Thursday, June 16, 2011

Subscription based games getting greedy with additional fees/services

MMOs have enjoyed a great advantage over other types PC games during the last decade. As piracy became easier and sales numbers started to fall, game developers started to put less emphasis on the PC market. A lot of game studios decided to pay licensing fees to the major consoles and the aisle at Best Buy for PC games shrunk. However, if you look at that last aisle of PC games you'll notice that a good portion of the remaining ones belong to either the FPS or MMO genre. Both genres depend on rich multi-player environments to supplement the main game play and this keeps players engaged. Traditionally, MMOs was the only genre that charged monthly for this feature, but first person shooters are starting to change as they chase a "service" model.

Activision has been in the gaming news a lot because of their plan to add a subscription service onto the Call of Duty franchise. They don't have the complete list of neat features you get compared to the normal version yet, but they seem to be following in Blizzard's footsteps. Namely, a lot of mobile applications that give you access to stats and parts of the game while offline. Call of Duty may not have an auction house, but I'm sure Activision can find something similarly vital that would benefit from mobile access. I'm not exactly a fan of this model, but it does seem to be in vogue with content companies lately. Hulu even uses it to sell their Hulu Plus subscription service.

So why are game companies so in love with switching everything over to a service model? Cause it's much more profitable. I'll give you an example. Most cable providers offer phone service which they try to sneak into cable television packages. In general it costs about 30$ a month to use. However, anyone with some Internet know-how could use an alternative voip product like Google Voice, Skype, or hell even Magic Jack and pay considerably less. However, cable companies are the gate keepers in this scenario and this gives them a lot of power to push/advertise their service. It's like how EverQuest used to bug you to buy stuff whenever you logged into the game. It's the core reason why some people want Net Neutrality. It certainly doesn't take a genius to calculate how much an overpriced service sold to a captive audience can make, just look at the cost of traditional text messages.

The one reason I was always been a fan of the plain old subscription model for MMOs was that I felt it was easier to keep track of costs. I know how nickle and dimeing works since I grew up when most malls still had arcades. You've never seen money disappear so fast. This has kind of influenced me away from Free2Play games, but I'm starting to change my mind. Subscription MMO's are getting to be almost as bad as Free2Play games with World of Warcraft leading the pack. Services to move/rename/faction change your characters? Planned services to allow cross server grouping with friends? Most of these services just allow you to get around artificial barriers put in place by the game developers in the first place. No different from item shops in Free2Play games which sell teleports or double experience potions. Worse even since they already have you on the hook for the base subscription fee.

It's enough to make me really look forward to a MMO like Guild Wars 2 which will just has the flat cost of the box. How old fashion!!! I always thought the subscription model wouldn't influence game design like item shops do in Free2Play games. However, it's starting to look like that's becoming less true. Maybe in time for the next WoW expansion they can have an gold membership elite plus service that gives your priority access to the instance queues. It sounds cynical and far fetched, but it wouldn't surprise me. Anyways, I'm going to try out Spiral Knights on Steam and hopefully learn to appreciate something that doesn't try to hide the nickle and dimeing.

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Personally, to make my game account safer, usually I don't subscript to any website.
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