As the next wave of mmo’s gets ever closer the debate surround payment models seems to be a continuous conversation point In the community. It’s divisive part of a games appeal with many people claiming off a game based on its particular payment model and I don’t see this changing. There is no right way but there is one thing that has been bothering me in the debate.
Many of the subscription games claim to be premium products but it’s a rather odd phrase to still be using. In many ways games are still a luxury product and paying a subscription for them was to be this premium service. Free to play games and all their iterations were marketed as a way to contend with this premium image by providing an experience that everyone could jump in and enjoy and not just to someone willing to hand over a credit card.
The thing is I don’t think, at least in the west, that even our free to play games have really shaken off that image of being a premium product. Looking around at the cash shops in these games, and even the account management services such as server transfers the prices denote a product that is still perceived by the developers, producers, and investors as a luxury market.
Looking into the eastern market where the ftp payment model has had increased penetration in the market for many more years than the west and you can see a shift in prices to the lower end. Prices that are more about gaining a higher amount of sales from a larger proportion of players rather than going after the rich… Or as they often get called, the whales. That itself seems like a large shift in the fundamental image of what mmo’s are. There they are not a luxury that the rich get to enjoy, they are a product for everyone and I think this is why the mmo player base and the amount of mmo’s being played and developed is much larger than any other region.
In a market struggling to reach new players as well as entice more people into their next iteration of the genre it seems odd that the predominate view is still a model of a high optional cost yet this is just the same “premium” image in a different facade. It is a given that lower prices are the easiest way to entice people in and that was what the FREEE!! mantle was for a time but it really doesn’t seem to be as different as I thought.
Digital goods have become a huge part of the market now and spending money on one whether it be a pixellated outfit or a game off steam is really not so different anymore. With this though I also see people beginning to reference the cost of items against each other more often. Comparing a digital indie game like Terraria to a costume in a mmo and both having the same price is really quite ridiculous.
The perceived value of these in-game items is nowhere near as high as it used to be for me and this really has become an issue. It used to be more of a novelty and one in which I still looked highly upon but now it seems like a waste. I think I’m even starting to question exactly how costly these items are to produce; the overhead is a one off cost and there are no production costs for each item being that they are a mere collection of bytes and as such I perceive the mark up as ridiculously high.
It’s also that with the way I no longer stick around in a single game as long or as intensively as I used to these digital purchases are subject to a lot more personal scrutiny. How can I justify spending so much on an in-game item if I’m not even sure how long I’m going to be playing it for. I actually think this is a bigger issue then it appears in the general population. Three-monther is no longer an outlier for mmo’s, it is the norm and that time span is becoming less and less. Maintaining premium prices whether or not that cost is by subscription or a cash shop does little to entice people into purchasing these items or services.
The genre definitely has a long way to go before they really figure out a more inclusive payment scheme that is both beneficial to the player and developer. We are coming off a period of subscriptions into an era of cash shops but this quick shift has done little to how much these models are iterated upon. It’s sad to say as well but companies in the west seem far more risk adverse, preferring to focus on the proven data or tried systems and as such it takes much longer for the cycle to shift towards something new… that goes for the games themselves and they way they are marketed.