Tag Archives: MMO Subscriptions

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.

New Eden and the Death of the Subscription Model

You don’t need a weather man
To know which way the wind blows

-Bob Dylan, Subterranean Homesick Blues

On Wednesday this week I was arguably somewhat critical of CCP’s monetization policy in EVE Online. (I see myself as most in a state of exhausted indifference at this point, but sometimes tone doesn’t come through.) Today I am going to argue the other way around because life and software and business are all complicated.  There are no simple answers to anything.

There was a new round of outrage at CCP this week over all sorts of things, from bugs to the CSM election, but monetization always gets the biggest response and this week had a couple of hits on that front.

First there was the $230 black ops pack that I mentioned on Tuesday which, due to the inclusion of skill points even got somebody posting on r/eve that we all needed to undock in Jita and shoot the monument.

This has been the go-to move since Incarna by people who didn’t understand what happened during Incarna.  As much as I’d like you to go back and read my Wednesday post, I’ll sum it up: shooting the monument did nothing, people unsubscribing led to change.

Also, with the Jita 4-4 revamp, the monument is hidden around back of the new station and no longer visible from the undock.  CCP has successfully sidelined the protest zone.

Can you see the protest going on? Me neither.

Anyway, the frog was on the boil once again with the black ops pack when people discovered that, since Tuesday’s patch, if you lose a ship it appears that there is a chance you’ll get a advertisement pop up with your loss suggesting you buy some PLEX to turn into ISK in order to purchase a new one. (I lost a ship this week and didn’t see one, so it might just be for Euros or for accounts less antiquated than my own.)

Use your credit card to finance your revenge!

I had to look at that image a couple of times because at first glance it seemed to imply that you could buy your ship back with cash, a first step on the path to something I expect to happen eventually.  And, of course, I might have been influenced by the fact that EVE Echoes has real money ship insurance.

But no, we aren’t there yet in PC based New Eden.  This was just a hint that you could finance your return with your real life wallet… handy since so many ISK earning avenues have been devastated by the economic reforms of the last year.

So another week, another fire in New Eden.  Film at eleven.

This time around these outrages seemed to spark a mass desire to return to the “subscription only” era, back when EVE Online was at its peak and everything was good.  (Except, of course, it wasn’t because the only thing more persistent than “EVE is dying” is players complaining about CCP and their handling of the game.)

Unfortunately, few supporters of the “subscription only” idea seem to be aware of the brutal nature of the situation.

EVE Online subscribers peaked in 2013 when they claimed to have hit the half million mark.

20% of those were probably on the Serenity server in China and, while that doesn’t mean they weren’t earning the company any money, CCP wasn’t getting anything close to $15 a month out of them.

Still, that leaves 400K subscribers in the west paying in US Dollars or Euros or whatever local convertible currency they had to hand.  That number, and the fact that the game is still around to argue about today, probably marks EVE Online out as the most successful open world PvP everywhere MMORPG in the west… though that isn’t a hugely high bar, given that most other contenders had to either make PvE servers to survive (e.g. Ultima Online) or imploded (how many versions of Darkfall were there?).

Anyway, CCP was able to make a go of a business with that many subscribers and even had pretensions about creating other games… all of which failed, but EVE Online remains.

I would estimate that EVE Online has fewer than half as many subscribers here now in 2021.  Things peaked in 2013, but it was a downhill ride after that.  Hilmar has thrown around numbers like the game having a monthly active user count somewhere between 200K and 300K, but he omits how many of them are Alpha clones… non-subscribers… and how many of them are new players, 96% of whom bail out in the first 30 days.

In the time between 2013 and now the price of many things has gone up but the subscription price remains the same… I had a whole post about this a bit ago… and the subscriber base has been cut in half.

So, taken literally, the suggestion to go back to a subscription only business model would mean CCP bringing in half the revenue they were in 2013.  That seems like a non-starter, even if they were not owned by Pearl Abyss.

But wait, even that is optimistic.  I do not know how many people earn ISK in game to buy PLEX in order to pay their subscription, but it is a number larger than zero and big enough to attract CSM candidates interested in buying votes.  Most of those accounts probably go dormant in a subscription only situation, so we’re at less than half of peak revenue.  We’re back in 2006 maybe, if we’re lucky, which was a crazy time in EVE but not an era that would pay today’s bills.

