Tobold's Blog
Thursday, August 22, 2013
 
Sorry, subscriptions are still dead

Two out of two MMORPGs that recently announced their business model went for a monthly subscription. Now as I have frequently discussed on this blog, a monthly subscription model benefits a certain population of players, with those who play a lot getting effectively subsidized by those who play less. Thus these hardcore idiots are now declaring victory, "Free2Play is dead", and the like. Which of course is utter nonsense. The subscription business model is still dead, and those two announcements don't change anything.

For proof, just go to a site like MMORPG.com with a complete list of MMORPGs, and count how many games have a subscription model, and how many have some variation of a Free2Play or Buy-box-only model. Even if you add 2 to the subscription side of the balance, the other side still wins by a large margin.

If you analyse the data further, you will find that the most successful business model for MMORPGs is in fact a different one: The bait & switch business model. If you plot something like a curve of interest for a typical MMORPG in the post-WoW era, you will find that the interest is highest before release and quickly falls off in the first three months after release. If you were an unscrupulous businessman, you'd have to be an idiot to not exploit that. Why would you go Free2Play from day one and miss out on all the potential money you can get from the pre-release hype? Far better to announce a subscription model, cash in on all the suckers who buy the box and pay for three months of subscription, and THEN go Free2Play a bit later, after 6 to 18 months, when the hype has subsided.

Somewhere in hidden drawers of Carbine and Zenimax are already plans on how to transform Wildstar and The Elder Scrolls Online into Free2Play games. There are simply too many games and too few hardcore players to make a subscription business model for any new game viable in the long run. The people celebrating the return of the subscription business model are in fact celebrating how they have been duped by a successful bait & switch scam. 18 months after release at the very latest these games will be either Free2Play or shut down completely.

Comments:
Whilst I agree that they are "idiots", I don't think using that language on your blog will help foster a mature debate!

I have mixed feelings on the sub model. You are correct that those in favour are the type of player that plays a lot and feels entitled to subsidisation.

However those same players are also subsidised under the free to play model as none of the f2p games I've played in the western market charge more to those who play the most.

Indeed the hardcore players demand full parity with paying patrons in those games whilst not paying a penny themselves. Their sense of entitlement gets even worse under f2p!

As I've said before, a PVE mmorpg with WoW levels of new content production cannot survive on selling hats in the same way that an arena based pvp game can.

GW2 and Rift don't pump out as much solid new content with new art assets etc as WoW does and they remain Small players.


If you want a WoW experience without a sub, the free to play model will have to be modified to hammer those hardcore players.

There is no such thing as free. The trick is going to be in how to make those that consume the most, pay the most. I suspect that the same over entitled minority will whine regardless.

They will either whine that it is to expensive when faced with paying the true cost of what they consume, or, if we extract the money from the mass casuals by allowing them to buy what they don't have time to earn, the hardcores will cry about pay to win.

The most fair solution is pay per hour but I think everyone would prefer a sub over that.

I still think the right game could command a sub but those games come once in a blue moon.
 
From the emotional language anyone might be forgiven for thinking you had a dog in this fight, but you don't even play MMOs any more. Rational commentary is one thing but calling people "hardcore idiots" because they see some good news for them in a couple of announcements about games you presumably have no interest in or intention of playing speaks to a level of personal involvement in the debate beyond the purely analytical.

MMOs will have various payment methodologies. Companies will try different things. Players will play some games more than others. Some customers will feel they've had good value, others may feel their money or time could have been better spent elsewhere. Like every other form of popular entertainment, in other words. It's not worth getting worked up over, is it?
 
There is no such thing as a blog with an author who has no dog in the fight. If there was absolutely no emotional attachment to a subject, why would anybody blog about it?

And "you don't even play MMO any more" is technically wrong in this age of Free2Play and box-sale-only MMOs: I do have active accounts in good standing with lots of MMORPGs that do not require a monthly subscription. I am signed up for the Wildstar beta. And games like Guild Wars 2 are still installed on my computer.

If you try to tell me what I am allowed to blog about and in what language, I'll tell you to piss off and bother some other bloggers. Who are you to interfere with my freedom of speech?
 
