Opinion: The subscription MMO is dead - long live free to play?

By Julio Franco · 44 replies
Aug 27, 2012
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  1. The era of the subscription-based online game has well and truly ended in 2012. It had a good run, really. Fifteen years is quite a long time for anything to stay static in the land of gaming. Ultima Online introduced…

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  2. ramonsterns

    ramonsterns TS Enthusiast Posts: 744   +12

    And good riddance.
  3. cliffordcooley

    cliffordcooley TS Guardian Fighter Posts: 9,713   +3,691

    I must admit I never was a part of this era. I'm happy there were Free-to-Play games available when I started looking to play a few game titles once again.
  4. F2P is a hideous invention. Before, you bought a game (with or without subscription fee), you installed it, and you had the same game as everyone else, with access to exactly the same things as everyone else. You were on the same playing field as everybody else.

    Now, you get the "basic" version of the game, with in-built screens trying to sell you things within the game. "Oh, would sir like access to the GOOD weapons? That will cost you X" or "Would madam like to be able to play THAT character? Please pay us X". In the end, to unlock all the content that should be part of the game anyway, you'd have to pay a hell of a lot more than if you'd spent the normal cost of a game. Even the subscription fee balances out.

    If I approach this from another angle, using World or Warcraft and MMOs in general as my focus. An MMO, by it's very nature, is a game that is designed to consume a fair amount of someone's time in order to play. Since, it traditionally built around a player making a character, investing that time into the the character in order to improve their character, and use their character to interact and play with other people. It is not designed to something like tetris where you can play a 10 minute game on your lunch break and then put it down. It rewards time investment.

    Now, knowing that MMOs are meant to require time investment, lets look at subscription fees. For World of Warcraft it's between £7.69-£8.99 per month (depending on your subscription plan). Now, given that if you've chosen to play an MMO, you're supposed to expect to play a fair amount of time to get the full experience out of the game. To the point that, excluding other hobbies or the occasional big game release, you're unlikely to really be playing much in the way of other games anyway. So effectively, you're paying around £8 a month for a game you can continue to play as much or little as you wish (since it's nearly impossible without extra-ordinary dedication to fully run out of things to do in a large and long running MMO like WoW). This compared to spending £40+ per console game which may not even last you 24 hours of play time.

    Obviously for F2P you don't spend any money upfront, but then as I said earlier, you inevitably have to pay just as much or more in the long run if you actually want access to the good parts of the game. Almost turning the game into a pay-to-win situation (in games where purchasing more powerful weapons and alike is allowed). With something like World of Warcraft, you know that every player is getting the same content. Everyone is on an even playing field.

    These points don't come from someone ignorant either. I have played subscription based (World of Warcraft) and F2P games (Guild Wars, Tribes Ascend, Team Fortress 2). The only F2P game I could recommend in good conciousness is Guild Wars. A one off fee, no strings attached (aside for one or 2 little non-performance based extras) , and a nice experience all around. It didn't keep me as engrossed as World of Warcraft, but that's just personal taste. Whereas something like Tribes Ascend, a game where I enjoyed the game and it's game play, I ultimately gave it up fairly soon as it soon became apparent that the only way to ever unlock every character and weapon (these being game changing items) without spending thousands and thousand of hours playing was to pay for their points to unlock them. Now, had the ONLY way to unlock the weapons been playing a lot, that would've been fine. I would know that anyone who had "the best" weapon had at least earned it through skill and time in playing. But, given that any mug could walk in and just buy all of the best stuff, their was little or no incentive to try and unlock anything. No incentive to keep playing.

    Apply that to MMO's. Why would I play any F2P MMO if I know that the only way I can ever be as good as I can be is to throw money at a company to get them to unlock all the shinies automatically for me? Or that the good content won't even be available unless I give them my money? It feel like those "cheap" airline companies. You pay little to nothing for the flight tickets themselves, but as soon as you add things like food, baggage, and all the other little things that almost everyone would expect, you find you've barely saved any money (if any at all), and that all you've really done is give yourself a lot of hassle over something that should've been very simple.

