On Perks and Paying More

While I was away last week I saw a dev post come up in the EverQuest forums (I subscribe to the dev post feed in Feedly and, while it delivers a lot of garbage… you get every reply to a dev started topic… it does pop up something interesting now and then) about a new monetization scheme for the game.

Not being able to write about them at the time, I forwarded a link over to Bhagpuss who put together his own post about the idea.

As he noted straight off these “Perks,” as Daybreak has branded them, are not really perks at all.  “Perk” comes from “perquisite” and is generally something you’re entitled to already, not something for which you have to pay.

Poor naming choices aside, I was kind of interested to see another attempt to bring in more money for an older title, because I was on a bit earlier this year about how the price of just about everything has gone up over the last 15 years, and yet somehow we’re still paying $15 a month for subscriptions.

Daybreak subscriber prices

The response to that was… not positive if you were an MMO developer.  Massively OP picked up the idea and their staff responded mostly against the idea of subscriptions being more (that was back in May, but their answers didn’t change much when they did the same question yesterday), while the comments were vehemently against any such thing, with a theme of “I want more if I am going to pay more” appearing.

And I get that as a gut reaction, but any attempt to go deeper seems to get met by the “greedy developers” trope that is so common.  Think about the answer I would get from the family that runs the Thai restaurant down the road using the same argument.  Twenty years back a standard entree was $6.95, these days it is $17.95.  Should I expect to get more for the extra I am paying?  Are they greedy restaurateurs, pocketing that largess?

We know that isn’t how it works.

There are other factors of course.  MMOs do not exist in a void and, as I mentioned in my post, we have been conditioned over time by the idea that tech should get cheaper and not more expensive.  But even Moore’s Law has to adjust for inflation.  And these days a lot more things are demanding a subscription, from Microsoft Office to Netflix to XBox Live, all of which influence our sense of value.

So when the Perks announcement came along, I was interested to see how they would be received.  These were, after all, optional items that delivered extra value for the price, and very close to what the current darling MMORPG, FFXIV does with retainers.  So who could possibly object?

Everybody?  Is that the answer I am looking for?

I suppose the coverage of the plan didn’t help.  Over at Massively OP they opened with the greed dog whistle by asking, “How can Daybreak milk even more money out of subscribers?”

I mean, unless I am missing some positive connotation for “milking” in this situation.

The comments naturally follow that lead, with a lone outlier mentioning FFXIV.

Over at MMO Fallout the tone was less overtly hostiles, though sarcasm was clearly in evidence at the idea of a subscription on top of your subscription.

The utility, or lack thereof, was barely up for debate.  The news story was “greedy devs at it again.”

Which, as noted, is ironic not only because of FFXIV, but also because this would not be anywhere close to the first time that the company that was once SOE offered and extra subscription option for additional stuff.  Those with long memories may recall that EverQuest II has such an extra at launch, offering access to their special players site for $2.99 a month.  There were also a special GM driven events server that had an extra monthly toll to play on.  And Station Access, the one subscription plan for multiple games, started off life as an extra cost option that offered perks, including extra character slots, which were enough to prompt many of the people in our guild back then to pay the price even though they were not going to run off and play EverQuest or PlanetSide.

Fine, whatever.  If we won’t pay more for a subscription, or even tolerate the idea of optional extra subscriptions, then I’ll just assume everybody is happy with cash shop monetization.  That must be true, right?  People certainly are not out there clamoring for the return to a subscription only model in order to banish the horrors of cash shop monetization.

Oh, wait.

We won’t pay any more for a subscription, hate the cash shop, and complain that studios won’t risk millions to make something new, betting instead on franchises and sustaining already profitable titles.

We’ll see how that works out in the long term.  But I’ll be investing in popcorn futures when Playable Worlds announces the monetization scheme for their metaverse project.  The things Raph wrote about just yesterday don’t come for free.  There is a lot of upside to the thin client idea, but it has to do the processing that the server normally does plus the work you desktop does as well, and somebody will need to play the bill for both.

Of course, it is possible that people say they won’t pay more… until they have to.  It is hard to judge the price elasticity of subscriptions without somebody challenging the $15/month meta.  If a game could go to $20 a month and keep the same number of subscribers, they do it.  They’d also drop to $10 if they knew they would double their subscriber base.  But nobody is willing to bet their game on that just yet.