Well, casual subbers subsidize hardcore subbers, the way f2p shop-purchasers subsidize non-purchasers. it would be intriguing to know how numbers between hardcore subbers and hardcore purchasers (who tend to be the most hardcore players in f2ps too) truly compare. I'm always unhappy over the lack of transparent numbers we have for such debates.

I am also in fact not entirely convinced Carbine and Zenimax did themselves such a favor introducing sub-barriers while launching in potentially the same quarter of 2014. the gold digging argument makes sense and sounds profitable at first glance, but if we consider every potential outcome, I have a big question mark there. GW2's B2P model (plus better shop) might actually yield a better profit for each over the course of a year, because there is less mutual exclusivity and a better likelihood of inter-section and micro-transaction.

I'm speculating here but this is something worth analyzing much further.
 
For me the big question is to what extent should vocal minorities be allowed to drive design and business models.

One could argue that decisions will be based purely on hard numbers and internal stats or professional market research, but we saw Blizzard lose millions of dollars each month by allowing themselves to be swayed by vocal minorities on their forum. They clipped the wings of their golden goose and it has been in freefall ever since. Students should study that catastrophic error just as they currently study "Coke 2".

That is something to get worked up over.

The pay to win debate is the area most at risk of manipulation by the minority. Enough revenue to fund a WoW type game could be raised by selling gear and other highly desirable rewards but a vocal minority of subsidised super consumers will stamp their feet and cry.

Devs and publishers need to put those players in their place. For too long they have been pandered to.

I can see why Tobold has lost his temper with them. I prefer the sub model over the current f2p models. The "hardcore idiot" minority are doing all they can to retain their subsidisation and prevent the type of f2p model that would suit the masses and fund WoW sized mmorpg's from ever seeing the light of day.
 
@Woody

Erm, you do realize that it's "hardcores" too who fund F2P models? just saying....

It's not casual players in f2p who pay the most money. it's dedicated and longterm players partaking in endgame and competetive play. they are a paying minority thanks to which your "majority" can enjoy f2ps even if they never pay a dime. something to think about before you dismiss more hardcore players so entirely.
 
Except that the hardcores in FtP are bad players who pay to win.
 
My apologies to MMO Gamer Chick: I didn't rip off your post, I just had pretty much the same thought, and only saw your post after having published mine.
 
Erm, you do realize that it's "hardcores" too who fund F2P models?

That would be perfect. It seems to me that the fairest possible business model is one in which you pay more if you receive more hours of entertainment out of the game.

But I suspect that while there is some overlap, "hardcore player" and "whale" are not exactly the same thing.
 
@Gerry

lol...what? :D
it's hardcores and min-maxers à la Ensidia who would be the first to make use of whatever extra buffs / consumables etc. an item shop may have to offer in a f2p.

your statement is a troll at best. while some 'bad players' (whatever that is) may use shop items, it's hardcores and as Tobold states, whales too, who purchase the most. who do you think spends thousands of $ in WoT?

'bad players' has nothing to do with either casual, hardcore or whaling - it's another qualification entirely that exists across all groups. if anything, the next likely group of players to spend money in f2p are casuals looking for less grind or shiny lovers, then roleplayers. unless you think these are all bad players, of course...
 
Instead of going for the WoW subscription fee or a freemium model, maybe there is room for a more conservatively priced subscription. A $5 subscription price point may attract more players ("I'll take that for a dollar!") than asking for $10-15.

After all, the development is sunk cost, bandwidth will not be high per player if designed properly and server capacity can be rented as needed.
 
it's hardcores and min-maxers à la Ensidia who would be the first to make use of whatever extra buffs / consumables etc. an item shop may have to offer in a f2p.

Actually, a min-maxer who sees that P2W is the only option will quickly abandon the game, as the min-maxing problem in uninteresting and already solved: pay. The race to the top is also irrelevant: the one who pay most is at the top.

 
@Helistar

Lots of min-maxing and hardcoring in WoT and countless other f2p games, let alone Asian MMOs. just because you only frequent a WoW-centric bracket of this genre doesn't mean it's representative. also, extra shop items don't always equal P2W in a game like GW2 or similar. some of it boils down to convenience / saving time, which is also interesting to a hardcore raider. ;)
 
Syl

Nice strawman attack. Who said hardcores don't pay anything? Some pay something but not enough to cover what they consume in a WoW style PVE mmorpg.