There are, of course, solutions being offered.  At the top of the list is raising the price of the subscription.  As I have written before, that seems like a sure fire way to drive away more players, especially since CCP would have to at least double the monthly price to make the model work.

Then there is the “stop sucking” group who believes if the new player experience or some neglected feature was fixed subscriptions would surge.  This is wishful thinking at best.

Still, that is better than the magical thinking brigade which includes a new and persistent faction that believes if CCP would only allow player made ship SKINs in the online store their financial problems would be solved.  Leaving aside Sturgeon’s law and the tragic history of player made content in MMORPGs, the operating theory of this group seems to be that SKINs are just mods and if Skyrim or Valheim or Minecraft can have mods then so can EVE Online.  It is like a festival of ignorance.

So it is not going to happen, not here in 2021.  The “subscription required” model is a thing of the past except for a few select titles.

Which isn’t to say anybody has to like the situation the game is in.  The first decade of the twenty-first century was a charmed time, with many fresh seeming MMORPGs and a universal subscription model that seemed to keep the genre, if not pure, and least not irredeemably tainted.

But the past is the past.  Besides which, half of the appeal of EVE Online has been facing adversity and sharing the effort with others.  We’ve always been angry at CCP and this horrible game and play it in part because the bonds shared suffering creates.

So go shoot the monument in Jita I guess.  Join in and talk with some fellow protestors.  It is hardly less pointless than a lot of the game and maybe you’ll make some friends you can complain about CCP with.

Proving Some Sort of Point about Video Game Pricing

I published a post about the $15 MMO subscription price… it feels like a while back because I wrote most of it in April and then didn’t get around to posting it until the middle of this month… that went on about Moore’s Law, software, and how the cost of everything in tech doesn’t really go down over time.  It is mostly just the capability of hardware versus price that keeps changing.  The same dollar buys you twice the computing power every other year.  It doesn’t affect the cost of food, gasoline, or rent.

The primary question in the whole thing was whether or not the $15 a month subscription price for MMORPGs… and, by extension, the $60 box price for AAA games… was really a reasonable expectation 20 years down the road from when they were set.

Daybreak subscriber prices

Raph Koster has opined on the cost of making video games for years and has data to back up what he says.  That linked post came from a discussion that started in the comment thread on a post on this blog.

Given the small, rather niche audience that this blog has, I was interested to see what responses, if any, I might get.  The responses were a bit nuanced, though I would say there was a bias towards not paying any more than the current $15 a month.

And then Massively OP picked up on my post and asked the question of the staff and their own wider audience and… well… I can see why Raph Koster said that studios don’t dare raise prices from the current set standards.

Seriously, the staff and most of the comments come across not just against any raise in price, but often insisted that we should be paying less.

A couple of reasonable souls allowed that the overall rate of inflation might justify something like $17-20, but most people were adamantly against any such thing, often for very subjective reasons, like feeling that this game or that isn’t delivering as much content as they once did.

Is it reasonable to expect, as example, Lord of the Rings Online to deliver as much content when they’ve gone from making $100 million back in 2013 to something around $14 million in 2020?

It doesn’t matter, people feel cheated, that they’re paying as much or more due to cash shops and are getting less for their money.

No need to put a bullet in price rise idea, it is clearly dead already.

Of course, as I opined in the thread, the video game industry hasn’t exactly done itself any favors.  The wealthy Bobby Kotick or Tim Sweeney are the poster boys for greed, making obscene amounts of money while keeping pay and benefits for the people who do the work well below what comparable ability would earn a person other tech segments.  When Kotick’s compensation is cut in half and still looks obscene, that says something… it says that video game companies are making plenty of money already, thank you very much.

And the fact that Steam added 10,263 games to its online store in 2020, a storefront long complained about by developers both due to the regular sales that have cut the average sales price for titles and the 30% tariff Valve takes off the top of every sale (something the rent seeking Tim Sweeney wants a cut of, which is the only reason he is battling with Valve, Google, and Apple… it certainly isn’t the concern for gamers he professes),  seems to indicate that there are a lot of developers out there that are just fine with the situation as it is.