    Another way to consider F2P is as a trap. A lot of games don't have demos released for them anymore. So if someone looks at a game they don't know much about and has a medium sized price tag on it, they'll probably leave it be. But, show them a game they don't know much about, and they see a "free to play" tag, when they'll likely go "sure, I'll give that a try". They play the game, realise they like it, and just as they get to like it and are discovering it, they get a screen going "You know, if you pay us some relatively small amount of money, we'll add some more items into your game". So the player goes "Ok, I like this, why not. After all it's the only a litte bit of money". So they play some more, advance further, then hit a wall, followed by a little message going "Hey you. We just added some awesome new level for you to play. But we won't let you play it unless you pay us some more". This cycle then continues until the player has spent a large sum of money over lots of small payments that they think are inconsequential.

    So to round that up, there is nothing wrong with subscription fees if they ensure a quality and equal service to it's subscribers. F2P is fine in principle, and seems to be handled very nicely by the folks at Guild Wars, but for the most part it just seems to be a way for companies to try and trick people into giving them more money. All be it a very clever way of doing so, but it ultimately only hurts gamers who actually just care about gaming.
    psycros likes this.
  5. Rasta211

    Rasta211 TS Booster Posts: 215   +32

    Some people don't have the time to put in to get the great gear and honor. That's why they literally pay money in exchange for time.

    Put a lot of time in the game, you win. Put a lot of money in the game, you win. Seems as fair as it's going to get with that respect.

    Games will probably cost you more in the long run if you choose to pay money in the Free to play model but nobody is forcing you to do it.

    The majority of people who complain about the Free to play model are those who don't have the money to spend. What's making these Free2play games an attractive sales model is not the players who play for free but the players who spend real money. If you start out as a free player then decide to give real money, it seems like a fair thing to do. You started a game, realize it's fun and worth paying for so you give money. If you didn't enjoy the game you wouldn't spend any money on it. So in essence you spent money on a game you enjoyed, that seems like a fair deal to me.
  6. cliffordcooley

    cliffordcooley TS Guardian Fighter Posts: 9,713   +3,691

    If only that were true.

    I'm currently playing a game that would take years to achieve items that could be bought for a few hundred dollars. Thats 3 months of hard play each day just to purchase one item that would cost $30. Lets get real here, with these conditions I will choose to continue playing for free. I'm not gonna spend that kind of cash on any single virtual item. Even though I won't pay these prices, I know there are those who will because prices are not dropping. There are thousands of in-game items, why is a single item so outrageously high. They are virtual items for crying out loud. I would be more inclined to spend $30 on a bundle of 50 quality items than a single item.
  7. Mister Apathy

    Mister Apathy TS Rookie

    The problem I have is MMO's which offer you a lifetime subscription for $100 or more dollars, which then go Free 2 Play, so are they going to give you a refund?
    I think not.... so The Secret Wars had better not go Free 2 Play or I will be vigorously pissed off
  8. The MMORPG has been dead/dying for years now, everyone knows that. It's funny how after the success of WoW there was a mad rush of others following the subscription model and quickly saturating the market before it all came crashing down shortly after, and now again we're seeing the same thing with the rush towards free-to-play and in-game purchases, wonder how that's going to end. *rolls eyes*
  9. I bought a danish pastry at a cafe yesterday morning, then on the way home in the evening saw the same cafe selling them for half price to get rid of them before they closed. Do they give me a refund? None of this is true obviously, but intended to highlight how ridiculous the idea of getting a refund over games going F2P is. "You pays your money and you takes your choice." If you decide to buy a lifetime subcription then that's your own decision with the options available at the time, if the right-owners decide to make it F2P at a later date that's entirely within their rights, as it's within any sellers right to change the price of a good and has no bearing on what previous buyers have already paid. Welcome to how the world works.
  10. I played WoW for years and thoroughly enjoyed it. Never cared to try any other pay-MMO because I never saw anything that truly set itself apart. I've tried free ones, but hate the constant nagging for nickels and dimes and they just felt "cheap" compared to WoW. Having said that, Skyrim is one of my favorite games and I'll be there on day one for The Elder Scrolls Online.
  11. EvE Online has an interesting model.

