We’re a society that loves owning things, but as the Internet has progressed, ownership of things online has gotten really, really, rare. One of the points I make is, for instance, the Star Wars: The Old Republic expansion: Knights of the Fallen Empire. KoFE has an interesting payment scheme where you pay for a subscription and this is literally the only way you’re accessing the expansion. This means that the game is free-to-play up and until level 60, at which point you must be a subscriber (at least for a month after the expansion launched) to unlock the new content.
There is no way to “buy” the expansion, you must subscribe, and you only get to access chapters that have been previously released. This means that you’re effectively not able to outright buy the expansion on a free-to-play account, and instead must subscribe to play it. This is becoming more and more common, not only in gaming, but across the Internet as a whole.
You could really see this change in perspective when Netflix reached a mass-market adoption rate. Everyone pooling their money in together to rent any movie they wanted to see (within reason) was much more economically sound than trying to rent movies at $2.99 a night with $1.00 off some popcorn or buying a blu-ray for $29.99. Around the same time, cloud computing took away the notion that we should run websites on dedicated servers and instead share in blocks of computers running collectively, pitching in and saving cash.
In MMOs, we used to buy the game itself. Then after we bought the game, if it was an MMO we paid a subscription. When an expansion launched, we purchased another box copy of the game (effectively owning it), and kept our subscriptions going. When free-to-play came, it got a bit confusing for a while, but it has now settled on the idea that free-to-play games come with just the core game for free, but if you’d like to really enjoy / play the game, then a subscription is necessary. You don’t specifically own any part of the game and the subscription benefits are temporary.
Games like SWTOR and DCUO allow ala carte purchases of various premium models, but especially for SWTOR, it can be very expensive very fast to piecemeal out various premium features. Owning them isn’t helpful at all, for the most part, because of how attractive the subscription is. There isn’t a sense of purchasing and maintain, we pay for access, and ownership isn’t so much of a specialty. Just like in the latest expansion, you can’t even buy the chapters bit by bit, you must subscribe for access and the subscription acts to continue unlocking additional content as it comes.
Guild Wars 2 is the only game I can think of, outside of games like FFXIV and WoW that hold strong to subscription only systems, that bucks this trend. In GW2, the base game is free, and the expansion costs. Previously, you bought the base game and voila, free for life. There is direct ownership established whenever you buy the game, and you get to use it for technically forever.
Yet, other games are doing the SWTOR model, leasing access to expansions and features, and focusing less on the one time purchase for anything other than consumables and novelty items. It’s interesting how as society, we’re becoming accustomed to this idea, and are completely okay without owning anything for our money.
We don’t get box copies of most games (especially on PC), no cloth maps, no trinkets, and realistically we don’t really get to keep anything in games these days without paying the monthly fee. I don’t know why it is, but I think it’s interesting – ten years ago online, if you said you were basically renting/leasing game time here in the west, people would think you’re crazy. You bought the game, you owned it, and the subscription was only for access – not features.
I guess that’s realistically the simplest way to put it. Ten years ago we paid for access, and now we pay for features. The monthly fee isn’t so much attached logging in as it is to logging into the new content. What’s even more interesting though is that the monthly fee seems to be what’s the most profitable to companies, because unanimously, almost every now Guild Wars MMO pushes the subscription above all (WildStar included).
I wonder how people feel, especially those like me who have been online for a while, about this slow progression into Lease-to-Pay. I think it’s interesting and apropos, anything that keeps games moving and makes customer’s happy, but I still have that old mindset that I want to own something or have something be mine.
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