Some of the big MMO news last week all had to do with business models and how they’re changing up a little in 2016:
- RIFT is starting to charge for earrings/Planeswalker: Water accessibility
- Trove is adjusting the free store so that you can’t buy free classes any longer, will be putting undisclosed content behind a sub
- RIFT and Trove are beefing up their subscription packages
- The Secret World is increasing the value of its subscription starting this month
- SWTOR’s subs are rising
And while the cynical might claim dying games (except Trove had a banner year and there’s no sign that RIFT is on the way out) and a desperate cash grab, I think it’s a sign that businesses are being smart and constantly reevaluating how their business models work. Other than the ham-handed way that Trion handled the RIFT thing (what with little advance notice and slapping up a paywall that seems to hurt new players far more than veterans), I’m in approval of these moves.
More than anything, I want MMOs to survive and thrive with their souls intact. That means that I want them to make money to not only sustain operations but keep adding content while not compromising the fun and engagement of the game with their business model decisions. And I think a studio always has to be looking at multiple channels for making revenue, balancing between the need to make money and the desire to please players with unfettered content.
We can’t get it all for free. We need to accept this. F2P and B2P models have a lot going for them, particularly in getting warm bodies in the door that can get to know the game with no (or a single fixed) up-front cost. And while a complete freeloader does add some value to a game — by providing a bigger community, more player “content,” and more word of mouth — they don’t put the food on the table or get expansions funded. The only way you can get money from stalwart freeloaders is by shoving ads in the game, which is something only a couple of MMOs (Dungeon Runners, Anarchy Online) have ever flirted with.
I deeply understand the appeal of wanting to play for free, but I’m not a child. I know these games need to make money and I can’t resent them for taking moves from doing so. I just always rather them do so in a way that makes me WANT to spend money instead of feeling penalized that I’m not. I’d also rather not see lockboxes up the wazoo, but the world-weary realist in me knows that they make a lot of money, so as long as I can ignore them, I’ll turn my ire elsewhere.
Beefing up the value of subscription packages is a great way to wean players off the freebie teat and into spending regular amounts of money. Heck, I haven’t subbed to The Secret World since it went B2P, but you can better believe that now I’m going to with these changes. It became worth it for me to do so.
It’s funny to me that in 2014 we were decrying WildStar and Elder Scrolls Online for being so dumb as to launch as sub-only, and that now in 2016 subscriptions seem to be more of an in-thing. Oh, it was dumb for them to do that, but what conventional wisdom, which said “F2P or bust!” missed, is that it was the hybrid business model that should have prevailed. Most “free-to-play” MMOs actually sport a hybrid model that offers a subscription package, and even some buy-to-play games, like ESO, do as well.
Of course, there are bad ways to handle these models, and as players we should always be critically examining them. SWTOR’s subs are up, to be sure, but that’s also taking place in a game where you’re downright penalized for not subscribing and where gaudy “subscribe and get these shinies!” lures are shoved in your face. Practically everyone I knew playing the game was subbed up; F2P players were seen as an outlier in my guilds. It’s the stick-and-carrot double approach. Guess it works for them, but it feels kind of skeezy even so.
Really, gamers shouldn’t freak out to the level they seem to when studios make these business model adjustments. Nobody likes change and we all like our free stuff, but there is a problem with a game being SO free that it nose-dives into insolvency because players never broke out their wallets. Even World of Warcraft has shown over the past few years that it’s looking beyond the subscription to other revenue channels (WoW token, cash shop) to financially prop up the game.