Further Mutterings about MMO Revenue Models

A few years back, at the height of the housing boom, we decided to move.  We listed our house at the market price for our neighborhood, and the first day on the market we got an offer for roughly 60% of what we were asking.  Somebody sensed, as we all were beginning to at that point, that the bubble was going to burst soon, and wanted to know if we were desperate.

We were not, and actually sold the house for what we were asking a couple weeks later.  But there was no possibility that we were going to come to an arrangement with the person who made that first offer.  Their offer was so insultingly low that it made it completely unlikely to be able to negotiate any deal at all.

We have a garage sale at least once a year.  Often we have two, one in the spring and one in the fall.  Just the process of finding stuff to sell helps us keep the house clear of clutter, so that our home, with the exception of my office and my daughter’s room, feels clean, open, and spacious.

We tend to put out all manner of things on the driveway for sale.  I often have a pile of books that have made it into the category of “won’t read again” out on a table.  At one garage sale I had done a big purge and had 40+ paperbacks lined up, with the asking price was 25 cents each.  Cheap enough that anybody with an interest would pick them up, and it wouldn’t kill me if I decided to give a couple away to any kid who looked like they wanted to read one.  And, as always, quantity discounts are available.

A woman, who rolled up in an expensive car, offered me a dollar for all of the books, and then started gathering them up like it was a done deal.  A dollar turned out to be exactly the right price to start a fight.

In the cold logic of hindsight, it was just an offer I could freely reject.

In the reality and emotion of the moment, it was insulting.  I started with “no” and worked my way up to using them for kindling before I would sell her one at full cover price.  Her offer stayed at a dollar throughout, leavened with sneers and insults.  But we could have stopped after our first pass through offer and rejection, as no deal was possible after that point.  I cannot imagine she thought her negotiation technique was going to be effective.  It is always interesting to meet people who are worse at interpersonal relationships than I am.

What did those two little stories have to do with anything?  We’ll get to that.  First, a foundation of words needs to be built.

With the announcement that Rift is moving from the once traditional monthly subscription model to a cash shop driven free to play model, there have been the usual range of reactions, from feelings that no good will come of this to expressions of joy at the demise of yet another monthly subscription barrier to entry.  Some people really hate the subscription idea.

My own response is somewhere in between.

Good things will come of this change.  I know that.

More people will play Rift.  It won’t make it suddenly popular with people who wouldn’t play a fantasy MMORPG in the first place.  But people who wouldn’t otherwise commit to $15 a month will want to play.

An annoying amount of words, and some irrelevant pictures, after the cut:

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Quote of the Day – Worlds and Race Tracks

You can’t live on a race track. Races tracks are for racing. You go around a few times and quit.  Why subscribe to that?

Edward Castronova, The Decline of Worlds

Ever the virtual world visionary, Professor Castronova, in the post linked above, takes a quick look at how he feels being a “world” might affect which revenue models people are willing to accept, with Star Wars: The Old Republic and EVE Online trotted out as examples.

I think this ties into another quote from him:

Being an elf doesn’t make you turn off the rational economic calculator part of your brain.

That probably works both with the subscription model as well as the in-game economy.  And it certainly applies to elf, Minmatar, and Twi’lek alike.

Do you think that the “worldliness” of an MMO impacts what revenue model will work for it?

Does this play into the “three monther” issue?

It Is September and My Subscriptions Will Soon Lapse, Should I Care?

Due to a quirk of timing, my three current, active, recurring online gaming subscriptions will all lapse in the next ten days.

Those subscriptions are:

I have a habit of subscribing in 3 month increments and then quitting a game just after the billing date passes, leading to a long lag time between cancellation and the actual end date for access.  I always start a game with an optimistic point of view.

Certainly, subscribing to EVE for 3 months based on Incarna was an act of the purist optimism.  I could have saved my money and gotten about 95% of the entertainment just watching the fireworks that ensued.  But I felt I had to be there.

