The death of the subscription model?
Posted on October 14, 2011 by Jeroen van Bree
11 million subscribers multiplied by 13 Euros per month… It appears that this quick calculation I used to do to give people an impression of the size of Blizzard’s World of Warcraft as a commercial phenomenon is about to become outdated. There is an increasing pressure on the viability of the subscription-based model.
Josh Bycer on Gamasutra gives a good analysis of why the subscription model for Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) games such as World of Warcraft is under pressure. The most important reason that stands out in his piece is the rise of the Free to Play (F2P) model in MMOs. This means you can start playing without monthly fees but can/must pay for extra content, virtual items, etc. This model has been the norm in Asia, but is now making headway in the West as well. Josh mentions Star Trek Online and DC Universe Online which are going F2P this year. Phill Cameron meanwhile compares his experience of the F2P Guild Wars 2 to that of a subscription-based MMO. His opinion is that with Free to Play we will finally get rid of what he calls “time sinks”, the mechanics built into MMOs to make you spend as much time as possible on them: running from one location to the next, killing endless numbers of monsters, waiting for other players.
But rest assured, other tiresome mechanics will take their place. If your spending as much time as possible in the game is no longer how the publishers make money, they will make sure to entice you to spend your cash on the access to that elusive sword or the right to play that unique character. A little outfit called Zynga is way ahead of you in that business model (and is now even launching an MMO of sorts).
The move from subscriptions to F2P is not without risk. CCP, makers of long-running MMO EVE Online, tried to introduce the sale of virtual items this summer. It led to a player revolt. The main gripe players had was the perception that you could now buy an advantage in the game instead of earning it. In a game where players have invested years of their lives to achieve a certain status, that touches at the core of their experience. In a Facebook MMO, this will be much less of a problem.