Friday, December 20, 2013

The Myth of Subscriptions

The market cries out for relief from this oppressive $15 a month prison. Countless games have abandoned this failed practice for a remade free to play paradise where fortunes are made and no one has to pay for anything...well some people...alright, the people who were already paying, but now they just pay more...but no one else has to pay...I mean, unless they want to have access to the parts of the game designed for the long tail...or anything new...or hats.

I have long disliked the Free to Play model, especially as a conversion from an existing subscription design. I played City of Heroes for a very long time, it was never my primary game, I would resubscribe from time to time and experience new content for a couple of months and I would buy the retail expansions. I was not an active subscriber when the game switched to Free to Play, and it did get me to log back into the game...but it didn't get me to spend anymore money. Free to Play models are not about offering alternatives to players seeking to purchase parts of the game for a reduced fee. Free to Play is about getting players who want to experience everything and tricking them into paying more than $15 a month.

The Hybrid model is the most egregious offender. $15 a month + all the cosmetic and/or fun items are now premium. Oh...and also new content. What? Did we say that if you subscribed you got that stuff for free? That must have been an unfortunate error on our website. We apologize. ..but you'll still have to pay $5 if you want access to that new character class/race and/or leveling zone.

Only two games that I actively played underwent this transition: City of Heroes and Star Wars: The Old Republic. Since their conversion the amount of money I have given them is $0. My desire to play them occasionally rises...obviously I can't play City of Heroes anymore, but with SWTOR I am reminded of all the limitations on a free account...and then all the restrictions on a subscription account...and I resubscribe to WoW for a couple of months instead, because I get to play all the current raids, access all the new patch content, and freely play all existing content as much as I want until I get bored.

There is more than my personal outrage at free to play exploitation, the market has recently spoken on the subject of a subscription based game - Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. Here is a game that launched a couple of years ago in a disastrously unfinished state. The game continued to be so mismanaged that players were not charged a subscription for over a year, and the president of Square had to apologize for damaging the final fantasy brand as a whole before resigning his position. Yet a fully rebuilt game was launched this year in a finished (mostly) state with a subscription...and is doing pretty well for itself.

Wildstar and also The Elder Scrolls Online are due out over the next 6 months and both are releasing with a subscription model. How can these games succeed in this market of free to play titles? The short answer is simple: Be fun. Simple to say at least; the market will decide what is fun and it will pay for it. If the market isn't having fun it can go not have fun for free in any myriad of mediocre games.

Bring on the subscription. It's how I want to pay for my primary MMO experience.

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