Alternative Monthly Subscriptions

Whilst pondering the cancellation of my EVE Online subscription, I idly considered the possibility of MMORPGs having different type of monthly subscription fees. We already see this for cell phones, Internet packages, cable/satellite deals etc so, to me, it seems like a pretty rational and logical thing to request. Off the top of my head, here’s a basic concept (obviously the numbers are totally fictitious):

  • Unlimited – $16.99, no restrictions
  • Prime time – $12.99, all day weekends, after 5pm weekdays
  • Weekend – $8.99, can only play on Saturday & Sunday
  • Off-Peak – $4.99, can only play Monday-Friday, 12:00am to 5pm

As a consumer, do you think this sort of monthly subscription model would appeal to you? Personally, although it does complicate things more than a single flat fee, I think it would be nice to have the option to mix and match subscriptions between my MMORPGs. I’d likely be far more inclined to keep multiple subscriptions active if I could, say, pay less to play one of them on weekend or all of them after working hours only.

The problem with sort of model, as Psychochild pointed out in one of the comments yesterday, is that it lacks any sort of business case for the MMO developer. Not only does it have added costs for them to maintain but it’s entirely likely that they would lose money. No doubt many MMOs have lots of players who pay the full monthly subscription yet barely log in and, if they switched to less expensive package as a result of this, the developers wouldn’t make as much cash. It doesn’t cost the MMO company any more if you play 100 hours a month than if you only play 10 as the fee is flat, no matter what.

I guess the curious thing for me though is why these sort of subscription models work for cell phone companies and gym memberships etc. The obvious answer is competition. The more companies competing with each other, the more competitive deals the consumer gets. However, this doesn’t seem to appeal to MMORPGs even though there are dozens of games out there for the player to chose from. The cynic in me would wonder if there’s some sort of fixed agreement in place between them all or that no one wants to be the first to buck the trend and start a bidding war but that’s another post (I’ll supply free tin-foil hats for everyone when I write it).

So what do you think? Would you like to see alternative monthly subscription models and is it viable?

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  4. Lifetime Subscriptions – Waste Of Money?
  5. What’s So Great About Free-2-Play?


  1. pitrelli says:

    I’d prefer them to give you an option for hourly play, I believe thats the model they use in Asia for WoW.

  2. Andrew says:

    I’m on record as being a huge advocate of the pay-by-the-hour option (like asia) assuming a full sub is also offered as an option.

    MMOs need to back off of the flat rate $15/hour plan if they’re going to appeal to the multi-game players, low income players, etc. The more options they offer, the better chance they have of capturing money from people who otherwise cannot afford their game for whatever reason.

  3. Rhii says:

    I think seeing lifetime subscriptions is the first step in that direction, actually. It’s going the other way, a flat rate fee for unlimited play FOREVER, but it points in the direction of acknowledging that not all gamers play the same way and some are willing to make different subscription plans to match their playstyle and budget. And it also means a potential hit in the cash flow department for the company offering it… What I’ve paid for a WoW sub is WELL over the amount a lifetime sub to CO cost… If I was as addicted to CO as I am to WoW, they’d be losing some money by offering me a lifetime sub.

    Some players want to pay now to play as much as they want, others, like Spinks (I think, I couldn’t find the post where she discussed it), unsubscribe and resubscribe every month just so that they’re in ultimate control of their subscriptions.

    It seems to me that what you’re suggesting is sort of in between.

    • Gordon says:

      The problem with lifetime subscriptions is that they’re usually so expensive. $200 for a LOTRO lifetime subscription is too much for me to fork out in one go. I did find the CO lifetime sub at $99 a lot more appealing though. Maybe there’s just a special sweet price point that they haven’t got right yet.

  4. Longasc says:

    I would not like this model, I want to log on whenever I want. Basically, I would rather pay the normal sub cost.

    But we have more and more games that are “FREE TO PLAY”. With more or less micro transactions.

    I also think LOTRO will be the next thing Turbine is trying with new payment schemes: Do you remember how they tried to sell you a lifetime membership?

    Judging from their latest plans for Siege of Mirkwood, I guess they could drop subscription fees and just sell content every 3 or 6 months and extra options. So basically, if you really want to play the latest content, you have to pay for it.
    If this scheme works, they might drop the subscription fee and make it free to play – and pay for content.

    Guild Wars showed it is possible. They made people pay for each expansion and only added very late a few micro-payment options to the store.

    • Gordon says:

      I’m not really keen on micro-transactions as, speaking about myself, I think I’d end up spending a lot more on buying items than I would on a monthly sub. Plus, I think they can easily lead to corruption and situations with developers introducing the coolest items as purchasable only. Don’t like that thought.

  5. Tesh says:

    I will not pay by the month, no matter the plan. It doesn’t offer me enough value given my scattershot schedule. I’ll either pay for use, or pay for content. Guild Wars is the prototype (still the best “lifetime subscription”), and the Access Pass part of Wizard 101 or the Badges of Puzzle Pirates are good alternates.

    Given the choice, I’d rather pay for content. Y’know, like you do for most other games?

  6. Stabs says:

    “Off-Peak – $4.99, can only play Monday-Friday, 12:00am to 5pm”

    So if I play the US version I get to play 12am to 5pm US time which is 6pm to 11 pm UK time, our peak time. That’s handy!

    Seriously I don’t think it would work. It’s supposed to be relaxing playing these games not something you need to set your alarm clock for.

  7. There’s no conspiracy, just normal economics at work here. Cell phone plans and gym memberships are what are known as “substitute goods”. These are goods where you can use one or another with very little difference for most people. The classic example is butter and margarine. You might prefer one or the other, but if butter is on sale for $100 for a pound and margarine is on sale for $5 per pound, most people will buy the margarine and eat it. If the situation were reversed, people would buy butter instead. That’s an economic principle here: lowering the price of a substitute good will cause people to choose the substitute good more often.

