The Comparative Cost of Modern MMOs

Posted Thu, Jun 06, 2013 by Xerin

The cost of a new game is rather high these days, especially post-recession, for anyone in their teens and twenties. Games start at $59.99 or about $65 after sale tax, depending on the state. That is what can make MMOs attractive and unattractive. Most MMOs have a low entry fee, ranging from free to about thirty bucks, the only exception is WoW which starts at $20 and after the expansions ($20 and $40) you’re at $80 bucks to get into the front door (although popular electronic retailers have the entire authorized bundle at fifty bucks, your mileage may very). Then, don’t forget, the $15 a month fee.

Guild Wars 2 on the other hand uses kind of a different approach – pay upfront (a hefty $59.99) and then it’s free for life, until development ends, and then further down the line, when the game is scuttled for the next big thing (much like the original Guild Wars which is now nearing its end of life after eight years of live development and moving into a fully automated cycle). Is this better than say WoW (a staggered up front charge then a monthly fee each month) or F2P titles (access is free, removing limitations costs money)? Well, it’s hard to say.

Let’s break down the one year cost for an average modern MMO:

World of Warcraft

The first year will require the $80 purchase of the battle chest ($20), Cataclysm ($30), and Panderia ($40).  The monthly fee (let’s say $15) is paid monthly, outside of the first month, so in a full 12 month period you will pay it 11 times for a total of $165. The full first year cost is $245.

There is no item mall / item store, outside of a few various pets for sale and character server transfers (server transfers, race changes, etc.) All of it falls within a $10 to $25 price tag and is not only optional, but rarely needed.

The game is complete; there is nothing for sale beyond character services (no bag expansions, XP potions, character slots, etc.) You get 10 character slots per server with a hard limit of 50 characters.

Gold cannot be purchased with RL money, except through a Bind on Equip pet.

Guild Wars 2

The current retail price is $59.99, after the pricing update it will be $49.99. That is the entire required monthly cost.

If you wish to purchase additional items from the store, you’ll need to buy gems. Gems are $10 per 800 gems. There is a large variety of items in the gem store, mostly ranging from $2 to $10 and include cosmetic items, potions, etc. None of the items are needed to enjoy the game.

Everything is accessible from the game. You can use gems to purchase minor enhancements, such as additional inventory room, character slots, and server transfers.

Currency can be purchased with Gems in the store as well, at a market exchange rate.


The current retail price is free.

If you wish to purchase certain in-game items, you’ll need ZEN. ZEN comes at $5 to 500. Items are usually between 20 and 3,000 Zen.

You may have to pay for certain extensions, expansions, content areas, races, classes, bag expansions, etc. The free version is limited only in quality of life experience, as of right now all available content is free, including foundry use.

Astral Diamonds, used for the auction house, can be traded for Zen.

Star Wars the Old Republic

The current retail price is free – although expansions (or endgame content) requires a box purchase.

There are three tiers of use, a “free” version that is as limited almost as the World of Warcraft F2P system (messaging, trading, etc. limited, but you can level), a “quasi-free” level, where if you purchase something from the store those previous restrictions are lifted, and a subscription level which grants a plethora of quality of life upgrades for free, as long as the subscription remains.

There are three tiers right now to payments in MMOs. Subscription based games, becoming rarer and rarer, where you pay a premium to have a game that doesn’t exploit your wallet past the monthly recurring subscription. Many F2P games are bringing the subscription plan back as a way to avoid the nickel and diming on the quality of life enhancements.

The next is the standard free-to-play model, where the game is free to play but if you want to enjoy it then you’ll need to spend between $5 to $20 a month on various enhancements, ranging from premium (a subscription like service), XP potions, and content unlocks. More games are starting to either provide a skeleton of a game and you pay for additional content (ala DDO) while others are going with the previous standard of charging for everything, but providing a subscription plan to skip it.

Finally, there is the GW / GW2 formula of charging a box cost and making the entire game free from that point forward, utilizing cosmetic items and character services as a way to pay for the continuation of the server.

As you can see, WoW is the most costly, by far. Though that's a different discussion for a different time.

The Best System

Which system is best? Personally, I am and will always be a fan of the F2P with subscription model. There is so many games out there that I would love to play and even pay for, but not until I’m in the mood to play them. For instance, The Secret World – I get into the groove playing it for a few days each month, where I’ll gladly purchase something from the store or some kind of booster or whatever for fun to make my limited time and attention to the game slightly better. If it’s my game of choice for a few weeks, a subscription where you save on the currency is always an awesome thing.

For subscriptions as a gateway, I honestly feel like it’s a dying breed, realistically, because there just isn’t any reason for the cost. For WoW it makes sense. WoW is a huge game, it’s a complete game, and the cost is justified by the depth of content. Though, that could just be mental conditioning from paying for a subscription all of these years, but I feel that it fits with WoW – but not much else.

As far as GW2’s plan goes, I’m absolutely in love with it, on a few different levels – first you get that purchased game polish and none of that weird cheesy F2P vibe but you never have to worry about a subscription fee. On the other hand though, there is that steep entry gate of that big box cost – which is why it’s not my favorite, because you can’t just jump in and play and pay if you like it.

I think all methods are viable and it all depends on the game. For instance, TSW might have done better launching as a F2P, while WoW obviously works with its subscription model. I will say though, that the decreased price for GW2 is not only necessary for its growth, but comes at a great time – people who paid full price do not have to feel bad because of the length of time before the price drop while the price drop allows fresh blood into the game and there is still a cost associated, keeping the players who paid the full price box copy from being alienated.

How do you feel about the cost of MMOs? Let us know in the comments section below.

Couple of heads up for your article:

1) GW2 does not force you to buy gems for store items. Rather, you can trade in game gold for Gems, effectively making every store item free for you, provided you have the gold.

2) EVE Online (since we are talking about MMOs and not medieval fantasy MMORPGs), gives you the option to pay for a 30 day PLEX (the equivalent of a time card) with in game ISK (money) for a price anywhere between 500-600m ISK. While this price is impossible to get for very new players who have no idea how to play this game (effectively forcing you to pay the monthly sub), players who DO have a grasp of the game, its economy and how to create optimal skill queues, can sometimes make multiple times the price of a PLEX in profit, even with newly starting characters (Planetary Interaction, Market PvP, Scamming, ISK Doubling etc.)

Confirming that as a 2008 Eve player, I haven't paid real money for a sub since early 2009.

Amen to that brother!

Now, in my opinion, if i had to choose a system which i would use to run my game, it'd probably be either GW's or EVE's, simply because they both have a "box price" (You need the box for GW2 whereas in EVE you need to upgrade your trial acc by using a PLEX or spending 15$, which is one and the same for CCP).

Excessive micro transactions in my eyes always made a game shitty. If you sell half of the stuff on an item store that you're supposed to get through the game means your game is half cooked. On the other hand, i've stopped playing games that require a monthly sub, not because i cannot afford it, but i find it as an insult to my intelligence. 15$ per month for playing a game that i officially "rent" as a service and which in the end i did not "buy"? Yeah, good riddance!

I love the f2p model ddo uses. You can buy points with cash or earn them through questing. The amount of points for content is juust right so you feel the cost of the content is worth the points paid. So when you buy points with cash, you feel the purchase is worth it. It is a magical ratio of want versus desire.

Neverwinter should have zen based content. However the way astral diamonds and zen move is a slippery slope right now. So I am sure some point down the line they will have it, and I think it would be pretty good. I do think their Auction house should allow in game currency as well as AD for item purchases.

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