Way back in 2008, I vividly remember that prior to Warhammer Online’s launch, Mark Jacobs was publicly musing about the possibility of slapping a higher fee per month for a premium product like WAR — or at least floating the suggestion to see what the public said. This stuck in my mind because even by 2008, it seemed like the then-standard $15-per-month sub fee was not rising to meet inflation rates that were hitting other video game segments, such as box prices. It made me wonder how few days were left in the halcyon era of $15/month subs.
Of course, a huge jump in subscription fees simply didn’t happen. For one thing, in 2009 Dungeons and Dragons Online swept in the free-to-play boom that we’ve been experiencing for the past decade. For another thing, the MMO market leader (World of Warcraft) didn’t budge with its $15/month sub and so helped to keep that a fixed price for competitors not wanting to price themselves out of players’ demand.
So instead of pushing subscription prices northward, MMO studios started exploring other revenue streams: cash shops, content packs, premium services, buy-to-play titles, and the like. Fewer and fewer titles held on to the sub-only model, and today relatively few MMOs (compared to the whole field) even offer a monthly subscription. Of course, several of those that do are market leaders — World of Warcraft, EVE Online, Final Fantasy XIV, SWTOR, ESO.
What’s amusing to me is that we’ve even seen indications of subscription prices falling in light of a more crowded market and frugal gamers. FFXIV’s one-character subscription is just $13/month, which definitely doesn’t hurt in swiping some of those WoW players. World of Warcraft has ways to “earn” game time via tokens, which gives some players the ability to play for free on the backs of others. Many subscription packages are expected to offer bonus goodies to stay competitive (such as store discounts, premium currency, monthly perks, XP boosts, and the like). World of Warcraft just increased the value of its subscription by including WoW Classic (two MMOs for the price of one!).
It really does feel that when it comes to digital entertainment, we’re entering (or have been in) an era of cheaper subscriptions. In a month or so, Disney+ is coming out, and you better believe that its $8/month price tag is a lot easier to swallow for people like myself making the jump from Netflix.
It does make me wonder how long we’ll see that $15/month subscription last in the MMORPG field. Maybe a long time if companies can continue to make it profitable. But cheaper subs without as many bells and whistles might attract the more modern crowd that’s used to month-long entertainment costing under ten bucks.