pony or "invite a friend from a different realm" feature has any negative effect on your own game experience. And even in a pure PvP game like World of Tanks it is possible to balance the game while selling $25 high-level tanks.
The whole argument against people spending money on MMORPGs has a whiff of communism: Everybody should be equal, and nobody should be allowed to stand out through money, even if he worked hard to get that money. Well, we all know what happened to communism. It is a doomed philosophy, because people work harder if they can earn money and spend that money in conspicuous consumption. It is time to bury MMORPG communism together with the real world equivalent. We need *more* ways to spend more money in MMORPG, we need luxury subscription options, and item shops in every game. A business model in which you reward unemployed basement-dwellers for playing all day while punishing hard-working family guys for having limited time to play available is simply not making business sense. If we want multi-million dollar quality games, we need to open up possibilities for game companies to earn those millions of dollars.