When Playtime is Pay-time
Its been a fact of life since
the days of Ultima Online and EverQuest--if you want to play an online
game, youre going to have to pay a monthly fee. Monthly fees are
common to most MMOGs with very few exceptions. Lord of the Rings
Online: Shadows of Angmar will be no different. You know the drill: you
buy the game, you install it, and before youre allowed to log in
youre whisked away to a site where youll create an account and, you
guessed it, provide payment information. Once the obligatory free trial
period for LOTRO ends, youll be paying each month to explore
Are monthly fees justified? To answer that, we need to take a look at
what our money helps pay for. MMOGs generally run on multiple servers.
Not only is hardware expensive, but its very existence necessitates
employed technicians who maintain and repair it on a 24/7 basis. Look
beyond the tech people, and you have CSRs--customer service
representatives. These are the people paid to assist you if you have
technical problems of your own. Run into issues in-game? Youll likely
be calling for the assistance of a Game Master (GM); another form of
customer service personnel. Most games have official forums, and all
forums need community specialists who serve as guides and moderators.
Yep, they have salaries, too. And we havent even begun to look at the
developers themselves who work on tweaking existing content, and
bringing new content online to keep players busy. And dont forget
marketing and public relations...
You get the picture.
But most players dont take time to consider the cost of running an
MMO--they just want a good game for their money. And can you blame
them? After all, its their hard-earned cash they lay down each month.
Few stop to ponder the fact that their money is going toward supporting
servers and technicians and customer service and the like--they just
want to have some fun.
And thats really what it all boils down to: fun. Ive played many an
MMO, and as long as the game entertains me, Im more than willing to
pay a monthly fee. If the game stops being fun, I log into my account
manager and cancel my subscription. I may play a bit longer until my
subscription runs out, but when it goes dark Ill leave without
regrets, and I usually wont look back. The game box and disks for
Final Fantasy XI, for instance, now serve as a bookend. (EverQuest 2 is
at the other end. And The Sims Online, despite my shame in having ever
paid to play it, is somewhere in the middle.)
But when an MMO is enjoyable, the monthly fee seems like a small price
to pay to spend several hours per week having a good time. Lets say
that a person plays a modest 5 hours per week, for a total of 20 hours
per month. Assuming the monthly fee is $15 per month, the player is
paying less than $1.34 per hour for engaging and interactive
entertainment. It costs nearly 10 times that (depending on where you
live) for a movie ticket and a regular soda--more if you want popcorn
with butter-flavored topping or some Junior Mints. And unless youre
one of those people who shouts things or throws popcorn around the
theater (in which case, I know where you live and I will get you some
day), its not an interactive experience at all.
Another question to consider is whether the monthly fee for our online
games makes us squeeze more out of them. For instance, I picked up the
single-player game, Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, shortly after it
launched. For weeks after, much to my husbands dismay, when I wasnt
working I was playing Oblivion. But after a while I realized that the
game wasnt going anywhere, and that I had better things to do than
play obsessively. Would I have been likely to continue to spend much of
my free time in the game if I was playing online and paying by the
month? Perhaps, but it might not necessarily have anything to do with
When it comes right down to it, Im more likely to keep playing a game
because my friends are there, plain and simple. One of the reasons I
find it easy to take a break from playing Oblivion is that the only
thing waiting for me in-game are a bunch of NPCs. Everythings static.
Theres no one in Tamriel going on without me, completing quests and
gaining experience. When I leave, the game world comes to a screeching
halt. But that wont be true of Middle-earth. When I leave the world,
my friends may still log on. Theyll make progress in my absence. They
may discover things I havent discovered, or complete quests Ive yet
to undertake...without me! That in itself is a pretty compelling reason
to log on, and to keep paying a monthly fee to be able to do so.
If Lord of the Rings Online can inspire a strong sense of community
among players, and if it provides the sort of environment my friends
and I will want to return to on a regular basis, then the odds are good
that Ill be there for the long haul, as will a lot of other players.
Make it easy for me to find people to play with when my regular group
of friends isnt online, or give me things to do while Im not in a
group, and thats all the better. Hopefully, LOTRO will have some of
the key ingredients necessary to keep players playing--and paying--for
the long haul.
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