When you pay every month to play a game, you’re doing two things:
- You’re validating the enormous amount of time you spend playing the game by “making the game worth the money”.
- You’re investing money in the game that you cannot get back. This sum of money only grows.
As long as I pay the monthly fee, I want my money’s worth. As long as I get my money’s worth, I’ll pay the monthly fee. This is an endless cycle! And, in the current forms MMOs are manifest, the cycle is bound to be broken. At some point, the game is no longer going to be worth the money. Everyone gets bored of a game eventually—some people become bored of whole genres of games. But when you regularly pay for a game, at some point you are going to suffer the disappointment of having wasted your money. That experience leaves a bitter taste in your mouth. The taste is made more bitter by the perhaps hundreds of dollars you’ve invested in the game already and how that all has amounted to this disappointment with the game. It’s a completely natural and reasonable process for the player to go through.
In MMOs, You quit a game because you either no longer have the time to play it or because you no longer think it’s worth playing. The result: all former players are either too busy to care any more (or have moved on quietly) or they are bitter or otherwise unhappy. An unhappy former-player is bound to spread his unhappiness to others. Negative word-of-mouth certainly damages games that don’t have multi-million dollar ad budgets; negative word-of-mouth is necessitated by the current business model.
When you pay to play MMOs, you may enjoy them now and continue to enjoy them for years, but you will ultimately leave disappointed. Perhaps Guild Wars’ success can be attributed in part to not generating a wake of disappointed and bitter players. I don’t know if free-to-play games solve this issue, but I do know that it should be addressed if we want the market for MMOs to keep growing and not be eventually subverted by an ever-growing bitter and aggravated populace of former-players.