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SOE All Access Changes… yet again… And the Future January 7, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, entertainment, EverQuest, EverQuest II, Sony Online Entertainment.
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Last Friday SOE announced changes for SOE All Access and Gold subscribers.  Come February SOE was going to take away the 500 Station Cash stipend for those accounts, replacing it with the ability to purchase a single Station Cash Store item with a value up to 2,000 SC per month.

Once known as Station Access...

Once known as Station Access…

This did not get a lot of positive response.  The loudest group of people appear to like to accrue Station Cash, not be given a single “use it or lose it” purchase.  And there was the usual concern that nobody would buy anything small with the 2,000 SC single buy because that would “waste” SC.

Smed went on Reddit and talked about why they did this and what else they might do.  The most interesting among the reasons for me was this:

Second – it helps us deal with some internal issues regarding accrual of balances of SC for people who aren’t playing or spending. There are a lot of people who play and have SC in their wallets and don’t spend it ever.. this accrues over time and it’s a problem.

Now, he said that was not the most important reason, but it was a driving factor for this move.  However, the fact that the first reason he gave, that people feel that 500 SC a month isn’t enough to buy anything, turned out to be largely incorrect based on feedback might be seen to move the second reason up to first place.

You might reasonably think that, especially since SOE has been working hard to dig themselves out of their Station Cash monetary problems.  They weren’t exactly Greece-like in scale, but SOE certainly wasn’t anywhere as sound as Germany either, to push a metaphor.

He also mentioned that they were thinking of making SOE All Access, formerly Station Access, available for just $14.99 a month.  At least the All Access Subscribers would be happy.

Then, late yesterday, the latest revision broke.  It is described as “not baked yet” but where SOE’s “head is at” on the subject.  Full details over at EQ2Wire, but the basics are:

  • SOE All Access is $14.99, gives you access to all SOE games.  All subscriptions will be converted to SOE All Access
  • The 500 SC monthly stipend is back, though you have to log in to collect
  • Something vague about European players and PS3/PS4 titles

So that is where we stand today.

This is one of those things where, if SOE had started with this deal, they would have been heroes.  But now, a couple of iterations in… and with things still not set in stone… I sort of want to say “SOE WTF?”  Being a responsive company is good… but tossing out plans that appear not to have been thought through fully and then changing your mind in public after your user base complains loudly?  That seems to be just a way to train players to complain early and often.  As we saw in EVE Online after Incarna, every dolt with a gripe against CCP now goes straight to “shoot the monument in Jita!” because that worked once.  Loudly complaining about SOE has worked… how many times now?  (Note the graphic Feldon chose to use for the EQ2 Wire post linked above.)

Clearly SOE’s stated primary premise for the change was wrong for at least the loudest portion of their audience.  I know I would rather accrue 500 SC a month than be given a “use it or lose it” monthly purchase, which came with its own set of terms and restrictions. (No Player Studio items at one point.)  This strikes me as the sort of option that seems like a good idea after a couple of hours in a conference room; what I call the “sensory deprivation chamber” decision.  Seems fine until you show it to the first person who wasn’t in the room, who should immediately point out the state of the emperor’s casual wear.

Their so-called secondary reason, that people accruing Station Cash is a problem for SOE, still strikes me as the only business reason for this move, and thus more important than Smed made out.  And I guess making people log in to collect once a month will slow down some people who just leave their accounts active but don’t play.  It won’t stop obsessives like me… I log into LOTRO once a month when not active just to get my 500 Turbine Points… but it will serve to punish a class of people who give SOE money for nothing.

And it is interesting to see where SOE All Access has landed in pricing.  It started out as Station Access, a $21.99 option, way back in 2004, jumping to $24.99 as time went on. Station Access peaked in price in 2007 when the price was jacked up to $29.99 a month.  That made it a penny more expensive than just having subscriptions to two SOE games on the face of it, and you could widen that gap considerably with the 3, 6, or 12 month subscription options, which were discounted for individual games but not for Station Access.  Complaints about the price change then didn’t seem to register with SOE.

Then, about two and a half years back, SOE renamed the package to SOE All Access and dropped the price to $19.99 a month, making it a good deal again for people who play multiple SOE games.  Of course, in the age of Free to Play, $30 a month was not a tenable position to hold.

And now here we are, about to say farewell to individual subscriptions to SOE games as SOE All Access drops in price to $14.99 a month.

