A thoughtful and personal exploration of games

Discussion: MMO Pricing Models


Today I’m going to talk about something that stirs up a lot of feelings in a lot of people all over the net: pricing models.

Here’s the three different primary types here:

Free to Play

Microtransaction

Subscription

Allow me to explain…

Free to Play is just what it says: Free. To. Play. Seriously, you download the game, you install it, you set up an account, and bam, you’re ready to go. It’s that simple. Examples of these games are Champions Online, D&D Online, Lord of the Rings Online, and several of the games I’ve previously mentioned like 9Dragons and ACE Online. For future reference, I’m abbreviating this as F2P.

Microtransactions (I may have explained this in the past, but humor me) are where you throw a few dollars at the game here and there. Typically this goes hand in hand with a F2P model. The point is to purchase in a cash shop of sorts a few extraneous objects or such that you don’t normally get with your usual account. An example of the things that are usually available in such a shop are extra character slots on the server, additional character classes or capabilities, costume items that have no effect outside of changing your appearance, experience bonus items, and so forth. Frequently the company running the game invents some sort of point system that goes with the shop. Champions Online and Star Trek Online both have their C-Store (Cryptic Store) and they take advantage of Atari Tokens. D&D Online and Lord of the Rings Online are both run by Turbine and they each have very similar shops with points named differently (DDO Points and Turbine Points, respectively). Sometimes the company running the game doesn’t even bother to do point transactions. In the case of games like Star Wars Galaxies where there’s a separate card game built into the game, you just buy booster packs and such using your credit card or whatever. Sometimes these points are easy to get (in LOTRO, you can gain Turbine Points by accomplishing deeds that award 5, 10, or 15 points and you can save them up), other times you can only get them by buying them (Star Trek Online), and still other times you can get a stipend of points per month for subscribing (D&D Online and Champions Online each offer 500 and 400 of their points per month, respectively). All in all, you’re typically not spending a lot of money at once (if at all), hence the term “microtransactions”. Me, if I like a game well enough, I’m cool with throwing twenty bucks at it (like LOTRO).

Subscriptions for MMOs have always been a touchy subject but most frequently they’re priced around fifteen dollars a month. Some games (once again, LOTRO) offer the occasional discount to ten bucks a month and a few games out there are five a month (I believe Dungeon Runners used to do this). Sometimes if you buy a bunch of months in a row (like 6 or 12) you can get a discount. $120 bucks a year changes your subscription to ten bucks a month instead of fifteen… which isn’t bad if you intend to play the game for the whole year. Like I’ve implied, subscriptions can run monthly, annually, bi-annually, or whatever. Also, some few games offer lifetime subscriptions where you pay one large lump sum (often enough to buy an XBox 360 or a PS3) for permanent subscription services for as long as the game is up. I recently acquired a lifetime subscription to Star Trek Online for the paltry sum of $300 (hah, paltry) and there’s really no difference between a normal subscription and the lifetime (except for a few nifty concessions). Once upon a time, I said (upon discovering Everquest was fifteen bucks a month) that I would only truly pay to play a Star Wars game. Well, I’ve been proven wrong (DDO, LOTRO, STO and now another SW game is coming out soon).

Admittedly, those are the primary models above, but companies love to mix and match to their own delight. A prime example of this is in what Turbine and Cryptic have  done to their games. Let’s take a look at D&D Online and then Champions Online:

D&D Online offers a free to play model. There is a cash store where you can buy points and spend said points on objects you want. There’s also a variety of subscription options (monthly, 3 months, 6 months I believe) available for those who want free access to all the restricted content that’s available for purchase in the store (more or less). Further, for those who subscribe, you gain 500 DDO points per month of your active subscription. If you allow your subscription to lapse, you downgrade to a “Premium” account which has more benefits than a regular Free account, but considerably less than a subscription. In this case, if you’re playing a class (like the Monk or Favored Soul) that is specifically given to you because of your subscription, you lose access to that character until you purchase the class in another way (via favor or money).

Champions Online has recently gone free to play. There’s a cash store where you can buy points and spend them on objects you want. They also have subscription options, but they also offer a lifetime subscription with additional benefits on top of the standard subscription. The entire game is available to play, but certain quest trees are unavailable except to those who subscribe or purchase said quest packs. For subscribers (lifetime and otherwise) you gain 400 Atari Tokens a month. If you are no longer a subscriber you revert to a “Silver Player” (as opposed to Gold) and lose access to all the things that Gold Players get specifically (you lose access to your Freeform characters and quest packs) until you subscribe again.

Personally, I’m a fan of these combination models. I feel that they appeal to wider audiences and in many cases allow people to try the games until they feel like they want to spend money on it to get the extra stuff (like me with D&D Online, Lord of the Rings Online). Champions Online is now a current favorite for me and I’m highly tempted to get a lifetime account with them.  Don’t worry, I make myself come up with three good reasons before I splurge on something so expensive.

When looking to invest in a game, it’s encouraging that so many are going free to play with subscription options. I’m certainly a fan of being able to try stuff out before buying (like test driving a car). I have a hunch that subscription-only games are going to be phased out in the future and “choose your own pricing model” games will become the business standard.

Regarding the lifetime subscriptions: personally I like to buy and not worry about things any more, hence why I’m a fan of these. Further, Star Trek Online has held a lasting appeal for me in the last six months and I felt it was a worthwhile investment. Also, STO is still a growing game. It’s been around one year (celebrated its one year anniversary the first week of February). If Galaxies had a lifetime subscription option, I’d buy it in a heartbeat.

Until next time, choose wisely so that you can have a great time!

– Elorfin

P.S. In hunting down links to put up above, I found something particularly awesome that some friends may or may not appreciate. Neverwinter.

P.P.S. I was right about the Dungeon Runners subscription. Booyah.

P.P.P.S. “Everything is worth what its purchaser will pay for it.” – Publilius Syrus

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