April 21, 2015

The Truth about Subscription Models

Well here’s a shocker, I haven’t posted anything for over a month. Anyways, in a random turn around I might actually have a couple of blogs up in short order here. The first is, of course, this one and discussing some of the major gaff’s concerning the now painfully outdated subscription models are for MMOs or as sometimes referred to as pay to play or P2P in shorthand. So, instead of wasting time, let’s look at just a few of the gems I often see from completely clueless people trying to defend the outdated and outmoded subscription model system.

Subscriptions offer solid income for the game
This is a half and half. In other words, it’s partly true but only true if the game is supporting a magic number of subscriptions. Just because a few people are paying the subscription fee doesn't mean the game is getting a solid enough income. If there are very few (relative to the actual number they need to sustain and create meaningful content), there is no solid income.

Subscriptions guarantee new content
This one is absolutely false. A subscription does not guarantee new content. See the first gaff. If there is not enough subscriptions, then there won’t be new content. Too many people see WoW and assume that’s how it always is, and once again fail to recognize these games need money to continue.

Subscriptions make sure the undesirable types can’t play
100% wrong again. Most of the time when someone means undesirable, they mean gold spammers and sellers. As TESO and WildStar proved at their launch, gold sellers find a way.

So what does a subscription actually guarantee? The answer is; nothing. That’s right, putting money into a subscription doesn't actually guarantee you anything. It’s an oft misguided notion, in fact, that people believe that a subscription means guaranteed content, the game servers will always be on, and that it’s a wall to keep out the bad schlock. But, that isn't the case. A subscription only keeps the people you want from playing the game, as the model is very outdated, and most people are not willing to put that kind of investment into something that can disappear. Several companies have even told us the magic number that was needed to be maintained to keep meaningful updates, but of course, players don’t listen to that. Instead, the vote with your wallet mantra is always uttered in a misunderstood sea of they don’t listen falsities in some vane belief that they only listen to the money.

Here's the problem with that above thinking. Voting with one's wallet is all fine and dandy with products like cereal or some such, as big corporations like that will listen to the dollars, but MMOs actually do listen to their player base. However, they have many things to consider first, because believe it or not, you are only one voice in a sea of many with all differing angles and goals to what they believe should be done. Even if two people like the same thing, both of them will, more than likely, have radically different ideas on how that should be approached. All voting with your wallet does for your hopeful MMO is guarantee that it's going to lose the ability to generate meaningful content, listen to you, and in many cases now as this happens more and more, close its doors down.

The reason new MMOs never get a chance is that very reason. People believe they are owed new content, and not understanding how economics work. Hell, throw a rock and I am sure that you will hit someone that thinks that just because they pay $15 a month they have more than paid the salary of several developers.  And this kind of thinking also goes hand in hand with people who think content can magically be whisked into existence to. But that’s another story all together.

So what's the take away from this? Subscriptions don't guarantee jack. Each MMO has a magic number of subscriptions they have to hit and maintain just to not only produce meaningful content, but have a steady development cycle. Examples; 2009 we were told that Champions Online needed 100,000 subscribers to be considered successful. Star Wars The Old Republic was stated it needed to maintain over 500,000 subscribers to continue to be considered a success.

As you can see where this is going, it takes a lot more than a few people paying $15 a month before you will see that new, meaningful content. And if you want an MMO to succeed, you can't always just hope it can weather a storm, sometimes you have to put your money where your mouth is or watch it fade into obscurity. While there are some obviously bad games that you should not put money towards, and in no way am I saying put money down towards a game you do not like any way you stick it but for a game that you are hopeful for and you see potential, using the tired mantra "Vote with Your Wallet" is not going to make developers instantly turn around and fix what you consider to be the problem. They will instead downsize their development team, or consolidate servers, and at the end of it all as this mantra keeps going because they can't produce content from lack of resources, eventually close their doors. That is the take away in the end.

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