    Essentially if you earn enough money INSIDE the game, you can pay for your subscription. The hard part is "leveling" a character high enough where money comes easily. I'd guess about 3-4 months of "paying" for the game gives you a good enough character whereby about 20 hours of gameplay will pay for itself, leaving the rest of the month open to play the game "for free."
  12. Seiyorah

    Seiyorah TS Rookie

    Darkfall is still living (barely). For a game that is 100% competitive, full loot, and an "FPSMMO", it was really developed by a company without the budgets the producers of these large MMO's had. I do not believe the new system companies are using would be good for a game such as Darkfall, unless the paid-for pixels did not affect fighting ability at all. I have played many, many MMO's, including the paid models and F2P models, and I am glad to see the up-front cost (monthly) disappearing. I prefer buy-to-play.
  13. Rage_3K_Moiz

    Rage_3K_Moiz Sith Lord Posts: 5,443   +38

    Free-to-play can work, as TF2 and Dota 2 demonstrate pretty well.

    The quality of the games needs to be good enough to warrant spending time (and money, if need be) on them; Blacklight: Retribution is another example of a very-good F2P game.
  14. Darkshadoe

    Darkshadoe TS Guru Posts: 571   +113

    I dont know about other games, but when City of Heroes went F2P, depending on how many months you had been subscribed for beforehand, you got tokens that would unlock several things that the players that started playing after they went F2P would have to buy now. I had built up enough subscribed months that I can play and do most anything in game for free.
  15. what about iracing ?
    what about WoW2 ?
    I thought FPShooters are starting to go down a pay system. I basicaly dissagree...
    a sub based game system means there are more funds to run better service..

    thats life.. pay or FROOB ?
    £2 a week aint that much if one game satisfies
    GTA MMO RPG << wants>>
  16. MilwaukeeMike

    MilwaukeeMike TS Evangelist Posts: 2,886   +1,222

    F2P isn't better. You've heard the expression, 'there's no such thing as a free lunch.'

    Funny how you say World of Warcraft's dominance is waning. That game is between expansions, which is kinda like saying in June 'The NFL isn't really popular anymore' Their giant new FREE upgrade patch came out TODAY. People have been waiting for it since May or even earlier. They'll have thousands of returning players before the day is out. Their expansion is due out in a month (it'll cost like $30 or $40 or something) and they'll get tens of thousands more back after that.

    I personally can't stand F2P. I like excelling because I'm better or smarter, not richer. WoW rewards time investment, but only in small chunks. (I.e. 6 hours/week can get you the same rewards as 60 hours/week).
  17. Companies and the people than work on them need money, like anyone else here.
  18. Tygerstrike

    Tygerstrike TS Enthusiast Posts: 827   +93

    Ive been playing FFXI since its NA release. I can say that I agree that F2P games reward those that can pay instead of earn. Its the same argument they had over 5 years ago about gold buying. Only this time its the games themselves selling. Those with the cash can rocket to the top, those w/o the cash have to plod their way forward hoping that they get something good for all their time invested. I happend to enjoy the fact that I have never purchased gold/gil/rupees/ect. I have earned all my in game gear with dedication and skill. To others that achievment means nothing. They would rather just buy their "epeen" gear then actually put in the hard work to earn it. To each their own I guess. I will just take a small amount of pride in my accomplisments and let those that can buy the items do so.
    psycros likes this.
  19. amstech

    amstech IT Overlord Posts: 1,936   +1,101

    Talk about a quick reaction for an article, the author must be young.

    Subscription fee's for MMO's are not dead, nor will they ever be.
    There is just intense competition in the genre, with many free-to-play's now.
    Game creation is much easier, and there are more studios.

    That being said, most of the free-to-play MMO's that I have seen are graphically limited, content limited, lack quality or don't offer the same options as something like World Of Warcraft does. Also, the term free-to-play is a general term, some games still require a subscription to access the better content/or proceed past a certain level.

    The only issue I have with subscription MMO's is the monthly rate, and I will use WoW as an example. I would leave my account online/up if it was $5-$7 a month, but $15? Even with all the new Panda content thats about the most I am willing to dish out.
  20. Free-to-play is an abomination, something that was dreamed up by the likes of Zynga and EA to extort more money from the player base.

