When I was growing up, our family was never very affluent. Oh, we didn’t starve, but we were most definitely in the lower-middle-class. Brand-new expensive purchases were extremely rare; my parents lived frugally and taught us to do so as well. My mom always looked for sales, clipped coupons, and even to this day shops at the dollar store for many basics.
I’ve had a weird reaction to this as I grew older. I went through a phase where I resented all of this penny-pinching and treated myself to the best of anything I wanted. But then I started to get more frugal, especially once my wife entered the scene and got us to stick to a budget.
It’s one of the reasons why MMORPGs have appealed to me, because while these games obviously wanted my money, if I was smart about it, I could get a lot of play for very little cash down. The time spent playing an MMO was time not spent dropping another $60 on a brand-new computer game that I would be bored with in a week. Considering how many years I’ve been playing some titles, I think that I’ve saved a lot in impulse purchases while getting my money’s worth in this genre.
The other week on the Massively OP podcast, we were tackling a listener question about whether or not we as an MMO community have become too cheap (or frugal) for these games. And that was an interesting question that made me think of how much the industry has changed over the past decade, particularly with its business model, and how that’s affected what we play and what we pay.
Cast your mind back to 2009 or before. It wasn’t THAT long ago, really, and in that time there was pretty much no option to play for free except in a small handful of titles. For the most part, if you wanted to play an MMO, you would have to plunk down your $15 a month, the same as anyone else. And that spread out the revenue generation very evenly while causing players (such as myself) to make strategic choices as to which games they were playing at any given time. Spending money on more than one or two titles felt extravagant, particularly because there was this nagging sense of guilt of wasting money if I wasn’t playing a game I was currently renting.
Now things have shifted dramatically, of course. There are a myriad of business models, but the end result is that there are countless choices of games to play that don’t require up-front costs. Whales help to finance F2P titles for us cheaper folk, buy-to-play titles could technically allow you to play forever without any further financial investment, and even in subscription games like EVE Online or World of Warcraft, there are ways to “earn” your subscription through the in-game economy.
Some people spend a lot more money on MMOs now than they ever used to, of course. But there are also the players — like me — that are spending a lot LESS than they ever have in the past, particularly during the subscription-only era. Other than a race change in World of Warcraft in September and pre-purchasing RIFT: Starfall Prophecy back when, I don’t think I’ve spent a single penny on MMOs this fall so far. So have I become too cheap for this genre? Am I part of the problem of declining revenues and increasingly desperate attempts by studios to monetize every aspect of the game?
I took the position on the podcast that I am not responsible for the financial success of a studio. I can pay money if I feel like it or if there is something that the studio is selling that I want, but I’m not going to wring my hands as a solo consumer and worry about how some corporation is doing. I want the games to survive, but my financial obligation is first and foremost to my family. Being smart with your money is important, and if I can enjoy MMO gaming on a budget, why shouldn’t I?
I’m not completely resistant to paying for stuff, it’s just that very rarely an MMO is selling what I want. I’d much rather pay for DLC and expansion content that I can play than for lockboxes, boosts, and shortcuts. Cosmetic outfits? Sure, if they look good enough and appeal to my tastes, but that’s always a toss-up.
Consumers like choice and value, and with MMOs it’s no different. Offer me something worth paying and I will pay — just ask Starfall Prophecy. I get something good if I buy that and am not penalized if I don’t. I’m happy to pay for that. I’m less happy to feel pressured into subscribing to SWTOR because the game will punish me if I don’t.
Maybe we are getting a little too cheap. Then again, you look at how much money we throw on crowdfunding campaigns for games we may or may not ever get — but certainly will not get right now — and there’s an indication that our wallets are at the ready if there’s something that excites and interests us.