In the end, I think this could be SOE stepping into the future of PC online gaming.  As Micosoft has their Xbox Live and PlayStation has… whatever it has… I own a PS3 and couldn’t tell you… so the PC online gaming market seems likely to move towards similar deals, where a monthly fee will give players access to bundles of games and benefits.

Actually, SOE lead on that, with Station Access back in 2004, then lost their way for a bit.

And I suspect we will see other companies that focus on online games follow suit.  Blizzard already offers benefits across games when you pre-order or go for the collector’s edition of one of their titles.  And one of my predictions for 2014 is that Blizz will give WoW subscribers some tangible benefit in Hearthstone.  That could lead the way to a Blizzard-wide subscription plan that gave you access and benefits across their Battle.net titles.

How about you?  SOE’s stumbles aside, do you think XBox-live like cross-catalog subscriptions are a coming thing in the PC online gaming world?

Addendum: This looks like it might be the topic of the day, so I’ll link out to others commenting on it.

Comments»

1. Telwyn - January 7, 2014

Nice analysis on the pricing history. It’s certainly a preemptive strike to keep SOE game fans on-board for keeping their subscription although as you state the way this was handled was pretty poor.

I don’t see Windows Live (analogue of Xbox Live) will have the same traction but then perhaps that’s just because Microsoft don’t make MMOs so I’m ignorant of their games for the most part…

2. pkudude99 - January 7, 2014

I was playing EQ2 and SWG when they did All Access initially. Swapping to it got me 5 additional character slots in EQ2 and let me pop into Vanguard occasionally if I felt like it too. Was a great deal. Even after increasing it to $29.99 it was still an okay deal for me, but I eventually drifted out of SOE’s stable. Currently I’m not playing any SOE games at all, so…. if I ever go back to SOE, I’ll do this station pass thing… perhaps with EQN? We shall see. As it is, it’s not enough to entice me back.

3. Wilhelm Arcturus - January 7, 2014

@pkudude99 – And therein lies the hard truth, that at the end of the day, price is less of a motivator to play games than how much you enjoy them.

I too ran with Station Access for years, back when EQII only gave you a couple of character slots and SA was the only way to get more. I didn’t even play any other SOE games besides EQII, and was apparently willing to pay $21.99/month to play it. And I think I even paid the extra $1.99 for the online achievement/character listing thing.

In the end, I think anybody who quits playing a game because of changes like SOE was proposing was likely done with the game in any case.

4. SynCaine - January 7, 2014

The all access thing always struck me as encouraging your players to never get fully invested in one MMO, so in a way SOE is burning themselves here. Which, well, that’s kinda what they do, so just another day at SOE.

5. Jenks - January 7, 2014

Wait.

They are going to give you the 500 spacebucks, but only if you log in…
So we can we reasonably conclude that there are people who forgot to cancel their SOE subs, who are paying $20/15 a month and not playing anything, who are in return getting 500 spacebucks, and SOE needs to fix that situation? Are they fucking kidding? That’s the problem they need to fix? People accidentally paying them $15 a month and using zero of their resources, are going to decide to play EQ2 and be able to buy some stupid tiger mount and an xp boost and pink hair? They’ll be deprived of all that revenue, ignoring the $15/mo they’ve been basically stealing from people no longer using their service?

Am I missing something here? That’s seriously the problem?

6. Wilhelm Arcturus - January 7, 2014

@Jenks – I would love to see numbers on the amount of people subscribing to a given game who stop logging in over time. I suspect that they are not insignificant. In our group, Earl has been subscribed to WoW for the entire duration of the instance group, despite us taking long breaks from it.

As for SOE and their spacebucks… yes, they appear to believe this to be a problem, people accruing masses of spacebucks. I would not be surprised to find that, for accounting and tax purposes, spacebucks count as a liability on their balance sheet until the end user spends them, the way gift cards do for Target and Wal-Mart. The company has your money, but can’t count it as revenue until they have given you something for it. Given the minimal-in-the-extreme per unit cost of good sold for Station Cash items, that might add up on somebody’s spreadsheet into a big net profit margin… for internal accounting anyway.

That is all conjecture of course. But I have seen companies get really wound up around such things. I was on a big deal once that never went through because it required the cooperation of two divisions, each of who wanted to charge the other division outrageous rates to meet internal goals. So the company as a whole missed a deal that would have boosted the overall bottom line because we couldn’t agree on rates and margins between internal groups.

7. Jenks - January 7, 2014

The moral/ethical thing to do would be to email those customers to remind them that their subscription is still active even though they have not used it in x months.