    Once upon a time, people payed a subscription to play hard core games that had challenge and if you wanted to achieve anything in that game you had to work for it.

    Today, we have more random, "fun pplz" games than any REAL games with content. The morons and slackers can pay to win rather than learn to actually play the game and work to be better players.

    EA and companies like them are only looking at their bottom line, give the morons the bait to lure them in and then ding them with countless micro-transactions to milk money out of their pockets. This also allows companies to slack on producing quality games and content as they are free-to-play they can downplay criticism with "well, you didn't pay for it, so don't whine about it."

    Once upon a time, we got original games and story lines, and we paid one time for that game and we enjoyed it. Some gave us bonus replay value like Chrono Trigger with its 25 endings. Now, we pay $60 for a game that has downloadable content and a story about as in depth as a kiddie wading pool.

    I will announce it now, the death of gaming as we know it by 2020 and replaced with micro-transactions and "fun pplz" morons and slack-tards complete with game interrupting commercials brought to you by Sony Online and Microsoft.

    Nintendo will die a slow, painful death as it releases only their own in house titles and the only third party game developers will be producing some Barbie or Bratz or Justin Bieber games for each of their "newly released" consoles, with more cheap gimmicks.
    psycros likes this.
  21. ramonsterns

    ramonsterns TS Enthusiast Posts: 744   +12

    You can't extort money out of the player base if it's optional. Unlike buying a new game which they can advertise as one thing and be completely different and you can't get your money back.

    I too played subscription based games with actual economies once upon a time, namely Star Wars Galaxies and EvE Online, but they require a certain amount of dedication, which in turns requires you to pay more if you want to see that dedication pay off, for what? Pixels and pixels. It's like working but you have to pay them instead.
  22. peperonikiller

    peperonikiller TS Member Posts: 75

    I started my MMO experience with Silkroad Online, which was released Free to Play with, of course, an item mall that I shelled out over $1,000 over the course of 6 years that I played that game. Damn.

    I think more companies will adopt a Guild Wars 2 style of launch. You pay for the game once, then it's free to play on that account.
  23. MilwaukeeMike

    MilwaukeeMike TS Evangelist Posts: 2,886   +1,222

    Yes, but the game needs consistent income to continue to put out new content.

    In 6 years $15 a month in an MMO would cost you $1080. My Directv at $90 (which I've cancelled) would have been $6480. High speed internet at $55 is $3960. Only netflix comes in at less at $576. But Netflix sucks. I think $15/month a good deal if you play regularly. You can barely go to the movies and get a popcorn for that price.
    Deagor likes this.
  24. Hanike

    Hanike TS Enthusiast

    I think it's good, but not like if it was an all-good thing at all!
    For example, It's for sure a good thing don't have to pay SOE high monthly fees to play their games, but Sony kinda destroyed Everquest II servers on the process.
    I think it should be more like Dragon Age, so, in theory, just responsible players would get in, but with the internal marketing features of EQ2. So the developer team would still win something in charge and the players would be more responsible.
  25. Ubwarcher07

    Ubwarcher07 TS Rookie

    For the most part, I agree with you. I wouldn't necessarily call it a trap or trick, but rather a strategy. I haven't looked at the numbers with subscription vs micro-transactions, but I can definitely see how the latter could overtake the former. I believe the main "hook" of the micro-transaction model is the control given to the player. "You can pay if you want to or not". Of course paying will have all the good incentives but that's to be expected. Pay-to-win is another matter.

    I used to highly favor the Subscription model over the F2P, mainly due to the overall quality of the game. From my experience, a majority of subscription-based games have a more polished feel to them. They have also kept my interest significantly longer than any F2P game. Now jump to the current me. I take a F2P over subscription anytime. What changed? I'm not as active as I used to be in the MMORPG genre. After buying and subscribing to a new MMORPG(s), I sometimes play for just a couple of sessions per month. Sometimes even no sessions a month. I also normally buy a 3-month sub for any new MMORPG I get into to save a few dollars. Unfortunately, not every MMORPG appeals to me, so I might drop it within the first "free" month even. All in all, F2P's level of quality has increased tremendously and has given players the ability to manage their time/funds.

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