    If your cell phone provider doubled their prices tomorrow, what would you do? Probably go to another provider and be done with your old carrier. (Especially in places with more advanced cell phone systems than the ones we have here in the U.S.) Two gyms with the same equipment are functionally identical, so they can only really compete on price. Again, if a competing gym dropped their prices, you’d probably give them a try assuming you weren’t locked into a contract with your existing gym.

    MMOs are not the same. A cheaper game will not get a WoW player to stop playing WoW. I know, Meridian 59 is priced at $10.95/month with no boxes or expansions to buy; it may surprise you to learn that people did not ignore WoW to come play my game. ;) Even if Aion, a substantially similar game to WoW, were to charge less, NCSoft probably wouldn’t attract many players away from WoW because they have their characters, friends, and time invested in the WoW. You can’t just substitute one game for the other. This is one of the problems with challenging the dominant game, regardless of price.

    Finally, as to your “off-peak” suggestion, that could backfire for a company. Assuming latency isn’t a huge issue and currency rates aren’t stupid, it would be smarter for me to play on a U.K. or European server. My normal play times are the middle of the night there, so I’d get a good deal even while playing during my “peak” times. This could be good for a company if it evens out usage, but it would lower overall revenue. The internet is well and truly global (says the U.S. game developer who has previously contracted to a company in Germany to the U.K. blogger who recently blogged from Japan!)

    Further thoughts.

    • Gordon says:

      Can’t really argue against any of your points :) I think you’re right. I never thought of the substitute goods idea like that before and I guess it’s exactly why competition doesn’t work that way for MMOs.

  8. I really see the best way of doing alternate subscriptions as a “pay as you go” kind of deal. Not necessarily time-limits like you’re talking about, but limiting the content a person has available to them. The $5 sub would be bare-bones, the $10 would get more instances maybe, and a $15 sub would get full-endgame raid support or something. I think DDO really went the right way to start this kind of alternative, and Wizard 101 has a very good one as well.

    I’d also love a pay-by-the-hour model, as with my limited time, I might actually be able to justify some MMO gaming in the next month or two.

    • Gordon says:

      I wonder how much “they” would charge for a pay-by-the-hour model. $0.10 per hour? Hard to judge I guess. I’d certainly win because I don’t play anywhere near as much as I use to but I can imagine it would be annoying for those who did play 6 or 8 hours day.

      • Tesh says:

        Alternatively, there’s the Puzzle Pirates “badge” model. You can play a lot of the game absolutely free, but if you want to do some of the more high end stuff (like sail your own ship), you buy badges. These decay in day increments, and typically hold 30 days. They only decay when you login, though. I’ve made one badge last almost a year by playing only on the weekends.

  9. I’d also love a pay-by-the-hour model, as with my limited time. Because my time and money is very precious. I like this pay model.

  10. xXJayeDuBXx says:

    I don’t understand why this topic continues to come up, fifteen dollars a month is not that much. I’m thinking that the real problem is that many MMO gamers have more than one sub and that’s why this topic seems to spring up every so often.

    • Gordon says:

      $15 for a single game which you play frequently isn’t a lot, I agree, but it does pile up when you’re pay for 3 games (or more) and then barely getting a chance to play any. I’ve never been that fussed about the subscription model but I find that I always end up in some sort of dilemma when my interest in the game wavers or my time becomes constrained and I have to a judgement over whether or not to cancel my subscription.

  11. Naithin says:

    As has already been mentioned, unless it could be shown that it would significantly increase the subscriber base – enough to offset the loss of profit on those existing players that would step down in plan – it wouldn’t be of much benefit to the service provider.

    That said, and for the moment ignored, from my perspective I wouldn’t mind options like this being available. Perhaps instead though, I would propose a pricing structure like this:

    $5.95 /mo – 10 hours of play per week or 40 hrs per month.
    $10.95 – 25 hours of play per week or 100 hrs per month.
    $19.95 – All you can eat / no limits.

    Perhaps offpeak hours could count as 30m instead of a full hour. Perhaps also if you were to exceed your ‘plan’, it could pro-rata charge up to the next tier, and cap out at $19.95 to prevent horrendous billshock.

    • Gordon says:

      Nice idea. Yeah, that would work for me. I’d be happy to pay a reduced subscription on a few of the games I play even if it meant loosing my flexibility/freedom. The key would be making it easy to upgrade/downgrade or, as you said, cap it.

  12. Jeff G. says:

    The originally proposed pricing scheme would cause issues with player grouping.

    Think: “Crap, if we can’t kill the boss by 12:00am, our Tank is going to get disconnected.”

    And to a lesser extent, any plan that doesn’t allow unlimited time is going to cause players to focus even more sharply on being efficient and making sure that they don’t “waste” any time.

  13. Khoram says:

    yeah, I’d prefer some form of $5 for 10 hours type of thing. I would love to bounce between Eq2, Vanguard, and possibly even EQ1, but there’s no way I’m paying even the $30 for a Station account to do this. $15, even though it’s a great entertainment hour / dollar ratio, is still $15 a month – doable but notable in a family budget. Once you start looking at $30 or $45 a month to try multiple MMOs, that gets into no-way-hose territory.

  14. [...] at face value seems to be a reasonable conclusion. Then along comes another posting further down the track over at We Fly Spitfires, discussing the possibility of alternate pricing [...]

  15. [...] a cellphone plan than the existing MMO Sub model. Psychochild then pipes in with a rather in depth comment detailing why pricing variations between the established MMO’s would cause very little [...]

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