Loading... Follow the Leader

Posted Mon, Oct 19, 2009 by Ethec

Welcome to the 1,186th edition of Loading...

Loading... is the premier daily MMORPG news, coverage, and commentary newsletter, only from Ten Ton Hammer.

Look at subscription MMO pricing behavior over the course of its short history, and you'll discover some interesting things. Since the market has more than doubled since 2005, why haven't subscription fees changed? Are we paying more or less per month (factoring in inflation) than we were in 1999? When are we due for another increase? Evidence and thoughts regarding these questions in today's Loading... Follow the Leader.

The Pulse

You vote with what you view at Ten Ton Hammer, and the result is the Ten Ton Pulse (What is The Pulse?).

Here's today's top 5 Pulse results:

  1. World of Warcraft
  2. Dungeons & Dragons Online
  3. Aion 
  4. Age of Conan
  5. EverQuest 2 

Biggest movers this week:

  1. DC Universe Online (UP 3 to #18)
  2. Fallen Earth (UP 2 to #15)
  3. Lord of the Rings Online (UP 1 to #6)
Recent MMO Releases
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With free-to-play giant Nexon reporting that revenues have risen 37% last quarter, there's fresh fuel for the subscription vs. free-to-play debate. Rather than re-hashing the old argument, let's take a look at the brief history of the monthly subscription fee, why $14.99 is the new $9.99, and one big reason why subscription fees have remained flat over the past four years. 

In the beginning (September 1997), Ultima Online was priced at $9.95 / month to play, which seemed like a steal in light of previous online games like Cyberstrike (whose ilk costed somewhere in the range of $3 per hour to play, and online gamers of better vintage than me can probably point out examples that costed even more).  A year and a half later,  $9.89 was the per-month price we paid when EverQuest first came online - a slightly discounted price probably meant as a publicity stunt for 989 Studios, the first incarnation of what later became Verant and then was merged back into SCEA as Sony Online Entertainment. It's worth noting that in those days perhaps no one realized the size of the market; the six cents knocked off the UO fee would have amounted to over $25,000 at the game's last known peak subscriber numbers (430,000 in January 2004).

As the developer name changed the EverQuest subscription fee grew to keep pace, and by April 2002 the price had been upped to $12.95 / month.  In June 2003, UO followed EverQuest's lead and jumped the subscription fee to $12.99 / month, and that's where UO's sub fee stands to-date.  But EQ went through one final round of increases (aside from Station Pass increases, which has increased in price from $24.99 at its inception to $29.99 in March 2007 - still the absolute best subscription deal in online gaming, in my opinion). In June 2005, EverQuest players were paying what World of Warcraft and EverQuest 2 players were by then currently paying - $14.99 / month.

Dark Age of Camelot followed a similiar trajectory, beginning at the EverQuest-inspired $12.95 / month, then following the WoW / EQ2 trend by increasing the sub fee to $14.95 / month in February 2005. In my quick search, Final Fantasy XI (at $12.95 / month) was the only 3+ year old game that stuck to its release date subscription fees, though FFXI is currently embroiled in a lawsuit over the Hotel California-ness of its subscription practices.

So, basically, we've seen two widespread increases in subscription fees, the first in 2003 (from ~$9.95 to ~$12.99) and another in 2005 (from $12.99 to $14.99). Sub fees have remained relatively constant over the last 4 years. According to The Inflation Calculator,  these increases hold up fairly well : $9.95 in 1997 equals about $13.30 in 2008 (2008 is the last year for which we have complete CPI data, though the comparison would probably suffer a bit with 2009 numbers). If you're upset about that $1.69, consider that $14.99 in 2005 equates to $16.30 in 2008.  Think of all the imaginary money you're saving!

What's most interesting, though, is the fact that sub fees haven't increased during the period that subscription MMOs have seen their most explosive growth. Once the new price floor was established in 2005, the market doubled in size from around 7 million to more than 16 million (according to yet sub fees haven't changed a bit. In each previous instance of an increase, sub fees played "follow the leader" - EQ established the $12.95 increase and then every other developer raised fees to follow suit. The first of the so-called third gen subscription MMOs - World of Warcraft and EverQuest 2 - established the $14.95 rate, then LotRO, Vanguard, AoC, etc. followed suit. Larger markets drive competition and competition drives down prices, of course, but unlike other explosive growth markets (e.g. cellphone service providers), the biggest MMO "providers" don't offer substitutable products, so competitive pricing isn't as effective. Case in point, if you're a WoW player with no interest in kid-focused MMOs, I'm not going to talk you into switching to FusionFall for even the astounding deal of $5.95 / month.

Though WoW is probably past the point where a subscription fee increase would only inspire talk of quitting rather than actual widespread account cancellation, we can thank Blizzard for not making hay while the sun shone. From 2005 - 2008, how much more would WoW's millions have paid per month to play the game? $20? $25? And other MMOs would probably have hiked their sub fees accordingly to avoid a perception of lower quality. We'll thank the quality free-to-play games too -  Guild Wars, Atlantica Online, Runes of Magic, etc. - because these games showed that a decent MMO doesn't necessarily have to charge a monthly fee to make a profit. Our gratitude also goes out to all the games which have exerted downward pressure on sub fees, either through lifetime memberships and reduced-cost multimonth sub fees, or just by charging a lesser amount per month (like Wizard101 and FusionFall).

What's your take on why sub fees have stayed the same? Are sub fees just arbitrary prices based on market forebearance? We aren't paying more, but has our bang for the monthly buck increased, decreased, or stayed the same? Have your say in the Loading... forums.

