Remember when PC games came in boxes large enough to safely house a small nuclear family? Or when they came in boxes at all instead of being handled by Valve gremlins? Good times.
MMORPGs want my money. I know they do. As is often said, these games aren’t charities, they’re business ventures designed to rake in money to sustain the operating costs and development costs that are incurred in running live titles. They have a variety of methods to try to get me to fork over cash, including subscriptions, microtransactions, and major product releases. Also, soundtracks, because I’m a sucker for soundtracks.
I don’t know what I spend on MMOs on a given year, but I’d estimate it’s probably something around $100. Maybe $150. That’s for the occasional subscription, the single box purchase that I’ll be making (such as last year’s RIFT: Starfall Prophecy), the odd microtransaction, and the occasional service. Not, you’ll note, lockboxes. Occasionally I’ll splurge, as with buying TSW’s grandmaster sub, but that’s a pretty rare occurrence. I don’t know if I’ve even spent any money in 2017 so far, come to think of it. WoW sub is paid via tokens through June, nothing in LOTRO (although I anticipate an expansion purchase), nothing in TSW or any of the other side games I’ve played, no Kickstarters or prepurchases. Yeah, so nothing thus far.
It’s weird to think about, but when I step back and trace my gaming history back the past two decades, my spending habits have changed dramatically. I’d wager that I spent far more money as a poor, broke college student, then intern, then in-debt bachelor than I do now as a more grounded adult. And it really is thanks to what MMOs offer and how they do it.
Flashback to 2000!
I’ve just moved to Michigan after a year internship in Colorado. I have a newish computer that I purchased with graduation gifts and an ageing PlayStation 1. Even with a new job, I have loads of time on my hands, thanks to no real responsibilities at home. I come home every day and spend the next eight hours or so kicking around my apartment. Mostly I do internet stuff (I was writing a lot even then, although mostly movie reviews) and game.
The gaming was my hobby, but it was an expensive one. The problem was that I went through games way too fast. Buying and playing them online wasn’t a thing (or at least it wasn’t that common or known to me), so I’d usually haul myself over to Media Play or Best Buy to prowl the shelves for an interesting-looking title. I kept avoiding online games, since I only had dial up, so my gaming diet was mostly RPGs, RTSes, and other simulation titles.
I’d drop $50 on a game, bring it home, and hope that it would hook me in and give me many hours of fun. Sometimes they did, like with KOTOR or Majesty. But more often than not, I’d get kind of bored with a title after 10 hours, and then I’d be back at the store, spending another $50 I didn’t really have to spare.
It got even worse when I picked up the PlayStation 2, hoping that it would be — right out of the gate — an equally good investment as the PS1. The launch lineup was pretty bad, but I bought most all of those games and kept buying console titles too to try to find something that would be long lasting. About a year or two into the PS2, I ended up realizing that I had moved on past consoles and that most of these games were mostly novelties to me and nothing more. Shallow. I needed meat, I needed depth, and most of all, I needed longevity.
I wish I could go back in time to tell myself about MUDs and the good MMOs and other options that were actually pretty decent back then. Some of that money might have gone to better use to a faster internet connection for starters. Oh well.
As I gradually eased into the MMORPG scene (which really took off for me with City of Heroes’ release), I found that my spending habits started to change radically. I not only had games that would deliver dozens upon dozens of hours of entertainment every month that I enjoyed, but the only cost I needed to spend on them (after the initial purchase) was a relatively small subscription. And that sub worked on me psychologically to convince me to “get my money’s worth” on the MMO versus those other games.
I still bought other PC games, of course, and I still do. No money spent on MMOs this year, but maybe $120 or so on some Steam and GOG titles like Torment. But by and large, my “hobby” started costing me a lot less while giving me enough hours of entertainment to fill whatever available free time I had for it. When I got married and my wife helped get our family on track with a strict budget, MMOs managed to fit in quite well into that while box purchases of games did not. Until the F2P revolution came along, I mostly focused on a single MMO at a time because I was only going to subscribe to one at a time. More started to feel wasteful.
Since 2003, MMORPGs have definitely saved me thousands that, assuming that I would have carried on with my splurge-happy and unsatisfied habits, I would have blown on regret elsewhere. I know we’ve all heard that these games are really a great deal for the money, but they truly, truly are. I never dreamed that I would still be playing the same game 10 or 12 years after it launched — and having a good time thanks to expansions, the social scene, and endless things to do. Kind of makes me wish I had started earlier, but oh well!