Back in September 2001, a game was announced that would really change the landscape of gaming forever. That game was World of Warcraft and it has been dominating massively multiplayer online games ever since. While many MMO’s have come and gone, WOW has been steadfast in its subscription model. Many games have tried to emulate the success that WOW has captured but have completely failed to get over the same financial hump.
Fast forward to 2014 and the gaming landscape has changed dramatically…and so have MMO’s. No longer do games start as a subscription model, instead we have seen the rise of the free-to-play games in all of their catered glory. Games such as Lord of the Rings online started with the typical subscription mode, but were forced to make changes when the subscriber plummeted. This has repeated itself over and over again no matter what the title, even big budget games such as Star Wars: The Old Republic quickly changed to a free to play model.
Free-to-play can be done right and many point to The Lord of The Rings online as such an example.
So what does all this mean to the gamer? A happier wallet, for one…and more fierce competition in vying for our time.
Times have changed, gamers have changed, and so has the economy as a whole. The economy itself has taken a major dive since 2004 and gamers have to be far more careful with their money. Gamers have subsequently become smarter in the process: whether its waiting for Steam to announce its next big sale, or holding out for the game of the year with all the DLC, we’ve all found ways to “beat the system”, so to speak.
New games have come out into the PC space, such as Guild Wars 2 with a buy once and play forever model. Guild Wars 2, however, smartly added an in-game shop selling a variety of items, including booster packs, cosmetic enhancements and even extra bank slots. GW2 struck that perfect balance was never a “pay-to-win” that some other MMO’s have fallen into, and benefited greatly from giving their player base an option on how they wish to invest and create their own experience.
So the million dollar question is really what makes WOW so special that people are willing to spend 15 dollars a month on? Many would answer quality, still others would say they never run out of things to do. Other MMO’s always seem to miss that special something that WOW captured all of those years ago. To give you an idea of how big WOW got at one point, the gargantuan MMO had amassed over 12 million active subscribers, single handedly representing the mass majority of MMO subscribers with it’s user base alone.
Slowly but surely those numbers have dropped, but by the end of 2013 WOW still had a massive 7.8 million subscriber base. All these years later MMOs have come and gone with a whimper, but WOW has remained strong. Though, WOW at this point may be a dying breed, and may be the exception and not the rule. I ask you now, do people still really wanna pay subscription fees for MMO’s anymore?
I believe the answer is a simple no, and here’s why.
Money! 15 dollars a month is a good chunk of change for somebody who has a family and cannot devote hours on end to an MMO. 15 dollars a month is hard sell to somebody with 4 kids who all wanna go play at the park or need to go to dance practice. The group of gamers that grew up with WOW have become older and are now in that spot with family, wife, ect. Why pay 15 bucks a month if you don’t have the time to sink into it?
There are now countless alternatives to WOW that don’t require ongoing subscription fees. Games like the previously mentioned Guild Wars 2, Lord of the Rings and Star Wars: The Old Republic all offer that same big MMO adventure, for practically nothing if you so choose. Pessimism has reached an all-time high now with newly announced MMO’s and gamers are just too smart for it. Hardly any new MMO’s don’t transition into free to play within a year and gamers know it, and this fact alone has helped to further change the gaming climate.
Waiting has its advantages, server problems are usually fixed, patches/ rebalancing takes place, and of course the game will become free-to-play. I will go out on a limb here, and speculate that no MMO’s other than WOW in this day and age will ever make the subscription model work again.
Launching soon is the much anticipated MMO from Bethesda The Elder Scrolls Online. I spent many hours hands on with it during various betas and spent a bit of time researching about others who had done the same. I have read over and over again most people are interested in the game but will never pay 15 dollars a month. Still further I read that Bethesda and Zenimax are well aware they may have a problem on their hands and have a in game shop ready to go if the game fails to achieve a masssive subcriber base, and is ready to go free to play as a contingency plan.
We will have to wait and see if ESO can accomplish the impossible, as savvy gamers will hold out and wait till the smoke clears, and when ESO has trouble paying the bills, the enviable free-to-play option will surely follow.
Do you believe times have changed and the subscription MMO model is a thing of the past? Or do you think with the right game a subscription fee will work for the long haul? Let me know in the comments !
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