With the recent explosion of new MMO’s that has occured in the last few years, the trends in the genre have certainly gone through changes. One of these fluctuations, although maybe not quite as obviously, has been the way in which these titles handle subscription fees; whether it be a controversially hefty one, or a complete lack thereof.
Take for instance data as posted on MMOGdata, a site dedicated to gathering up to date information regarding subscribers and accounts of most current MMO’s. One table lists exactly 122 games, and what their subscription plans are like: either free to play, pay to play (As in a recurring subscription), or box to play (corresponding to games that only require you purchase the box to play). When these three categories are compared, though close in numbers, the number of games that are free to play actually exceed those that require a subscription. Out of the 122, a total of 60, nearly half, are free to play, while 58 require a fee, and only 4 just a box price. So what makes companies decide to charge the players more for the game than others?
With the massive increase of MMO’s available to play, this gives the players an incredible chance to look through many different games to find the one that appeals to them the most. While a subscription cost may deter away a few customers, it may in fact grab many more. This is due to the fact that a company whose game requires a monthly fee undoubtedly exudes a certain kind of confidence that someone looking for a quality game can’t ignore. Obviously, this company must have more to offer me, the searching player might say. But is this really the case? In fact, in many ways it is. One can argue that by requiring a subscription, the company is entering a sort of ‘pact’ with the player; you keep paying, and we’ll keep producing. While this may make the game appear stronger, the company is also required to do just as it says (which, in some cases, the company seems to forget it has entered in to this agreement).
With the introduction of a large number of games, a door has been opened for a new type of gamer. One who is not solely dedicated to their game, but instead leap frogs across the genre, dipping in casually to a number of games that span all sorts of themes. A subscription, however, makes this rather difficult. Many players probably find it difficult to justify paying 15$ a month for a game that they login to maybe 5 times a month. Does this make subscription games out of reach for the leap frog gamer? Not necessarily. Lately, many companies have been making the jump to not only next-gen games, but to next-gen subscription methods.
What exactly does this mean? Where the common approach of providing a free month upon purchase has gone straight past regular toward almost required, many companies are finding new unique ways to handle the situation. Take for instance the upcoming Age of Conan, a game many are describing as having next-generation features. According to an interview from mmorpg.com, game director Gaute Godager states
It is important to tell players that the first 20 levels, the single player experience, will not feature a subscription fee. If you buy the game, you can play this portion for as long as you want, without subscription. It is only in the next 60 levels, the more “normal” MMO portion (though this game is no true MMO, but rather an Online Action RPG) there will be a subscription.
This ‘hybrid’ style game is certainly not alone though. Many games, such as Dofus, have mixed it up by doing a similar in-between method: the game is free to play, but if you want to experience all the content, you must subscribe. There are many aspects to this ‘optional’ subscription choice that players must find appealing.
And while there are many players who instantly turn away from a free game, and many who simply refuse to be charged monthly for playing a game, almost all will be relieved to see new trends emerging in the way companies charge their players. So rejoice MMO players; new options are becoming available, in the form of new subscription plans.