"Subsidised" - this is the phrase you should respond to

Also I see no evidence for your second statement. As Tobold suggested, whales and hardcores aren't the same thing. Under current f2p models the hardcores are the group that least need the shop items and they have been whining and crying the most about what they feel should be allowed in the shop.

As if they have any right to dictate that.

At this point in time, whether a game be sub or f2p based, the hardcores are the ones receiving the most and paying the least.

Both Rift and WoW with their raiding end game models offer that most expensive content to an exclusive niche that pay less or the same as everyone else.

Yes RF exists in WoW but the casual players would have preferred other content like smaller bite sized 5 mans.

The hardcore are too small in number to fund a game with development costs of WoW. They don't pay enough for that many new raids that often.
 
they have been whining and crying the most about what they feel should be allowed in the shop

In all fairness, every group of players is complaining about what they feel should be allowed in the shop. The general tenor is always "I want the item shop to sell only the stuff I personally don't need, so that the game will be financed by anybody but me". So the people who don't want cosmetic items for themselves want only hats sold in the shop, while the people who don't raid but collect cosmetic items and pets want raid gear to be sold.
 
@Woody

"At this point in time, whether a game be sub or f2p based, the hardcores are the ones receiving the most and paying the least."

that's nonsense. there's no need for 'strawman attacks' here, your arguments are completely without foundation in reality. a great body of players in f2p games are casual or drifting and never pay for anything at all. why you would single out hardcore players as the people paying the least is probably beyond anyone but yourself.

"The hardcore are too small in number to fund a game with development costs of WoW. They don't pay enough for that many new raids that often."

last time I checked, everyone needs to pay for a sub in WoW. it's your choice to do that, whether you are a casual or a hardcore. your argument that someone who plays less 'subsidizes' people who pay the exact same sub as he does, is completely out of order. if you're casual and feel you don't get enough out of WoW's sub, don't pay a sub. if you feel WoW only listens to the "wrong people", don't pay a sub. that simple.

don't blame hardcore players for freeloading or wanting the exact same thing as you do, which is being listened to. all players want to have it their way, big deal.

 
I don't understand the hate for "hard core" players. I believe they directly and indirectly create content for the casual player. This content is worth far more than anything devs can add. If you want to know what this content is, replace “hard core players” with “top sports players”.

I know some of us doesn’t like “top sports players” for the same reason as “hard core players” but the fact remains they are very valuable to the system/game.
 
If you want to know what this content is, replace “hard core players” with “top sports players”.

The comparison isn't valid. Only the hard core players themselves think they are top sports players and everybody else admires them. In reality the majority of MMORPG players couldn't care less about what the hard core players are doing. MMORPGs are not a spectator sport. Casual players spend their time playing alts and doing fishing, not watching YouTube videos of raids.

The only content hard core players create is for themselves. They do not provide any meaningful content for non-hardcore players.
 
Syl

It was a strawman - you attacked a point that hasn't been made.

I face palmed at your next point where you pulled the classic wow forum statement of "if you don't like it stop playing".

Hello? That IS the problem! Five million people did just that!

Lost Forever - no hardcore players don't create content. On the contrary, the disproportionate allocation of the Dev budget for their minority interest content robbed the masses of their content.
 
@Woody

I know plenty of casual WoW players who still love to play MoP. so clearly you need to speak for yourself. I understand you're unhappy and blame hardcores for everything but erm, yeah. :)

also, the fact that WoW loses subscribers after a decade "m-a-y" have more and different reasons than just blaming hardcores. really, this argument is as old as vanilla wow.
 
@Tobold
I agree with you, but I think they will not wait 18 months. In 6 to 12 months after launch both ESO and WildStar will go F2P.


 
@Tobold Stoutfoot

"Only the hard core players themselves think they are top sports players and everybody else admires them"

You may not admire them but lot of people do. In fact they want to be hard core raiders. Just visit MMO champion :)
 
I was burned by DDO going free to play... then I was burned by SWTOR going free to play...

