The subscription MMO is back for a new generation it seems. The Elder Scrolls has already been rumored to follow a PtP model and now the other hotness, Wildstar is climbing on board as well and I couldn’t be more relieved. I’ve tried a lot of apparently free MMO’s and I am always turned off by the inherent restrictions placed in them, the lack of that community feel, the development focus on whales instead of worlds, and at times the extreme cost to have a working title and experience you enjoy. Of course they need to make money but there are easy ways to do it and ways that are better for the consumer and publisher alike.
It’s interesting the opinions that have been raging on in the forums and websites about it at the moment as people’s opinions range so widely. The one opinion I just don’t get are people claiming they will never play Wildstar now that it is a PtP game. To me that says you really had no interest in it in the first place and being free was just your way of playing it for a week then bugger off to the next shiny. As a service that is aiming for long-term customers and not just players is that really a good demographic to aim for. It seems over the years now that free to play gaming has kind of been a corruptive force on mmo habits in general, and now it is getting a bit out of hand.
I hear that every mmo should be ftp now but that doesn’t seem right. Not every MMO or online game is suited to being FtP, just as everyone is not suited to being a PtP title either. It depends on the game and the audience to a certain degree and having everything as free for a while does get a bit limiting on the experience. It also kind of defeats the purpose of being free as a way of gaining players interest if every single one is free. I think time is a more important factor than that small amount of money a lot of the time but in the end it always comes down to quality, if you like the game your going to spend money on it that is pretty much a given. Knowing if your going to like a game can be an issue as we want value for money but usually you have some sort of idea if your going to like it beforehand. If not, well there is always Youtube and a plethora of opinions out there.
I don’t think free to play is the more profitable model either unless your game has already flopped after the initial rush and those few months of decline. Comparing the profits of a sub release to its FtP transition is usually in favour of the subscritption. Subscription MMO’s dying is often to do with quality, the quicker the decline the worse it is. This can apply to ftp MMO’s as well although due to not having the box sales to recoup an investment this is arguably the more dangerous model to choose as you are at the mercy of the players. Look at Defiance and how the entire studio was cannibalized after release, or even Neverwinter.
Even looking at the buy to play model I don’t believe it is the better choice during that initial release period. Doing a bit of Speculation surrounding the GW2 release and NC soft earnings reports it seems while being a good way to recoup development costs it isn’t that good after that initial sales rush. There was a 58 million cost difference between the total NCsoft earnings and the parent company so I’m assuming this is the cost for both Arenanet and Carbine studios. I would assume for an in development MMO Wildstar may be incurring more of that cost, and I would also assume this total may be hiding certain other projects so maybe a 10million conservative estimate considering the operating costs of an mmo studio. This seems a likely number to start from although it is probably higher considering the size of Arenanets team (is it still 200+) and the amount of updates. Considering they made 28 million this quarter that doesn’t seem like a very high number and leaves them with around 18 million profit, a number which as time goes on is declining. NCsoft also received 20 million in royalties this quarter, I would have to guess some of this is coming from Arenanet and that shrinks the profit margin even further.
When you look at their earnings compared to say what you would earn from a sub the count is not very good either. During Q1 the gross profit equals up to around 800k subs, usually in those several months after release this number is much much higher. I think Star Wars had around 1.5 million for that first quarter. I even think Rift had around that and it was a smaller MMO from a smaller company. Coming into the second quarter of 2013 it’s down to 600k subs. For a Subscription MMO they would be thinking about a free to play transition by now but there is no where left to go for Guild Wars 2.
Going by the difference in expenses between the total and just for the parent company in 2011 to 2012 ( 300 million+ ), and also speculating on the overhead of a large studio in terms of wages I’m guessing GW2 wasn’t exactly a cheap project either… well not as cheap as people think anyway. While they definitely made the development costs back from the initial surge I don’t think it was as much as they wanted. Then added to that the low quarterly profits and I don’t think Guild wars is as profitable to run as it would seem, especially when comparing it to the consistent funds of a subscription MMO after release. I would argue that Arenanet and Guild Wars 2 would be in a much better position now financially, and in terms of improvements if it had been a subscription MMO. I’m quite sure that rift would have never ended up as it is now if it had gone ftp from the onset, that payment model just doesn’t seem to have a high profit margin to make the amount of updates it received post release.
Is this an issue for the company, and why many of the services like bandwidth and services are cut so thin and stretched to far. Is it why we only ever really see a focus on one aspect of the game to the detriment of all others during each major updates (speaking as a wvw player there).In the wake of this report Wildstar, and Carbines announcement as a subsidiary company of NCsoft doesn’t surprise me then after considering they’re one huge money-maker is a 10 year old subscription MMO, it’s arguably their most profitable mmo. It’s a given that companies opions have changed a little in recent times regarding FtP but I’m guessing even they see the transient nature of the playerbase in a ftp title compared to the consistent profits of a sub.
Future of Wildstar
I believe in the MMO subscription more so than I do any sort of hybrid payment scheme that isn’t in a moba. If the quality and content is there then I know Wildstar will do fine during it’s initial honeymoon season and for about a year after, then get a nice big kick when they go ftp – that’s a smart business plan in this day and age. The part of this announcement that has me worried though is that Wildstar will now be releasing around the same time as both Everquest Next, Elder Scrolls online and possibly Archeage. Subscriptions do seem to be a barrier to entry but if there is nothing else of interest competing with it players will dip in regardless…and then mostly stay for longer and the company earns more. Now with the lack of any big titles it would have been a pretty big success, in a crowded marketplace it does become a tougher choice and the free title might win out in the short run (or longer if it is a better product).
I think that could be avoided though and keep the subscription if Wildstar has a proper trial period as mostly a ftp is about letting players see and play the game enough that they want to play more and spend money. Most times a subscription and box price are only limiting because players don’t want to take the risk of wasting their money. If they get to try it fully first and like it well you’ve got a sale. A week of play would be good to have, this could be an extended open beta of sorts or more like EvE where you get a week for registering an account. It could be hour based, or a wild suggestion would be to give trial players s a max level character later on to play with friends a bit later after release.
Here’s hoping for a future with more diverse payment models than the everything must go bargain basement carpet sale it’s been lately.