Thursday, July 2, 2009

Pay-to-Play becomes Pay-to-be-Disappointed

The goal of this blog is not to discuss the business of MMORPGs, but I think it’s important that we discuss the effect of the pay-to-play model on player expectations.

When you pay every month to play a game, you’re doing two things:
  1. You’re validating the enormous amount of time you spend playing the game by “making the game worth the money”.

  2. 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.


Tesh said...

I've never liked the "service" model for these things. I'm far more likely to spend money on content. (Notably, only Guild Wars, Wizard 101 and Puzzle Pirates have received any money from me.) When I buy content, I can play it at my leisure, and I don't feel compelled to play, nor do I feel that the game owes me anything.

Psychochild said...

I agree, but things look different from the business side of things.

The biggest worry about moving away from the subscription-based model is that some feel the revenue becomes less predictable. There's a sort of comfort with knowing that if people are playing your game, they're paying for it. Of course, this is a false sense of security because everyone could decide to cancel their subscriptions next month, just as easily as everyone could decide not to buy any items next month. But, subscriptions are a known quantity with an established business model that can be predicted based on existing data.

On the player side, there's a lot of resistance to losing such a good deal. MMOs are cheap to play on a monthly basis, few other types of entertainment are so affordable. Others worry about gouging or nickel and dime game design. Again, subscriptions are the devil they know.

I think we're seeing some change happen, but it goes slowly....

motstandet said...

I don't see the issue here. Of course you are going to be bored and disappointed after years of playing the same game. You are tired of the game, see ways in which it can improve, yet it doesn't. So you quit.

I don't regret a single penny of any money I've given to subscribe to a game (I've regretted buying boxes to MMOs I ended up hating, but that is different). $15/month is really cheap; even playing only 4 hours a month is still a better deal than seeing 2 movies.

I have the initial "bah! this game is stupid and everyone to stop playing it" attitude when I've quit MMOs, but now I still recommend WoW to people. I even tell them to play FFXI if they want to experience a community and a challenge.

Longasc said...

Free to play does not exist. :)

F2P always comes with... tada... RMT!

And right now many companies bundle both so that you cannot really "play" without paying at least somewhat, and you are usually strongly encouraged to spend even more money.

Free Realms is very bad in this regard, as it offers enormous advantages and benefits to subscribers.

DDO seems to be similar, a very strong class that you can hardly unlock through playing instead of paying is available to subscribers, who probably can also buy the option to start out with more stats right from the start, where others have to play and get some fame or whatever it is called, and then they can roll a char with better stats.

It was criticized on the blog Bio Break, and it really puts me off.

Guild Wars is slowly moving more and more into the F2P RMT part, the idea to sell an expansion every half a year apparently did not work out, too much work apparently and it just does not generate as much money as a subscription game. So they join the F2P RMT bandwaggon and will probably ride it even harder in GW2.

Longasc said...

BTW: I should add that I do not mind the subscription model and rather fear the F2P RMT model. As long as the game is good and I like ut, they will get my money, regardless which method they use to get it.

Anonymous said...

I don't know. To me, paying monthly for a service such as cable TV or renting a phone line is a business model I'm used to and comfortable with. If I find I'm not using the service I'll cancel it. It's nice and simple, which is one of the big draws. I don't really feel that I'm 'investing' money in the phone line that I'll never get back -- I'm renting the use of it.

I'm actually more chary of using my mobile, which is on a pay as you go plan. I pay a lot less, but I also use it a lot less.

evizaer said...

You cannot compare paying for a game to paying for a utility. TV and phone service are central parts of the modern home. MMO games are played by less than one percent of the population of the US.

If you stopped playing a game, it wouldn't have adverse effects on your life. You don't need the game in any fashion, whatever enjoyment you get out of it is a plus. By paying a monthly fee to play a game, you pay for something that has no utility to you beyond the enjoyment you get out of playing the game; games are luxuries. If you stop enjoying the game, you are wasting your money by paying for it.

What would it even mean for something to "stop enjoying" their phoneline, running water, or electricity? It just doesn't make sense. Without these basic utilities important needs wouldn't be fulfilled. You may be able to substitute the internet for a phoneline and a TV, but there are still important differences between paying for phone service and paying to play a game.

Anonymous said...

I hardly need cable TV though. I can perfectly well just use freeview. And I certainly don't need to subscribe to their sports channels (for example) if I don't like sports.

In actual fact I don't watch much TV. MMOs are a much larger part of my life than cable ever would be. And it's a similar cost actually. I think it's a very good comparison.