I was privy to a conversation the other day where a few people were talking about how the MMO subscription model was completely dead. This conversation happened in World of Warcraft, where all participants were actively paying a subscription.
The people against subscriptions made their stance very clear: Any MMO to release with a subscription is destined to fail, and it will fail because it has a subscription. They offered up no reason why, or how games without a subscription would succeed, or any counter to why WoW could have a subscription and be just fine.
I have a very strong opinion about subscriptions.
Subscriptions are Alive and Well
Our world operates on subscriptions. We pay subscriptions for many things, and most of the time we do so willingly. Sometimes it’s because we are captive and have absolutely no choice, but many times we seek them out.
Here are a few of my subscriptions which I willingly pay in order to gain access to a product or a service:
Adobe Creative Suite
World of Warcraft
That’s just a few. I’m not even including things like cell phone data plans, internet connections, tv plans (or subsequent added channels), marketing tools for my businesses, game servers, website hosting, or my Disneyland Annual Pass.
Why Do We Pay Subscriptions?
This one is simple: We value what we receive.
The opposite is also true. We cancel subscriptions when we do not enjoy them, or when our price sensitivity threshold is breached and what we pay no longer justifies the fun/utility/service we receive. When someone says, “I can’t afford that” they often mean “I don’t want to pay that much.” The people who truly “can’t” afford the subscription are often a very, very small percentage.
MMORPGs and Subscriptions
Subscriptions for MMOs became taboo during the great F2P movement. The marketing weasels spent millions on campaigns to brain wash people into thinking that games should be free, and that F2P MMOs can have the same amount of depth and scope as any subscription game. I’m still waiting I’ve been demanding proof of that now for over 6 years.
At the same time, games releasing with subscriptions were absolute garbage. They tried so hard at being themepark clones in order to act as cash grabs to pay investors, and never — ever — had a plan to last longer than a year. They all had built-in exit strategies, and their employees often had new jobs lined up weeks after they launched. No one would or should pay a subscription for crap.
Afraid for their numbers, or under the thumb of ignorant executives, many long-standing subscription MMOs also turned F2P in order to appeal to this new “market” of “MMO gamers” who would be the “future” of the industry.
The F2P movement, combined with garbage games, created this perfect storm of misinformation. With the F2P marketing weasels telling people subscriptions were bad, and subscription games sucking eggs, it wasn’t hard for ignorance to spread like wildfire. Before we knew it, subscriptions were “clearly” to blame for why these games failed.
Now the “future” of the industry and those “MMO gamers” have mostly all moved on and retained their ignorance about the subscription models being bad for games.
I’ll Gladly Pay
I will happily pay subscriptions to multiple MMORPGs. Any MMO with the scope and depth I’m looking for, with great mechanics gameplay, that can keep my attention deserves my money. To simplify, I will pay a subscription for a great game. I absolutely will not pay a subscription for a crappy game or service. That’s not unique to MMOs.
There is no data anywhere in existence that contradicts the idea that people are happy to pay for something of quality that they actually want. So when I hear people preaching that subscriptions can never work — especially while having that conversation in a game they’re paying a subscription for — it’s simply no wonder the industry is where it’s at.
Climbing Out of the Hole
The MMO industry is slowly climbing out of the hole it dug itself into. It’s going to be a long climb. We’re going to see a lot of indie devs taking a stab at things because there aren’t a lot of juggernauts to dominate the headlines. MMO news sites are covering anything they can get their hands on, desperate for a story.
I fear that low budgets will lead many down the path of low quality, and there will be an unfortunate (and inaccurate) association between quality and niche. Indie devs will try to make niche games, and we’ll see another wave of “niche games don’t succeed” when once a gain it’s a case of quality being the issue. Anyway, I digress.
Value will return; Subscriptions will return with it. Groupthink will continue to fail. Indie games will rise and fall as always, and the wheat will naturally separate itself from the chaff. As in all things, it’s simply a matter of time.
Subscriptions are dead. Long live subscriptions!