I say that because, in a rational economic situation, self interest would drive some, if not most, of those developers to seek better paying jobs in industries where their talents would earn them considerably more in compensation.  But video games are emotional, a “dream job,” that people will sacrifice to pursue.  (Or is it the corrupt developer career path they are seeking?)

Then there is how consistently two-faced various companies have been about monetization in the face of their inability to raise box prices.  It is always fun to call out EA for saying dumb things like that their pseudo gambling lock boxes are ethical and fun surprise mechanics as they target children by advertising in a toy catalog, but the industry group that represents them tried to upstage the FTC hearing on industry practices by holding a press release where the promised, cross their heart hope to die, that the industry could regulate itself even as Activision patenting game matching algorithms that would pair cheapskates up with those who paid to win to get superior gear so that they would feel the need to spend in order to compete.  As I said previously, this is all a very strong approach to getting the industry regulated.

And so I suppose I cannot really blame the people commenting that they should be paying less for games.  The big players in the industry have cultivated an environment where the whole thing feels like… a business?

Wait, that can’t be right, can it?

How Long can the Fifteen Dollar Subscription Hold Out?

I remember, way way back in the day, a user review for EverQuest that was an all caps exercise in outrage over the fact that, on top of the purchase price for the game it required you to pay a fee every single month you wished to play.  It ended with a call to boycott the publisher of the game to put a stop to this complete rip-off of a business model.

I think EverQuest was $9.95 a month back then too.  It wasn’t even to the $15.00 mark we’ve come to accept as the norm.

Daybreak subscriber prices

But we’ve been at that $15.00 mark, with a discount for purchasing multiple months, since before the launch of World of Warcraft.  The fact that WoW adopted it pretty much set the price in stone.  I recall Mark Jacobs being soundly rebuked when he suggested that maybe Warhammer Online would cost more, a premium price for a premium game and all that.

We have been conditioned by Moore’s Law to expect tech items to cost less over time.  While the law itself specifically concerns itself with the number of transistors that can fit in a given space, the corollary effects include the iPhone 8 in my pocket outperforming a 1970s Cray supercomputer for a tiny fraction of the former’s original price.  We get better, cheaper hardware all the time.

And some of that has been reflected in other pricing.  It used to cost an hourly rate to log onto the online services of the 80s like GEnie and CompuServe.

GEnie Price “cut”

Now most people in urban and large suburban areas have access to some form of high speed internet and the web, while splattered liberally with ads, is mostly free.

But that is mostly hardware and bandwidth driven.  Software is different for many reasons, though the immaturity of software development methodology and the constant need to update due to security issues and defects has a lot to do with it.

The outsider view is that you write your code and, having written, move on.  The reality, which I can harp on about ad nauseum, is that a development group on a mature product can easily find itself spending most of its time dealing with problems that come up simply due to changes in the environment the code lives in.  Every product manage wants more new features to sell and hates to hear the dev team talking about the need to upgrade outdated libraries or other maintenance functions.

So we are in an unnatural situation when it comes to video game software, with their pricing stuck in time. (There was a good discussion of this in the comments on a post here a few years back.)  Triple-A titles are $60.  MMORPG subscriptions are $15 a month.  And so it has been for coming on to 20 years.

Enterprise and productivity markets have long since gone to annual licenses and even Microsoft wants you to rent Office365 from them rather than buy the hidden, but still available, stand-alone Office package. (And, having just moved an Office 2013 license from an old machine to a new one, let me tell you that they are keen to throw a lot of chairs in your way to get you to give up and get on board their rental bandwagon.  But I don’t think many of the products in the Microsoft Office bundle have change enough since the 90s to warrant a rental fee.  If I could still use Microsoft Word 5.1a, I would.)

But video games seem stuck.  Worse than stuck in the case of MMOs, where free to play has become the norm and only a few strong titles can afford to hold the line on requiring a subscription beyond what is essentially a demo period.  My headline is a lie in that the fifteen dollar subscription hasn’t held… but in the opposite way that I meant!