The exact opposite thing to do would be to cease the benefits of the subscription and go into a sort of silent/stealth mode so that the ‘customer’ continues paying $15 a month for absolutely nothing.

This industry is awesome

8. SynCaine - January 7, 2014

Jenks I’m stealing your comment as a blog post. Thanks in advance!

9. SOE being SOE, take 9431 | Hardcore Casual - January 7, 2014

[…] Jenks at TAGN about SOE’s latest bout with logic: […]

10. Mekhios - January 7, 2014

I had 17,000+ station cash accrued from my Planetside 2 account. It was a nice little bonus as I started playing PS2 seriously for the last 3 months after a long absence. Many of the cash shop options in PS2 are less than 500 SC so the monthly accrual was a great idea.

My fellow clanmates were very angry at the 2000 point spend option and were threatening to cancel their subscriptions. Most of the PS2 community was threatening the same.

11. bhagpuss - January 7, 2014

As I’ve said countless times, I liken paying a subscription to paying club dues. You may never use the club but you are paying for the knowledge that if you ever did happen to want to use it, you could.

Also, as I just posted on my own blog, for those of us in the appropriate geographical territories with Access accounts accounts that pre-existed the reviled PSS1 deal, maintaining them was the only hedge against finding oneself, at some future point, in a position where we’d have to give payment information to the German media giant.

Some people clearly considered that a price worth paying.

Also, re Jenks comment, I’d have thought that anyone failing to notice the line on their bank statement every month saying they were paying SOE $19.99 probably wouldn’t notice an email either. I can tell you from experience I’ve spoken to plenty of customers who’d paid for something they couldn’t remember buying and neither wanted to come collect it or have their money back when they were reminded. Money doesn’t mean that much to people who have plenty, or to some of them at least.

12. Telwyn - January 8, 2014

I remained subscribed to WoW at least a year after I’d stopped playing regularly, mainly so I could log in occasionally to play with friends. The chance of the odd fun gaming session with friends I do not get to see in real life that often was worth that. However nowadays I’m more in the ‘sub then unsub’ group, I only remain subbed to a game while I’m actively playing it – the friends I used to meet in WoW I can now meet in SWTOR/GW2 etc without having to shell out a monthly fee…

13. SOE and the All-you-can-eat MMO Buffet. Are we afraid yet? | MMO Gypsy – Wandering online Worlds - January 8, 2014

[…] almost old news now, SOE and their single-subscription plans for all players. You can head over to Wilhelm’s for a roundup of what that means and why they’re doing it and check the other, related […]

14. pkudude99 - January 9, 2014

Real-world example taken to an extreme:

http://sobadsogood.com/2014/01/02/remarkable-untouched-1942-apartment-discovered-in-paris/

Lady paid rent on an apartment in Paris from whenever she 1st moved in until 2010 when she died, and yet never set foot in it since 1942 when she fled the Nazi advance.

Or Axl Rose paid for an apartment in Manhattan for 2 years and never set foot in the place. http://todaynewsgazette.com/landlord-axl-rose/

So it doesn’t just happen in MMO subs ;-)

15. Wilhelm Arcturus - January 9, 2014

@pkudude99 – But was that Paris apartment rent controlled? Heh.

16. pkudude99 - January 9, 2014

Catching up on various blogs today, and from EQ2Wire yesterday (http://eq2wire.com/2014/01/07/smedley-delves-into-reasons-for-subscription-changes-mostly-accounts-and-tax-laws/), Smed said this:

“Sadly accountants around the world have decided (starting with the IRS) that the accounting for virtual items is done not even when we sell you the item (in most cases). If a person tops up $100 in their wallet…. and then promptly spend $50 of it… we can’t even recognize that $50 in the month we sell the items. we have to spread it over the expected lifetime of the player (yes we still have the cash). That’s actually how the accounting for these things works. And that extra $50 if it’s never spent sits on our books.

For those of you that think this method of accounting seems backwards… it is. I agree with you. The irony here is more and more states are starting to charge sales tax on virtual items.

Imagine this scenario – we don’t have to imagine btw.. we live it.

Same guy as above spends $100 to top up SC in Texas (one of the states that implemented this early).

He waits a year before he spends it because maybe he’s overseas on duty or something. We have to remit the sales tax on that $100 but we are unable to recognize any of that revenue until it’s spent.”

17. Wilhelm Arcturus - January 9, 2014

@pkudude99 – Yeah, I have the post at EQ2Wire linked at the end of the post above. And the people discussing it here got into it over at SynCaine’s as well. Fun stuff, revenue recognition.


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