Making Money With MMORPGs

I was reading Funcom’s Q1 2009 Financial Report and found it pretty fascinating stuff (I really need to get a real life don’t I?). The point that it really drove home to me though was how business orientated MMORPGs are. Yeah, I know, that sounds like the most obvious statement since language began in the simple form of grunting but it’s something plenty of all players, including myself, constantly forget. MMOs may be labours of love for a lot of designers and developers but the bottom line is always going to be about cash, profit and sustainability. At the end of the day, if a game isn’t making a profit, it dies the gruesome death of the /shutdown command.

So, if we assume that all MMO companies are filled to the brim with greedy fat cats (undoubtedly too busy lighting their cigars with $100 bills to care about us plebs), how exactly are they getting the cash in? Well, making money in MMOs seems to be an evolving design. For many years the monthly subscription model ruled all in the Western World but recently we’ve been seeing some departures from it along with some rather interesting side lines.

In terms of alternate subscription models, Free Realms seems to be the biggest hit with 1 million subscribers (I know cause they sent me a big, obnoxious email to advertise the fact) to their ‘free’ to play game. Their strategy of offering a free ‘hook’ with the option of upgrading to a $4.99 monthly fee seems like quite a cunning ploy. What’s even more cunning is then trying to tempt people into spending real money on Station Cash to buy in-game items and rewards. Seems to work as even Tobold forked out $100 on it. Combine this with a Free Realms Trading Card Game and SOE certainly seem to be milking the franchise for all it’s worth.

SOE have used their Station Cash and TCG models on some of their other games too including Everquest, Everquest 2 and Star Wars: Galaxies (this one only has a card game at the moment, I believe). All of this is stuff aimed at getting players to part with their cold hard cash and increase the revenue of the games company.

Is it a bad thing though? Honestly, I don’t know but there’s certainly plenty of opinions about it either way. On the positive side, anything which provides pleasure, whether it be card game or an in-game vanity hat, must be a good thing but equally so I still want to enjoy my MMO for what it is – a game, a hobby and a real life distraction. I don’t want to be constantly reminded that I should spend money on something.

Let’s not forget about Blizzard either. They aren’t exactly divine in their altruism – they charge you $15/£12 to change your character’s face for crying out loud.

So that concludes my monologue about making money with MMORPGs. Let me know your thoughts.

Oh and if you’re looking for a spot of bedtime reading, I suggest checking out NCSoft’s Q1 2009 Financial Report. I particularly like page 15 which just says ‘Thank You’. As if we care.

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4 Comments

  1. Greg says:

    I have no problem with MMORPG companies making money. IF they didn’t, we would ahve nothing to play. Labors of love are great until you have to pay the mortgage and put food on the table. Commerical MMORPGs cost tons of money to run and maintain, so whatever model works for the company and the consumers will work their way out. I don’t play MMORPGs for the most part as I do not have time and ahve a problem with a monthly bill. I play on LIVE from time to time and pay the annual cost as it maes more sense to me to be able to play many games online instead of just one at cost. Gaming is a hobby. Those who spend many hours online in online guilds obviously have either way too much time on their hands or have an addiction they should have lookes at :) . I’m sure I’ll get flamed, but that’s alright. I’ve been a gamer since pong and will continue until I die. But I have a life as well and so should everyone else

  2. Gordon says:

    I think MMO developers have realised that ‘hardcore’ players are in the minority and actually that there’s more money to be had to be had by targetting the casual market. This is why WoW is the most popular MMORPG and keeps dumbing down it’s high end content to make it more accessible. Blizzard have realised that barriers to gameplay ultimately lead to less profit.

  3. Peripher says:

    I think it really is about finding the “right” price. It’s where you know that the cost is expensive yet you find it acceptable enough. That’s what they are doing now.

    And if that really is what’s going on in everyone’s mind than it’s not a bad thing at all. It just mean that the price is right.

    As for WoW case I have to agree with Gordon, But I believe there is yet another reason behind it. I think right now Blizzard is “preparing” all their gamers for the next big thing. They are currently gathering as much players as possible while receiving as much profit in the process, it’s only the first phase. Let’s see what will happen next.

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