Stymied on the box price and subscription front, video game studios have ventured out in other directions.  So now we have cash shops and DLC and season passes and cosmetics and pets and mounts and character boosts and special servers and game time tokens and skill points and xp boosts and anniversary editions and premium editions and collector’s editions and even a $250 “friend’s and family” edition, all to eke out a bit more cash from the end users who inevitably shout “Greed!” and “Pay to Win” at the first hint that they might feel mildly incentivized to make one of those purchases.

It isn’t that I want to pay more for any of these games.  I have a kid in college, and education is one front where people haven’t been shy about raising prices.  And I have been notably prickly about some of those items listed myself.

But even though these games I play were launched in 2007, 2004, 2003, and even 1999, the people who work on them have to pay rent, buy food, medical care, and everything else here in 2021.  And stuff has not gotten cheaper.  It feels like eventually we hit one of those “you must pick two” scenarios where the options are:

  • Don’t pay more for games
  • Don’t have Pay to Win in your games
  • Your game stays in business

So I wonder when we’re going to have to pony up some more cash to pay.  Until then I try to temper my ire when companies do things they said they wouldn’t do or trot out packages or plans that seem ludicrous to me.  If they don’t pay the bill then there isn’t a game to be played.

The DDO Season Pass

My record with Dungeons & Dragons Online has been spotty since I saw it on the shelf at Fry’s just after it launched in 2006.  I picked up the box and there, on the side just by the system requirements, was a statement about grouping with other players being required to play the game.

The box I saw back then…

No solo.  That worked in 1999, but this was 2006 and World of Warcraft had been on the scene for long enough that the lack of solo was a deal breaker for many.  And, at the time I wasn’t in any regular group, so I was in that deal breaker boat.

I put the box back on the shelf and moved on, a preview of my ongoing attempts to play the game over the years.  And I did try.  I even made a category for it here on the blog, something reserved for games I expect to play and write about regularly.  It just never clicked with me for several reasons.  I complain about the look and UI in LOTRO at times, but DDO feels like the rough draft for even that.

So when Standing Stone Games announced the DDO Season Pass option, I could tell you right away that I was not the target audience.  Still, I want to look at it because I imagine if it sells then we will see the same thing coming up in LOTRO sooner or later, the way that free to play success with DDO led to the free to play conversion of LOTRODDO remains the trial balloon.

So what do you get for $299?

Two Years of VIP Status

In the world of DDO and LOTRO, VIP stands in for subscriber.  You get to be a subscriber and have all the benefits that gives you over a non-subscriber (as listed out here) including boosted experience progress, 500 coins for the cash shop every month, a “free” roll on a gold chest once a week (I assume that is akin to the daily and weekly hobbit gifts in LOTRO), access to more races (half-elf, half-orc, and warforged) and classes, and access to content that you would otherwise have to buy separately so long as you remain a VIP.

There are a range of prices you can pay to be a VIP, including the long time standard $14.99 a month if you want to go month-to-month.

DDO VIP Pricing Chart

So while $299 for two years is cheaper than paying $14.99 a month for two year, if you’re the sort of person who can commit to an MMORPG for two years, the 12 month subscription seems like a way to save $50 a year.

But the VIP access isn’t all you get, or we’d be done here.

Keep All the Content

The first selling point after VIP is that if you buy the season pass not only do you get access to VIP content for free, you get to keep your access to any VIP content released during the duration of the season pass, even if you go back to being a free to play chump.

That’s not nothing.  And I suspect that will be a selling point for somebody.  But my gut says that if you’re that serious about the game, then you’ll be VIP when you’re playing.  And you get all that access back if and when you go back to being a VIP.

Daily Golden Dice Rolls

I think that the golden dice rolls are the things that determine what you get in your golden chest… maybe?  SSG is unhelpfully using mixed terminology.  But if I am reading this correct, you get golden chest level stuff on a daily basis rather than a weekly basis.

Like the hobbit gifts in LOTRO, I won’t turn my nose up at something being handed to me.  But if SSG asked me to pay extra for those gifts I am not sure that I would.

Silver Dragon Armor

A cosmetic armor set.  Cosmetics are important to people, so this could be a selling point for some.