SOE was the combination of getting back into EverQuest II and running around in EverQuest on the Fippy Darkpaw server.  EQII lead to quick burn-out with our guild leveling effort.  The EQ adventures were fun, and I keep thinking I want to go back, but somehow it always ends up being the 4th item on a list where I can only manage the first three.  Even now I am tempted to keep the subscription on the off chance I *might* find some time to play EQ.  But the rational part of my brain knows that there is really little chance of that happening.

And then there is World of Warcraft, which I could of sworn I cancelled back in April, but which billed me again in June and, well, there you are.  Here I was telling people I was part of the 600,000 departing players and I wasn’t.  Well I will be soon.  I saved that cancellation confirmation email just in case.

And so all of my recurring subscriptions will be gone.  Even my daughter became bored with WoW, Animal Jam, and her brief fling with Free Realms on the Mac.  Instead she now seems intent on devouring every bit of Warriors literature.  So her subscriptions as well have all lapsed.

If I had achieved that state say, five years ago, it pretty much would have meant NOT playing any MMOs.

But today?

Well, Lord of the Rings Online is an oddity, in that I have a lifetime subscription, so technically that has not lapsed, what with the game still being up and me still being alive. (Lifetime meaning their lifetime or mine.)

But the free to play options are pretty broad at this point.  Even if I did not have a lifetime subscription to LOTRO, I could still be playing it.  Likewise, because we focused on the EQII Extended server for our Norrath experience, I can still go back and play there as well.

And the options available now that do not required a credit card are wide and varied.  I have spent a good chunk of time with World of Tanks and Need for Speed World, neither of which require anything beyond account creation and a client download.

I think back to the early days of EverQuest, when there was some anxiety about thing like whether your characters would be saved if you unsubscribed from the game.  There were, if I recall right, a couple of subscription MMOs that did just that.  But now you would have to be insane to consider deleting characters, given how many players return to a game at various intervals.

In a way, EverQuest and EVE Online are hold-outs from a different time, each being available only as part of a recurring subscription plan.  Even World of Warcraft has an unlimited trial these days.  I wonder when Rift will go that route?

The world has changed, as it has a habit of doing.

Where once if I had said my subscriptions had all lapsed, I would be playing no MMOs, now it just narrows the field of choice a bit.

John Smedley on the Expectations You Can Have With a Monthly Subscription Fee

The monthly subscription fee means players can expect a lot of new content from us. And I say a lot — I really mean that. This is something that we feel obligated to the players, because they are paying monthly sub fee…”

From this DCUO post over at Massively.

I’m just going to let that hang there, something of a quote for truth thing.

It will give me something to check back on in a few months.

I’m sure nobody would disagree with that as SOE’s position on the subject.

Considering My Path Forward With EQII Extended

I have to decide tomorrow what I should do about EverQuest II Extended.  My 30 days of Station Access expires and I am not really keen to renew it.  I got to poke around in EverQuest and EverQuest II Live, where nostalgia lay.

But I spent most of my time in EverQuest II Extended, which was fun because the world actually has people in it…  people below level 50 who aren’t obviously alts being leveled up.

I had enough fun that EQIIx could very well be my “other” game.  I can generally play two MMOs at a time, swapping between them.

World of Warcraft is obviously going to be one of them, what with the expansion and the instance group reforming yet again in Azeroth.  And while I figured that Lord of the Rings Online would be the secondary game, we did have a good run with it over the summer and I could probably let it rest for a while.  After all, I am a lifetime subscriber, so it will wait.

So I might stick with EQIIx for a while.  But that leads to the subscription options… and there are a few.

Now, of course, there is a downside.  I often have fun with the 1-40 levels.  I have a lot of characters in various games who got to 40 or so, who were then were replaced with a fresh new alt… or with a new game altogether.  So I am uncertain how “sticky” the game will be for me.

That is compounded by the fact that I have yet to bump into anybody I know.  There is no guild of old friends or acquaintances, no pals looking to form any sort of regular group, just a bunch of strangers so far.

Granted, lots of them.

And I am sure many of them are very nice.  And while I have grouped up a few times, I do tend to shy away from guilds that have such low standards that they would actually invite me.  At least sight unseen.

With all that in mind I am going to put up a poll (we all love polls, right?) and ask for opinions.