Buy a box... pay a subscription.... then it goes free to play and if you want to stop paying you either can't or you get your features downgraded... That character you were playing wasn't a free option so you can't play him anymore without paying or you loose your ability to craft on your crafter...

No thank you... I have learned my lesson... I will be playing Wildstar when they at least have a free demo. I am not going to buy a $60 subscription game I can't preview or that hasn't been out for at least a year.
 
What a horribly cynical view...

... which is probably why I think it's accurate.
 
Syl

You best leave and go to the official wow forums if you wish to continue the childish strawman attacks. No one on this blog claimed that there aren't any casuals enjoying MOP.

Lost - I think you over estimate how many people admire or want to be hard core players versus how many find their life style choice bizarre or worse, outright ridicule them. We are talking about a lifestyle choice that only a few percent choose and I'd argue if they truly had a "choice" they would gladly ditch the raid schedules and live the type of life most of their peers have... .

Cel - Trion for example didn't really burn anyone when Rift went f2p. Those who had paid for boxed copies previously (like me) were left with huge benefits over a new free account. I really can't grumble, that original box purchase was well worth it and I got my 30gbp worth out of it in the few months after launch. So to still reap the rewards now is a bonus.

They owe me nothing for the subs I had paid as I effectively consumed that service whilst they were active.

So I wouldn't resist buying a boxed copy for fear it goes f2p.

Even if there is a downgrade you must never forget that the sub fee was also downgraded to zero. So long as you get the same experience by spending the same amount in the cash shop as you would previously have paid for the sub then there can be no argument.

That is the problem with the f2p tag. People get hung up on the "free" bit and truly believe they are entitled to the same experience as they had under the sub model whilst no longer paying a penny.
 
Well, I totally agree, but want to spin this differently:

The publisher of the MMOs is realizing that there are actually two different demographics out there for their game:

The first group is the hardest of the hardcore. They will willingly shell out $60 for the box plus $45 for three months after which they have hit level cap, exhausted the endgame content, and are moving on to the next big thing while complaining about how your game couldn't support their average 160 hours/month addiction to your game. This group tends to be very disparaging of F2P models and even though they just sank $105 into the game for their duration, they wouldn't dream of spending 2 cents on it as F2P (typically).

Then there's the after-market long-tail slow rolling crowd that wouldn't dream of paying $105 for a box plus three months of play, but would happily shell out $25 for a sparkle pony and many, many dollars for XP potions and other "items of convenience," and they will come in to the game around the time the retail boxes are getting dumped in the bargain bins as the game rolls into F2P mode.

This isn't a scam; this is the dev and publisher wisely realizing they have two different timed markets they have to contend with. If they stuck with the first, they'll never see a penny from the second...and vice versa.

Under this perspective, the only idiots are the ones who buy box from day one, then sub, then shell out moolah when it goes F2P....assuming the publisher does not try to offer incentive to stick around. Rift did that; I'd subbed to Rift for almost two years before it went F2P, and Trion dowsed me in so much in-game currency that I still haven't spent it all even though all my characters look like blinged out renegades from a Fantasy Pimp convention.

So...you're spot on, but this really isn't a scam as I see it so much as a clever business strategy aimed at capturing two different markets with one stone (game).
 
I completely disagree...those who have plenty of time can play a f2p MMO without paying a dime, cause they will work their way around..all f2p have a way to buy the shop currency with in-game currency or by doing achievements within the game.

In both scenarios, the people with more time benefit. But to begin with, this is a stupid excuse..you don't pay 15 dollar per month in order to play 24/7. You pay to have access to the servers and the game. How long you will play is up to you. Also is up to you to decide if your play time justify a subscription.

those who play more time, also create content for those who play little time...imagine all players in an MMO play 8-10 hours per month..how lucky should you be to login and find people to play with? Or find guild to join?

So this is a very very poor argument, that those who play less pay for those who play more. And no, subscriptions are not dead, f2p will be dead in sort time, when the stupid whales will get bored and tired to spend money on shiny things
 
Meanwhile, I'll be more than happy to pay a sub for A Realm Reborn, which finally feels like the sequel FFXI deserved. I trust the revitalized Square-Enix not to monetize the game above the sub cost given their extensive history, and I was absolutely thrilled with what I saw in Beta.
 