Shayalyn's Epic Thread of the Day

From our Aion General Discussion Forum

Aion PvP = fail?

As a daeva who's just one more gaming session away from level 25 and gaining Abyss access, I'm interested to see what PvP, or more specifically PvPvE, will bring to my Aion experience. I've already been ganked a couple times by rift jumpers, but that was really more of a minor nuisance than anything that would ruin the game for me. The Abyss, on the other hand, will be a different story. Will I agree with the poster of today's epic thread, Beerkeg, who says that The Abyss amounts to nothing but an imbalanced gank-o-rama in which the solo player has no chance? Will it, as he says, take Aion from "really good MMO to sub-standard MMO?" (You'll have to come read the thread to see how Beerkeg changed his tune later in this thread.)

If you've got something to say about PvP in Aion, head over to our forum and have it out

Awesome Quotes from the Epic Thread

"They aren't there for a fair and gentlemanly fight, they are there to gain Abyss Points and experience."


Have you spotted an Epic Thread on our forums? Tell us!

9 new Ten Ton Hammer MMOG features today! 82 in October! 2,030 in 2009!

Today's New Features
  • World of Warcraft -  Hallow's End Guide
    Hallow's End is starting up in World of Warcraft with lots of trick or treating, the spooky headless horseman going around causing fires and giving purps, and other fun holiday activities. Want some of his new ilvl 200 gear, flying brooms, achievements, or pumpkin hats? Why not check out our Hallow's End Guide this year. Get all you need to know about this awesome holiday here at Ten Ton Hammer!
  • Gazing into the Past - A Look at the Lore of Star Wars: The Old Republic
    Sith or Jedi? What side will you fight for in Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR)? To pick a side you should first know who you’re fighting for and the lore behind the game is already deeper than you might think. Knights of the Old Republic started the lore; now find out where SWTOR is taking it.
  • Guesses at Aion's First Expansion, and When Can We Expect It
    The first max level characters are just starting to roll in and the bulk of the player base is closer to the level cap than the newbie zones. That gets us wondering which direction NCsoft will take Aion in an expansion. While players are not blowing through the content at the rate witnessed in other games, they won't stay satiated long before they need more to chew up. Where will the lore lead us? Read on to find out some of Medeor's thoughts and prognostications.
  • World of Warcraft - Popularity Oversurge
    Get ready to stroke your e-peen, show off your welfare epics and otherwise claim your dominance over the other hordes of World of Warcraft players. This week Mem takes a look at those players who take showing off your gear to a whole new level.

  • The Lord of the Rings Online: Siege of Mirkwood Trailer
    The Siege of Mirkwood expansion is due for release later this year and nothing will ever be the same in Middle Earth. Orcs and more foul creatures lurk in the dark forest, ready to fight. It falls to us to fight back against the darkness. Prepare for battle, because war is here. This trailer video is a small sample of the story and content players will be able to experience in LotRO: Siege of Mirkwood.
More Guides
  • Gated Communities - A Guide to Finding the Right Gaming Home
    Last week in Loading.... Community Disservice, Benjamin J. de la Durantaye pleaded to developers to bring back games that encouraged and fostered the strong communities that spawned so many of our gaming friendships and fond memories. But ultimately we have to play the games we're given and not the ones we wish we had. Join Medawky as he helps players find their perfect virtual real estate fit, regardless of game.
  • Aion: Asmodean Aether Gathering Guide 100-199
    Finally, you're done with Altgard and picked up a ticket to Morheim. Look up and take to the skies in our next Aether Gathering guide. We'll take you through the entire Aether Crystal arc of your journey to the mastering the long lost art of accidentally falling to your death while harvesting. So come prepared with something else to do while your wings charge and we'll begin our 100-199 Aether Extraction Guide for Asmodeans.

  • WoW Utgarde Keep/Utgarde Pinnacle Guide
    Utgarde Keep consists of two dungeons, Utgarde Keep and Utgarde Pinnacle. The Keep is located on the shores of Lake Cauldros in Howling Fjord. Utgarde is held by the formidable Vrykul, lead by King Ymiron, who use the keep as their main base of operations to launce attacks against the Horde and Alliance in the area. This guide will help you defeat the bosses within the keep and gain the achievements that can be found within.
  • Champions Online : Millennium City Overview
    First time to the big city in Champions Online? Well, don’t stare at the majesty of Millennium City like a slack-jawed yokel! Your friends here at Ten Ton Hammer are here to provide a quick guide to this futuristic metropolis. Soon, you’ll be sipping lattes like a local.

Hottest Content:

  1. World of Warcraft -  Hallow's End Guide
  2. Gated Communities - A Guide to Finding the Right Gaming Home
  3. Champions Online : Millennium City Overview
  4. Incarna Incarnate - An Exclusive Q&A with EVE Online's Torfi Frans Ólafsson
  5. Gazing into the Past - A Look at the Lore of Star Wars: The Old Republic
  6. Player Created Content - A Look at Benefits and Dangers of Giving the Players Control
  7. Can Aion overcome the re-subscription threshold?
  8. EVE Online Video Q&A with GoonSwarm Spymaster 'The Mittani'
  9. Champions Online - Battle Royale: The Min-Maxer vs. The Conceptual Creator
  10. Windows 7, Gaming, and Why You Should Care

Thanks for visiting the Ten Ton Hammer network! 

- Jeff "Ethec" Woleslagle and the Ten Ton Hammer team

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