For those that aren’t up to speed on the various options, here is the membership grid yet again.

The account level matrix

The only thing missing from the grid is Station Access, which gives you a Gold level membership, but also allows you to play other SOE games.   however, it comes at double the price of a Gold membership, so you really had better be playing two or more SOE games if you go that route.  (And I’m not sure if I would get free vampires in EQII Live and EQIIx if I kept Station Access.)

In Defense of the New EQII Subscription Plan

Total rip off. 1/3 the price for 1/10 of the access? That’s horrendous.

-Dave, in a comment on my post about the new EQII subscription plan

Not that I am picking on Dave, but he does succinctly state what people seem to be objecting to when it comes to SOE’s new subscription plan for EverQuest II, the EQII Passport.

Sethial, in another comment on that post, calculated out that the cost per day of a normal subscription is 50 cents while with this new plan it is $1.66.  Again, a seeming blow against this offering.

Certainly, looking at in a raw numbers way as above, this subscription plan does not seem like a good deal.

So I want to approach this via analogy.

Okay, stop groaning!  This will be a pretty apt analogy, not some sparkle pony bizzaro world dream analogy.

I used to have a cell phone for which I paid $35 a month.

For that $35 a month, which included all taxes, fees, and whatnot, I got 1000 minutes of air time.  So the cost per minute of air time was 3.5 cents.  This was also in the days before minutes rolled over, so when the billing cycle was up, any unused minutes went away.

I gave up that cell phone and its plan for a pre-paid cell phone that charges me 25 cents a minute for calls.  That is a little over seven times the cost per minute of my old plan.

The problem for me was, in looking over my phone bills for a six month period of time, I was using about seven minutes of air time a month.  Seven minutes.

So my calls on the old phone were actually costing me five dollars per minute.

The pre-paid phone was clearly a better deal for somebody like me who is almost always seated within reasonable proximity of a land line telephone.

And so, while I am sure there are people out there who log on to EverQuest II every single day and who, thus, are really paying 50 cents a day for their play time, I am equally as sure that there are people out there who only log on a few days a month and who are probably effectively paying, per day, something very close to this new plan.

The price per day measure is interesting, but only works out if you’re using every single day, the way that first cell phone plan would have only worked out for me if I was using a lot more minutes than I was.

An all-you-can-eat plan isn’t a good deal if you’re not hungry or on a diet.  One size, and I speak as somebody who is 6’3″ tall when he stands up straight, rarely ever fits all.

That said, I still find the “three consecutive days” clause to be a deal-killer for me.  Perhaps if I was in a group that could coordinate and have a monthly EQII weekend it might tempt me.  But for general use, the consecutive days just axes the appeal.  I’d like to see somebody from SOE explain why they chose that particular restriction.

Still, as I said, I am glad that SOE is offering something new, and I am sure that somebody out there who will read about this new plan and think it is right for them.

Cheers to SOE for a New Subscription Option!

Massively reported that Sony Online Entertainment is offering a new subscription option for EverQuest II players.

And I am sure that some of us are thinking, “About freakin’ time!”  I was agitating for something new almost four years ago.

Not that SOE hasn’t been a leader in the subscription alternatives field, what with Station Access.

Okay, the subscription options field isn’t so big, so you don’t have to do much to be the leader.  Just offer something other than a $15 a month plan with discounts for larger time frames and you’re beating the industry standard.

But here they have stepped up and done something new.

The new plan is called the EQII Passport and the site for it is here.

The essence is that for five dollars a month you can have three consecutive days of play in EverQuest II per month.

Now the first part is easy.  I like that part.

Five dollars isn’t so bad if you want to keep your account active to count towards veteran rewards or if you really only play one weekend a month.

It is the second part that trips me up a bit.


The “three days” part sounds fine, it is the consecutive part that puts a damper on my enthusiasm.

I suppose the fact that I started my online gaming career on GEnie where the billed in six second increments (and five dollars would get you just an hour of play) that I start scratching my head and wondering at the “consecutive days” aspect of this offer.  Why that limitation?  The technology for keeping track of non-consecutive time cannot be that onerous a task to deal with.