4 thoughts on “On Perks and Paying More

  1. bhagpuss

    I think the “Perks” look like reasonably good value for a regular EQ player. I don’t play enough for it to be worth my while getting any of them but if the option arrives in EQII I’ll certainly consider it.

    Of course, Daybreak could give every subscriber a $50 rebate and MassivelyOP would somehow manage to spin it into a scam. There was a brief break in the hate cloud over there when EG7 appeared but now Ji Ham is back the skies have gone dark again. As you point out, none of this is remotely new and it mirrors the exact same practices in other mmos but some developers can do no wrong and others no right, apparently, even when they’re doing the exact same thing.

    The ironic thing is, had Darkpaw just put these options into the cash shop as packages and not sent out a press release about it, no-one would have given a hoot. They have the capacity to send emails directly to subscribers (I just got one about the new expansion) so since there’s virtually no chance anyone else has a genuine interest, if I was in their marketing department I’d suggest using direct contact for anything like this in the future. No need riling the rabid dogs any more than usual.

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  2. Par Menio

    As someone with a job and who understands inflation, I would prefer to pay $30-50/month for a subscription and eliminate all the pay to win stuff. The market is clearly not on my side though. People vote with their wallets and they vote for cash shops and PTW over the subscription model. Everyone complaining about it sounds like old men whining that those new fangled automobiles are crowding out good ol’ horses. It’s what people want.

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  3. kiantremayne

    I think the question is whether this is a case of “let’s ask for more money because we think players will cough up more” because it’s only good business sense not to leave money on the table, or is it “oh shit we can’t afford to keep providing a service at the current price” and the perks are a thinly disguised increase in sub price because whilst Daybreak daren’t be the first to raise sub price, it’s that or go bust.

    My suspicion is that back in the golden age of MMOs, $15 per month was way, WAY more than the operating costs per user, so even a game with a couple of hundred thousand subscribers was highly profitable and having a million or more was a money-printing machine. Inflation has eroded that margin, but only the finance guys at the studios know whether it’s down to “still worthwhile” or “can’t pay the bills on $15 subs” levels. The thing is, very few MMOs now are dependent on the subs. WoW sells race changes and server transfers, I believe FFXIV has some paid extras, ESO has an extensive cash shop full of houses, cosmetics and some in-game conveniences in addition to a sub (which is optional, but highly advised). I suspect Daybreak are the last outlier in terms of being at the mercy of the immutable $15 subscription.

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  4. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @kiantremayne – I am struggling a bit to parse what you have written. I would argue vehemently against the idea that two of the titles you mentioned, WoW and FFXIV, are anything but completely dependent on subscriptions for revenue. If your title requires a subscription to play, then you’re pretty much on board with that as a primary revenue stream.

    They both dip into other revenue streams, but player services has always been priced more to keep people from abusing them than to make them a revenue stream. (Level boosts are different.) Mounts and battle pets for cash are likely far more lucrative, being make once sell many. (And they don’t carry the support burden of character services. People change their mind on those a lot and call up and want things undone or done differently and since they’ve paid some money Blizz tries to accommodate them. I have been both witness to, and heard from support people, what customers will get up to on that front.) Even WoW Tokens are probably more profitable than player services, if you factor in customer support.

    And writing “FXIV has some paid extras” almost made me laugh out loud. Unless I am very much off base from what I have read it has a base subscription, an upgraded subscription, optional subscriptions for retainers, paid expansions, and a very extensive cash shop. But I still bet the subscription is both the largest and the most consistent revenue stream for the game.

    Daybreak is certainly less committed to, if not dependent on, subscriptions than either WoW of FFXIV. They want you to subscribe, and hand out bennies for subscribers, but you can play their games without a subscription and they have an extensive cash shop as well that allows you to buy boosts, buffs, and unlocks ala carte that put you on the same playing field as subscribers. And their subscription gets you access to four titles. They just want some steady revenue, which is something cash shops have problems delivering.

    Interestingly, the perks came out for EQ only so far, which is also the title that has the highest number of subscribers in their portfolio. (source) So maybe it is something that people want. It is optional.

    But the main gist of my post was that players (and the gaming media) seem pretty up in arms at any price increase or any feeling that they are being pressured to buy something from the cash shop, but also want a constant supply of fresh content and games taking risks on new ideas. These two do things do not mesh well.

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