Silver Dragon Armor

Heroic Otto’s Box

You get a free one of these, which if I read this correctly, is an item in the DDO cash shop currently with a price of 4,995 points, which translates to about $50 at the default point price.  Otto’s box includes:

  • 1 Stone of Heroic Experience (2 million XP)
  • 5 Superior Experience Elixirs
  • 5 Major Slayer Count Boosts
  • 5 Huge Jewels of Fortune
  • 5 Siberys Spirit Cakes
  • 3 Greater Siberys Spirit Cakes
  • 1 Complete Reincarnation Timer Reset
  • Your choice of either a Cyan Gelatinous Cube Creature Companion or 65 Astral Shards

A few of those sound familiar as a LOTRO player, though I am a bit surprised at a straight up sale of experience.   Whatever.

The High Pressure Sale

Oh, and one key aspect of this season pass is that it is available for a limited time, December 7 though 10, and has a cap of 1,000 on the total number allowed to be sold.

That seems like a pretty transparent attempt to get people to buy in because the clock is ticking.  I would be surprised if the artificial limit of 1,000 was reached.

Is it Worth $299?

I don’t know.

I mean, for me, no it is not worth it, and not just because I don’t play the game.  I am also aware of my own gaming history and, given that, signing up for two years would be a bad plan.  I’m more of a “six months at a stretch” type of player.

The idea of offering a special package with incentives isn’t new.  CCP does it with subscriptions and PLEX deals every year, throwing in special SKINs and such.  Even Blizzard does it now and then, most recently with the Dreadwake mount they were giving away if people would just sign up for six months of game time.

But those packages give you something extra for the normal price in an effort to boost sales.  The DDO season pass is more akin to collectors edition offers, where they are charging significantly more for items that are not key to playing the game.  The VIP time is the key element, the rest I would argue is mostly fluff even if it has some in-game value.

I don’t get bent out of shape over collector’s editions, though I tend to avoid them, so I shouldn’t get bent out of shape about this.  But I can predict that I will give this sort of season pass deal a critical assessment should SSG move the idea over to LOTRO.

This seems like a good point for a poll.

There is a poll above this line that you might not see if you are using an ad blocker and probably can’t use unless you visit the site directly.

Finally, the paranoid in me wonders if something is coming up in regards to the game in 2020.  Why lock people in for two years?  Does the license for the IP come up for renewal then?  Is this, as some love to say, just a cash grab, or is there some other motivation.

Addendum: I had this slated to post tomorrow, but then SSG got out there and announced a LOTRO version of this idea.  Look for a post on that tomorrow.

Addendum: Despite the poll above running somewhat against the idea, it appears that SSG sold their 1,000 2 Year DDO Season Passes.  I guess if you like a game enough $300 isn’t much of a barrier.  I’m not sure I would spend that much in one go on any game, but maybe I just haven’t gotten the right offer yet.

Torn on MMORPGs

That headline doesn’t mean what you think it means.

Back at the start of November I got an unsolicited email asking me for something.  Not an uncommon occurrence.  I get a surprising amount of offers on the blog email address, most of which I delete out of hand.  This one, however, appeared to be from an actual person.  I was still skeptical.  If you send me a note asking for something on that account, expect that.  But wanted to know what he was really up to.

Kevin, Head of Digital at Chedburn Networks Ltd, the makers of the text MMO Torn (from which I draw the title of this post, so there is that question answered) wanted to know if I would provide feedback on something akin to an MMORPG white paper project they were working on and, also, would I like my blog to be listed on the finished product.

After a bit of back and forth and cynicism on my part, set off by trigger words like “brand exposure,” I said I would look take a look.  After seeing an early draft, I said I would be okay with being listed as an example of an MMORPG blogger along with Syp, Murph, Jewel, Chris from Game by Night (where is your handle, man?), and some John Doe guy that used to write about MMOs, then stopped, but who can’t stop reminding people that he could have been a contender or something.

(I also appear to be the only one of the six that can follow instructions, judging from the final product, where I am the only one with an “established” date.)

That was in late November, after which the whole thing dwindled into silence… until this week, when I got an email with a link to the finished product.  You can go see it here.