Because if the deal was 36 hours of play over a 30-day billing period, I would probably jump right on it.  Even three individual, consecutive or not, days would be a serious temptation.

But for EQII these days, I would be more likely to play on a Sunday afternoon and then not want to play again until the following weekend.

The next two consecutive days would then go to waste, effectively leaving me with one day of play per month.

So it does not sound like the subscription plan that will get me back into EverQuest II.  But I am sure that, for somebody, this will be the right plan.

Still, as I said, I am glad to see somebody out there trying.

How about you?  Would this subscription plan tempt you back to EQII?  Would you like to see this sort of plan in another game?  EVE Online comes to mind here for me.

The Convergence of WoW and WebKinz

I’ve mentioned WebKinz before.

It has been a couple of years, but it still gets some attention at our house.  In fact my daughter HAD to have a new WebKinz plush toy for Christmas this past year.

She had to have it because that is the basis of the traditional WebKinz subscription plan.  When you buy a WebKinz toy, you get a year-long subscription to their online world.  In that world, you take a virtual representation of your real life plush pal and build them a home, furnish it, and play games alone or with other people.

So it wasn’t a stretch to make a connection with WebKinz when Bilzzard announced that they would be selling plush toys that would get you an in-game pet as well.


Tangible toy with a virtual world representation:  My daughter expressed a desire right away for the plush gryphon hatchling.

The funny thing is that WebKinz is moving a bit towards WoW’s business model with Deluxe memberships.


Deluxe memberships are below the monthly Club Penguin ($6) or Toontown Online ($10) price range, running about $5 a month if purchased in the smallest increment.  That said, WebKinz is also much less of a virtual world than either of the two competitors I mentioned. (And we’ve had all three running at our house at various times.)

The one really nice thing that WebKinz has in their subscription plan matrix is a family membership.  Only available as an annual subscription, it gives you up to five accounts.  I wish Blizzard would look into some sort of family package.

And while I’m on the topic of mixing up real and virtual versions of in-game items, I thought I would mention that Figure Prints has announced the third in their series of in-game companion pet models.

Companion Pets - Series 3

Having posted about the first and second installments in the series, I would have to say that this is perhaps the best set so far, though I’m still not laying down any cash for them.  But if you have to have them, they are only available through March 31st.

People who are not fans of the cash shop trend we’re seeing in subscription MMOs will probably enjoy the irony of the Pandaren Monk pet being part of this series.  You have to buy that pet from the Blizzard Store, and then you can turn around and buy it again from Figure Prints.

Pushing for Numbers?

It was announced recently that on November 16, 2007 at 13:59 GMT, EVE Online passed the 200,000 subscriber mark.  A notable  achievement for a game that has continued to grow since its slow launch back in 2003.  You can see a posting here about it from CCP Kieron.

But I have to wonder what the makeup of the recent subscribers is.

More than a month before the 200,000 subscriber mark was hit, CCP ran their “Feel The Power of 2” campaign, where any current subscriber could get a second account for the bargain price of $49.95 for a six month subscription.  A campaign that was supposed to originally end on November 4th, but which got extended to November 20th.  That extension ran just long enough for the 200,000 subscriber mark to be hit.

Which, of course, raises the question I alluded to above: How many of the recent subscribers are conversions from 14-Day trial accounts and how many of them are “Feel the Power of 2″ add-on accounts?

Not that selling to your installed base is a bad thing.  It is a popular and lucrative practice in most industries.  But how sticky will those second accounts be?

As part of the announcement CCP said that their next goals were 50,000 players in game simultaneously (the last record I saw was 37,481 on at once) and 300,000 subscriptions.  But will the “Feel the Power of 2″ accounts stay active on the whole after the six month special has passed and the $14.99 a month reality kicks in?  Or will this lead to a dip in subscriptions when the time runs out on the special pricing?

And will the Trinity upgrades, which are bound to make the game more CPU and GPU intensive, influence this by making two-boxing manageable on a smaller populations of player machines?

Since I do not know of another MMO that has pushed two-boxing with a deal like CCP’s, they may very well be breaking new ground again by merely finding out the answer in six months time.