Posted in General

Are we getting too cheap for MMOs?


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.

11 thoughts on “Are we getting too cheap for MMOs?

  1. I don’t think it’s that we’re too cheap, as much as we have more companies wanting a share of our money, while our income hasn’t increased. The cost of everything has went up, but workers pay hasn’t, unless you are a CEO. So people are having to be more frugal with their spending, saving up longer for the big items, while more and more companies want regular monthly fees from us. Subscription model has taken over everywhere, and it all adds up.

  2. I think most people have something of a ‘games budget’ per month. That might be from ‘as low as possible’ as ‘x amount of currency’ to ‘I don’t care’ – but probably at least a minimum of thought leads to some purchase decisions.

    For me, I just know I can’t dedicate my time to many MMOs per month. There’s always 0-1 “main” ones and sometimes a 2nd. The 2ns usually gets infinitely less playtime than the first. I tend to focus on one game, maybe two. Hardly ever three.

    So it *is* kinda “winner takes it all” – if I’m playing A, I’m not paying for B – and I think most MMO players have only one or two that they play in a given month (and that’s generous, we could also say in a given year…). So by entering the MMO market right now you kinda have to take that into account.

    So yeah, I’ve long started gladly paying 5-15 EUR per month per MMO and thus supporting it (and hoping the studio will get by and not shut down my currently favorite MMO) – but I’m not feeling guilty in any way.

    On the other hand I’m not averse to taking part in F2P MMOs, but if I’m playing them for more than “log in once per month for an hour” I think I’ve done some spending in their cash shops as an expression of “I like this game”.

    So maybe my definition of being cheap is off, but apparently I can live with that.

    Honorable mention for Ragnarok Online (old european server, 10 years ago) where you could buy 30h packs of game time. I got by on a lot of those, because I could get by with (iirc) 6-7 eur per month for 30h of playing instead of 10+ for a subscription. You can now either argue that I was cheap by saving 5 bucks or that they had a business model that suited my needs.

  3. It’s worth noting that in games like Eve Online or World of Warcraft, for every player that buys their subscription with in game currency, instead of paying $15, there’s another player out there that paid $20 for that month’s sub. It’s a pretty nice exchange of time for money among players – and the game developer gets an extra $5 for facilitating the exchange.

    I also agree that if a game can’t make money, it’s because they’re not selling the right things. Millions of players think that WoW is till worth $15/month because it’s got an obscene amount of content. I’m willing to pay that monthly fee because I know that almost nothing else in the game is gated behind real-world currency.

  4. I think MMO players are too diverse for any broad generalizations to be made about our relative cheapness or lack thereof. Some people are definitely too cheap and will riot the moment a developer tries to get anything from them, but many people are much more reasonable, and at the other end of the spectrum there are people who are maybe a little too free with their money. I can’t wrap my head around spending hundreds of dollars on imaginary space ships in Star Citizen. If you’re going to throw money away on something you might not ever see, just give to a real charity.

  5. For me, I’ve swung the opposite way. B2P and F2P games are well and good, but I’ve grown tired of them constantly pandering and trying their best to squeeze money out of me through cash shop shenanigans. I really, really got burned with the direction that GW2, ArcheAge and all of Daybreak’s games have gone. I’m super cautious about touching games without subs at this point.

    I also had very little loyalty to the F2P games I played, and found myself game hopping much, much more during those days. This always made me feel a little guilty as I was used to the early days when an MMO was like a world you chose to live in, sometimes for years.

    I’ve paid a monthly sub to FFXIV for over 3 years now without a break (I’ve not paid a cent in their cash shop though). This is the first time I’ve stuck around a sub game this long — part of it has to do with investment to people and Free Company, and part of it is because FFXIV gives me most of what I want in an MMO. But I’m much more committed to it than many other games that have come and gone in the past 5 years.

    Paying the sub also forces me to pick and choose where my game time/money goes in terms of MMOs. It’s actually warded off impulse buys of newer MMOs as I’m much, much more critical during open betas and such. For example, I skipped on ESO and WildStar when they first launched because I tend to stick to one sub at a time… and I didn’t have plans on leaving FFXIV for those games. Years later, they’re now free to play or buy to play, and I picked them up then – win, win!

    On the flip side, I also won’t hesitate to buy a lifetime sub to a game I really enjoy if offered (but so few games offer this now days – I guess this was a monetization attempt that didn’t work). I still have one for LOTRO and Secret World, and feel like I can hop back into either of those games anytime, with all the goodies of a subbed player waiting for me.

  6. “I really, really got burned with the direction that GW2, ArcheAge and all of Daybreak’s games have gone.” – Aywren

    People will have varying opinions on AA and the DBG games – personally I find the DBG games I play to be excellent value and the F2P offer to be very reasonable indeed – but I can’t really understand how GW2’s offer can be seen as anything other than ludicrously favorable to the player. I’ve been playing GW2 since beta. I have thousands and thousands of hours logged on three accounts. In all that time the only money I’ve had to spend has been the cost of the base game and one expansion. At no time, ever, has there been any need to spend another penny. On the rare occasions ANet actually put something in the cash shop I want I have always, easily, been able to buy it for in-game gold (converted to cash shop Gems).

    GW2 seems to me to be the epitome of a genuine B2P MMO, one that never requires you to pay any more than the box fee (and expansion box fees, naturally) while always allowing you to play the game to its full and entire extent.

    As for the main proposition, yes I think MMO players have become embarrassingly spoiled in their expectations but in that they are only following a general, cultural trend. It’s become not only acceptable but almost compulsory for people to try and get entertained without paying anything. I know I do. The downside is that the quality of the entertainment that we *don’t* pay for is declining alarmingly and the cost of the entertainment we *do* pay for is increasing alarmingly.

    You can have good or you can have free but you can’t often, legally, have good and free.

  7. Was about to basically say the same thing as Bhagpuss – I bought GW2 in a sale and have never spent any money in the ingame shop. I even ordered the expensive deluxe version of the expansion because I felt so bad about playing for months for like 10 EUR total.

  8. Ironically, even in 2009 when there wasn’t much alternative to the box+sub titles, MMORPGs were still a very frugal hobby. I recall many people back them (myself included) thinking that $15/month for a game that you played for years on end was way better value than buying “disposable” single-player games, and absolutely destroyed other forms of entertainment for value.

  9. Dunno, I find I’m more lavish with my money these days, or at least ready to spend a larger than $15 sum at any one point in time. The only thing is that those points in time can be more spread out than once every month, so when you average it over a year, it becomes a very similar $15-$20 a month for any game actively being played.

    I’m really quite ok with this state of affairs, since I wind up with less “forgotten” subscriptions for stuff not actively being enjoyed that end up being canceled with some guilt over how I haven’t gotten my money’s worth for the time spent.

    Now, it’s “I pays the money, I immediately get something that I value and can enjoy right there and then.” Immediate good feeling boost, no more leftover guilt.

    When I lose interest in the game, I just don’t pay and I am still able to play or revisit at a basic level without being immediately locked out.

    I find it generally more equitable that those playing a game at a more involved level are encouraged to pay more, while those just playing very casually get to pay less or none at all.

  10. I generally only subscribe to one game at a time (though I had four Star Wars Galaxies accounts), and for the foreseeable future that game is WOW. Rift has cracked me with their cash shop because I love the world and they just heap treasures on you for buying expansions and other appealing items.

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