There is actually quite a bit of information packed into that.  There is a nice little history of online games with a timeline that starts with Ultima Online and carries through to today, picking out some events that have happened along the way.  It is interesting, in its way, to see what got included.  I’m not sure that the EVE Online T20 scandal ranks up there with the advent of Leeroy Jenkins.  And did nothing happen in 2009 besides the launch of Aion?  It is also hard for me to see these two next to each other like they were totally unconnected events.  And no mention of Warhammer Online, which killed the genre.

SWG was closed because of SWTOR

SWG was closed because of SWTOR

There is also a chart listing out the top MMOs out right now that contains some hard numbers that I am sure people will want to see.  You can, I suppose, extrapolate total player bases by multiplying players per world by the number of worlds they list out.  Of course EVE Online is the top MMO when you sort that way, though the total players is a bit gloomy, while the WoW numbers seem to add up to a total not seen since 2010.

That is a lot of daily players...

That is a lot of daily players…

I asked about the source for some of those numbers, as some of them seem quite questionable, like the ones listed for EverQuest Next.

Daybreak dreaming here?

Daybreak dreaming here? These can’t be Landmark numbers…

But there it is, a pile of data ready to be argued over.  I can foresee some doom and gloom coming from a few entries on the list or what it means to be in the top five, depending on how you sort things.

Anyway, if you are a general MMORPG nerd there is probably something in the report that will interest you.  If nothing else, there ought to be something to spark a blog post.  I will likely write something further once I have had time to sit down and digest what is there.  And it is nice to be told how popular I am again.  It says so right there in that last section.  All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my authoritative close-up.

Activision Blizzard Making More Money, WoW over 10 Million Subscribers Still

The Activision Blizzard results for the fourth quarter of 2014 were announced yesterday and, to probably nobody’s surprise, the combined companies reported making huge amounts of money.

ActiBlizz450What with Destiny still selling well, the latest Call of Duty installment somewhere out there, a World of Warcraft expansion, and Hearthstone apparently worthy of repeated mentions, the money was pouring in.

Actual footage of Bobby Kotick and Mike Morhaime during the call

Actual footage of Mike Morhaime and Bobby Kotick during the call

You can find summaries of the announcements around the web, or you can go to the Activision investor relations site to see the full financial report and the presentations.

Of course, I am more interested in Blizzard around here than the Call of Duty Activision side of the house.  The Blizzard slide shows about what we would expect.  Best annual revenues ever.  More registered users.  More good stuff coming.

Blizzard slide from the presentation deck

Blizzard slide from the presentation deck

Still, there is a point there that will be seen by some as losing by not winning enough.  Only 10 million subscribers?

I know, it says “over” 10 million, but if it was over, say, 10.5 million, they would have said over 10.5 million.  Past behavior indicates that.

And 10 million was the number they gave back in November after the expansion finally came out.  That only got us up to the Mists of Pandaria peak.  With the history of the game, anything less than 12 million will be failure in the eyes of some.

But at least this chart hasn't changed!

But at least this chart hasn’t changed!  Lich King, Best King!

Of course, that dissatisfaction with not getting back to the peak subscriber number ignores the scale of WoW’s subscriber base.  The jump from 7.4 million subscribers to over 10 million at the launch of Warlords of Draenor… 2.6 million subscribers… how many other popular MMOs would we have to stack up before we hit 2.6 million subscribers?  Not just registered users or those tagging along for free, but people who signed up to pay that $15 a month?  And what about that 10 million number?

The churn of users just coming and going since the expansion launched would probably kill some games.  You can sure as shit bet if EverQuest II had 10 million subscribers… or 7.4 million… or even 2.6 million… Smed would be telling the PlayStation people what to do rather than being sold into bondage.

World of Warcraft remains the outlier that distorts the scale when we talking about MMOs.  Comparing it to other things just doesn’t work, because even down from its peak it is still too big.

Anyway, that is the big news from Blizzard.  All money, all the time.

Oh… and one more thing.  StarCraft II – Legacy of the Void.  The mention of it being the “Final” expansion to the StarCraft II series stands out for me.  Maybe they said that back at BlizzCon and I missed it, but seeing that word “Final” on the financial presentation makes it stand out for me.

So what will the RTS team at Blizzard be doing when they have wrapped that up?

Should we read anything into the fact that the RTS team appears to be playing around with the Warcraft III assets?

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:

Continue reading

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.