Never got into subscriptions. Free to play all the way! Here's a good starting point for some F2P stuff too:

http://www.nexon.net/

:)
 
I so agree with 22/8/13 14:01

My current opinion is that I agree with both sides. Sub or box+sub probably gives you the best community/game. And these two developer's sub decisions were mistakes.

I prefer informed local bookstores and hardware stores, knowledgible travel agencies, full service gas stations, etc. But you are making a big mistake if you open a business like that in 2013. Times have changed and these are no longer wise.

I wonder if part of why the hardcore dislike F2P is because it is an accurate democracy. F2P sales are numbers and it is hard to mask that 3% of the population are hardocore raiders. But I have decided most are not that self-aware and just assume their preferences are the obvious pinacle of gaming aspired to by all.

My straw man is why not make the subscription $30/month? You get even more dedicated players, even more money for developers to produce content, more effectively shut out the NOKD poor. All the arguments as to why a sub is better are even more valid at $30 than $15. If you say "but $30 won't fly because of the competition" my response is that is the problem $15 has with F2P.

IMO the future of gaming is mobile. I just heard a study where the average revenue per iOS ap was $0.19 and for Android it was six cents. I.e. a lot of F2P.


P.S. I wish these companies were cynically going for the short-term grab. Alas, I think they actually believe their own PR and "this time its different!" It is so much easier to deal with greedy than stupid.


 
I'm not sure why you are pretending this "insidious" sales scheme is somehow unique to MMORPGs. All games are more expensive to play at release. A $60 game today I will buy on Steam for under $10 a year from now.

Your contention that this is some kind of "bait and switch" is ludicrous. It is standard practice for EVERY GAME I HAVE EVER SEEN. Seriously, point me to the game that has never gone on sale or dropped price in any way in the years after release.

What's more, I think your analysis here applies just as much to you:

"n all fairness, every group of players is complaining about what they feel should be allowed in the shop. The general tenor is always "I want the item shop to sell only the stuff I personally don't need, so that the game will be financed by anybody but me". So the people who don't want cosmetic items for themselves want only hats sold in the shop, while the people who don't raid but collect cosmetic items and pets want raid gear to be sold."

You just want YOUR favored payment scheme, the one that benefits YOU. There aren't any moral implications to a company's chosen payment model, only economic. If you don't like what they're charging, don't buy the product.

You don't stand outside a Mercedez dealership and tell them they should lower their prices because most people can't afford their cars, or claim that they're pulling some "bait and switch" scheme because used cars are cheaper.
 
No game company has ever announced a game saying "this game will not become cheaper in the future, we won't participate in Steam sales, etc.". But the currently announced MMORPGs do exactly that, having big announcements of how a Free2Play business model would just be incompatible with their game and the like. They are deliberately lying to you, counting on everybody having forgotten those announcements when they then switch to Free2Play.

If Carbine and Zenimax would be honest and say "we'll start with a subscription model, and then we'll see how it goes and keep open the option to change later, like everybody else did", I'd be okay with that. But right now they are blatantly trying to deceive their customers into believing that they can only ever get the game at full price with subscription.
 
"But right now they are blatantly trying to deceive their customers into believing that they can only ever get the game at full price with subscription."

And yet, we're having this discussion right now before those games are even released. It hasn't even happened yet, and every last person here assumes it will. They will drop prices. They will probably go free to play. Not one person here is arguing against that. Every last one of us knows it's going to happen.

Are they the worst liars ever or what?
 
Are they the worst liars ever or what?

I let you decide that yourself, based on the following official quote:

"F2P, B2P, etc. are valid, proven business models – but subscription is the one that fits ESO the best, given our commitment to freedom of gameplay, quality and long-term content delivery. Plus, players will appreciate not having to worry about being “monetized” in the middle of playing the game, which is definitely a problem that is cropping up more and more in online gaming these days."

I'd say YES, they are bad liars, and that is exactly why so many bloggers are calling them out on it.
 
Surely you see the absurdity of everyone being so up in arms about how "they will have tricked us!" Um....no. If you have been paying attention to every game ever made, you know pricing will change. That's how we know this game will change, even though it hasn't happened yet.

