disclaimer to Ten Ton Hammer readers: While the article that follows
below discusses in-game gold advertising, we remind you that Ten Ton
Hammer does not in any way, shape, or form endorse selling gold or any
third party sites that do engage in the sale of virtual items or
currency. The expressed opinions are those of the panelists and not of
Ten Ton Hammer. With that in mind, please continue reading.
It isn’t everyday that you’re given the
opportunity to sit in a room with the president of a company that
engages in gold advertising, the founder of a free-to-play gaming
network, and the marketing director of a gaming company fervently
against the sale of online items, without seeing them break into a fist
fight. But that was exactly the situation that I was placed in when I
poked into my last OGDC panel of the week. The topic was the New Online
Game Payment Model, and the stage was set for antics from each of the
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Hong's K2 Network is responsible for bringing
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Moderating the panel and representing the free-to-play venue
was Joshua Hong, founder of K2 Network and a leader in the free-to-play
North American MMO market. John Maffei, president of the Zam Network (a
former affiliate of IGE), was stationed as the representative for the
secondary market. Rich Wickham, director of Games for Windows, and
Steve Goldstein, director of business development and general counsel
for Flagship Studios, functioned as the middle ground between
free-to-play games and subscription based models. Rounding out the pack
was Peter Gollan, director of marketing in North America for CCP|White
Wolf Games, and Tony Park, vice president of The9 (the Chinese-based
company that represents WoW’s interests in China), both of
whom represent companies that deal in subscription based products.
Hong had brought together these representatives from both the
Eastern and Western branches of the MMO genre, and he was anxious to
see some heated arguments form over topics he brought to the table. For
the rest of this article, I will break down the article by the topics
discussed and give you a general summary of the panel’s
Is a Subscription Based Model Sustainable for the Future of
Not wanting to pull any punches, Hong led off the panel
discussion with a topic that has been simmering in the back of the
minds of many individuals lately. With so many imported games coming
from Korea being free to play, the Western MMO market has to begin
paying attention to these free insurgents. With big fish like World of
Warcraft and Lord of the Rings Online already in the water, how can
subscription based games even begin to succeed anymore?
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The first topic dealt with the sustainability of
free-to-play MMOs like ArchLord.
The majority of the panelists did believe that the
subscription based model would still be viable, but that the
“buy a game, play your thirty days free, and begin your
credit card deductions” set-up would begin to deteriorate.
Goldstein used his own online game, Hellgate: London, as an example of
a different way to approach the user.
Hellgate has two versions, a free-to-play set-up and a
subscription based model. By allowing users to play for free, the
company is hoping that they will draw in some players of the other big
MMOs. Eventually, Flagship hopes that these players will want to take
the plunge into the deeper waters of the subscription based model, once
they reach the end of the content in the free version.
Another solid point for the viability of the subscription
model was brought up by Maffei, who stated that “the users
who access the Zam Network spend an average of 30+ hours of their week
online.” With that much time spent online, a user
doesn’t even need cable TV! By saving that $30-$60 they would
have spent on cable, the user can then use that to access online worlds
From Gollan’s point-of-view, options are the key to
the continued success of the subscription business model. Instead of
merely paying by credit card, he argues that if a gamer has an option
to send their money via different models than they will subscribe.
Check, gaming card, any of those options require a bit of bending over
on the developer’s part, but it’s worth it in the
end. It’s all about the flexibility of the service.
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Popular games, such as EQ2, have rampant secondary
However, according to Park, South Korea’s gaming
situation is really based around free-to-play games. He said that
almost the entire country’s MMOs are all free-to-play, and
nothing that has been subscription based has succeeded. It may be a
cultural difference, but that may become the future of the North
American market as well.
This – perhaps the most out of all the topics
– really stirred up the panel. Secondary markets are a hot
topic for anti-gold games like EVE Online, and most of the gaming
companies really don’t want to argue for the secondary market
for the legal issues involved.
That didn’t keep Maffei from arguing in their favor.
“Every popular title is going to have a secondary
market,” Maffei argued. “It’s inevitable.
The question that comes up, however, is whether the gamers who work for
these items, actually own their in-game property. There’s a
legal answer and the one that gamers will tell you. So it’s
really on the developers shoulders as to whether they’ll
build a game that supports a secondary market or whether
they’ll simply ignore it at their own detriment.”
Maffei also instructed the panel that is was up to developers to find a
way to stop gold farmers from ruining the gameplay experiences of the
But Goldstein countered saying that, “Everything
John just said about the secondary market is wrong. Don’t do
it. It will destroy your business. There are incredibly scary issues
that come up when a user is allowed to own his virtual
property.” Goldstein did marvel at the fact that the
secondary market even exists in the first place, since gaming is really
only a few decades old.
In general, the rest of the panel followed
Goldstein’s logic. Without a way to really avoid the legal
issues associated with secondary markets, it’s just something
that isn’t a viable option for most companies.
Voyage Century Online deals only in micro-transactions.
There are no subscription fees.
As a whole the panel thought games that offered
micro-transactions were obviously viable business models, but would
only work on certain games under certain circumstances.
Micro-transaction games were not designed for gamers who were looking
for an incredibly deep, content-driven experience – for the
most part – and games like EVE Online and Hellgate: London
were just unsuited for the micro-transaction model.
There was also concern about how micro-transactions affected
the full economic side of the game. In economy heavy games like EVE, it
would be absolutely foolish to allow for micro-payments. It would have
to be a game that was designed from the ground up with
micro-transactions in mind.
However, the panel did agree that micro-transaction based
games were doing incredibly well and weren’t designs that
would easily slip into the “failed” category. With
their easy accessibility and gradual inclination towards buying virtual
goods, micro-transaction models really were supportive of younger
users. While the issue of payment did come up, the panel said that
these games would succeed on the potential marketplace they were
tapping into alone.
Perhaps for the best, the panel did not have a general
consensus on the majority of the points that arose in the online market
dialogue. If there was really a general feeling that one method was
better than the other, than the options of the users would begin to
diminish and we’d see more games of a certain type rather
than adventurous marketers trying to explore new methods of payment.
Hopefully, when the next panel of this type comes around,
we’ll have even more online market types to discuss. Options
are always better, especially for the users. We’ll be waiting
and ready with our credit cards if an outstanding new game comes about
that changes the market landscape again.