5 Reasons Why Subscriptions Are Here to Stay - Page 2

Posted Wed, Jan 05, 2011 by jeffprime


Perception is another big reason why subscriptions are here to say. If a game goes to free-to-play, it’s considered a failure in the eyes of most gamers. Why is the game free? Wasn’t it good enough to pay for? In our culture, we have an inborn distrust of something for nothing. Old adages such as, “You get what you pay for” and “What did you expect for nothing?” say it all. A game going free-to-play is seen as a sign of desperation. The biggest F2P story of the last two years is Dungeons and Dragons Online and Lord of the Rings Online going F2P and increasing Turbine’s revenues.

The success of DDO and LotRO shouldn’t be seen as a repudiation of subscription-based gaming. The change in both games is a success of subscriptions. Point one: both games were fully developed and released as a subscription-based game. Therefore, they had enormous resources poured into them as opposed to games designed from scratch to be F2P. Point two: both games still offer subscriptions, which many players choose to take advantage of. DDO’s unique design is especially well suited to their hybrid model, with new instanced content being available in their cash shop, but free to their subscribers.

champions online
Champions Online didn't go F2P because it was a roaring success

Even with the success of DDO and LotRO, their increased revenue allowed them to keep the games going and make a profit. However, that profit is still a great deal smaller than a game with a higher subscription count. Revenues for both games raised two to three times the previous average. Sounds good, but if you were making $10,000 a year and got 2-3 times that amount, it’s not the same as if you were making $100,000 a year and got that same increase. In a nutshell, both games were spiraling downward and embracing a hybrid subscription model was a last chance to keep the games alive.

Be honest with yourself, how many MMOGs have you played and found lacking and said to yourself, “I wonder how long this game will last before it goes free-to-play?” I’ve done it with Warhammer Online, Champions Online, and Star Trek Online. A game goes free-to-play because it is failing, not because it’s a roaring success.


The cash shop adds another facet to perception, which is game balance. Games that rely upon a cash shop for their survival tend to deserve the scornful descriptor, “free to play, pay to win.” Most players want to earn their epic gear. If someone can just go into a cash shop and purchase the best items, then why play the game in the first place? If questing and exploring are taken out of the mix, then it boils down to whom spends the most money on their items to determine who’s best.

star trek online
Will STO go F2P?

Again, skeptics cry out and say that the cash shop can offer limited items for sale. However, that argument doesn’t hold water in the long run. If your entire financial stake is built upon a cash shop, and if players continually demand cooler and better items in that shop, eventually the game company will capitulate and offer such items or risk losing those players. Once a player can buy Thor’s hammer from the cash shop, it’s all over. Pretty soon, players who spent countless hours dungeon raiding to get some decent gear will be wiped off the map by some 13 year old kid and his dad’s credit card. What’s the fun in that? The end result will be in a great deal of frustration for normal players who don’t have tons of cash to spend, and they will leave the game.


This last category is a catch-all and incorporates some of the other factors. Free-to-play games are extremely popular in the Eastern market, and microtransactions (cash shops) are considered mainstream. In the West, we have a different perspective. First, our attitude towards F2P games in general. If a game is released as F2P, we consider it flawed. If a game becomes F2P, we can smell the odor of desperation from that game. Why is the game free, we ask? Does the gameplay suck? Was it failing? What’s the catch?

The catch is, of course, the cash shop, which most F2P games employ to destroy impulse buyers. A player, if they’re not careful, can go on a spending spree and realize that they spent much more in a few days than they would have in a six month subscription. Also, many of the free-to-play games force you to buy things that you normally would acquire through questing in a subscription game or items that you need to make the gameplay experience tolerable. Many F2P games offer healing potions only in the cash shops, not from loot drops. You want a speed increase to run that vast distance to that next quest point? Buy it from the cash shop! Unless a player wants to grind forever for mundane items such as healing potions, they’re forced to spend real world cash for it. Not so free now, isn’t it?

eve online
Immersion in a game for hours on end…well worth a subscription cost

Overall, subscriptions are a good value. For the amount of time that a player spends online in an MMOG, those fifteen bucks is quite the bang for the buck. You can spend $60 on a console game and have it finished in 20-30 hours. With MMOGs, you will be playing for years. With a set fee, a gamer can plan their monthly finances accordingly, and not be surprised that they spent $80 on cool cosmetic gear in the cash shop for their raccoon ranger.

All in all, subscriptions are here to stay. Free-to-play will continue to have a place in the industry, but game companies need a reliable, steady source of income to develop a game and to keep it going. A game can be built around a F2P model and be successful, but I doubt that any AAA MMOG will ever be released as F2P. Heck, even console gamers aren’t immune to subscriptions. How much you paying for that Xbox Live account? For their part, gamers want a somewhat balanced world that they can explore and adventure in. Even spending $14.95 a month isn’t a bad deal. Catching a single movie at the theater will run you $10, and that’s before the popcorn and soda! However, I would not be adverse to some companies lowering their subscription fees. There are some games that I don’t feel that comfortable with at $14.95 a month, but I would be willing to pay $9.95. However, the core principle that subscriptions are here to stay stands.

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