You couldn't name a single game that didn't eventually go on sale or drop prices. Are all games just scams? What makes these two games special?
 
@Syl and sorry for the late answer:
Lots of min-maxing and hardcoring in WoT and countless other f2p games,

If you think that WoT has min-maxing then you don't know what min-maxing is.... WoT minmaxing is "use gold ammo" end of minmaxing.
As for the "countless other f2p games", I'd be really interesting in reading some theorycrafting of the mechanics of those games, because in the one I played I saw precious little (and it was usually based on incomplete info or downright wrong). And the reason is that it's usually irrelevant, since you have P2W or W2W. or a trivial zergfest.

 
What makes these two games special?

Many of the previous games, e.g. SWTOR, got released while the subscription business model was still considered "current". I don't think Turbine with LotRO or Bioware with SWTOR thought that their game would fail with subscriptions and that they would be forced to switch or close down.

Wildstar and TESO don't have that excuse any more. You either need to be grossly incompetent or dishonest to claim that the subscription business model is ideal in the long run for your MMORPG released in 2014. Actually saying that they considered the Free2Play model and dismissed it as being not suitable for their game points towards dishonesty. If you and me know that they'll go Free2Play eventually, why don't Carbine and Zenimax say so?
 
I am still struggling to see the moral issue here?

Obviously the games will go F2P "when" subs decline. If it takes off like WoW did (unlikely) then it will run on a sub for a long time.

If they believe that the sub model will rake in the most revenue during the first six months and the free to play model will work better after that point in time then that is Ok surely?

Isn't that common business practice? Price it high at the start whilst the hype and enthusiasm is there and slowly reduce the price over time to pull in those less keen customers who sat on the fence?

From the players perspective you pay your subs for a service. You can choose not to have that service for 6 months if you so desire, or you can have that service now if you pay a sub. Just as I can wait for the price of a PS4 to drop or pay full price now.

You make it sound like some kind of scam but I'm not seeing it?

Of course don't think you will get it for "free" by waiting six months! You will not get anything for free. They will extract the money from the player base somehow or shut the servers down...


I am not sure they are being dishonest. I believe that especially in the case of TESO that they may be better off with the sub model at launch. The question is for how long.

It is a sign of confidence in the product surely? The believe you will want to pay $15 dollars to continue playing it after a month. If I am enjoying the game, have plenty to do, find myself playing every night as I did with WoW and see a bright future with new content releases incoming, then hell yeah I'd pay $15 to keep going.

I quit playing GW2 after a few weeks because I didn't want to keep playing. That clearly had nothing to do with the sub. I didn't spend a dime in their cash shop either. I uninstalled Neverwinter after 20 minutes!

What and how you will pay depends entirely on how good the product is.

Think about this. People believe the sub model is finished and yeah to an extent I'd agree. But remember when WoW launched? Player numbers went into Orbit and most of those players were average Joes playing their first MMORPG and not veterans of previous sub based games.

To them the sub model was a bizarre concept. Paying monthly for a game! How bizzare! But the game was good, and they did pay. Do you think paying a sub now would feel as alien as it did to those players back then?

You may say "but there are loads of F2P rivals now"......but why aren't those people playing RIFT, TERA, GW2 and Neverwinter?

The F2P games aren't a factor, they are insignificant side shows. World of Warcraft is still the bogey man that will stop people paying you subs.
 
"If you and me know that they'll go Free2Play eventually, why don't Carbine and Zenimax say so?"

Why don't other games come out and say "eventually, it will be on Steam for 10 bucks?"

I don't see anyone flat out denying they will ever go F2P. This is the business model they have chosen to release with, and they are defending their choice. It is no different than a new game defending their $60 price tag. You could say the same things you are saying here, "they know full well it will go on sale eventually! Why are they pulling this bait and switch!? I'll never get duped into paying $60 again!"
 
Totalbiscuit covered this on his Content Patch today.

He makes some good points, worth checking out if you have a spare 10 minutes.
 
Samus,

Seriously, point me to the game that has never gone on sale or dropped price in any way in the years after release.

Starbase Orion.

(Not disagreeing with you, just proving you wrong :P)
 
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