To Pay Or Not To Pay – That Is The Question

Aug
11

To Pay Or Not To Pay – That Is The Question

Perhaps one of the strongest issues we’ve come up against since going public with what we are working on here with the Saga of Lucimia, is our decision to charge a monthly subscription for access to the game. Which begs the question: why use the subscription model if so many people are (supposedly) against it? 

Let’s start off by saying this: we don’t believe as many people are against it as the naysayers would have folks believe. In fact, we have looked at the data and we know for a fact that plenty of subscription-based games within the niche market are quite successful: Darkfall springs to mind.

And the latest round of progression servers for EverQuest and EverQuest II reiterate this fact. While we don’t have any hard numbers in front of us, at one point Ragefire was boasting an unofficial count of 3k-4k concurrent nightly users, and generous estimates put the total number of paying subscribers at double that.  Those numbers have scaled back somewhat since the launch and hype have both died down, but we’re not alone in the simple fact that we know there is an audience out there who doesn’t have an issue paying a monthly sub.

My favorite argument from the 99% instant gratification generation of hipster gamers, is that “time has shown, over and over, that a subscription model isn’t the way to go. EverQuest, EverQuest II, ESO, LOTRO, SWTOR, they have all gone free to play”. Even WoW has relaxed their standards over the years with slipping subscriber numbers, allowing you to play for free up to a certain point, before you have to commit to a monthly sub.

But even WoW still commands a monthly subscription. As does Final Fantasy 14. And numerous other games I could point out.

The issue isn’t with the payment model. The issue is in the evolution of the games, and the industry as a whole once WoW came along and everyone wanted to emulate that level of success by making their games as easily-accessible as possible to get mass subscriptions on board.

When everything that is currently being designed consists of single-player, on-the-rails, spoon-fed content that you can log in and play for five minutes, then log out without having to make any sort of actual commitment to the game or a community, it’s natural that players don’t want to pay anything for that.

Couple that with the fact you can solo level your way to max within a mere 30 days in most cases, and players are left with few reasons to actually continue playing the game past the 30 day mark; instead, they’d rather hop on to the next quest grind and get another 30 days of free before they hop off to the next game and rinse/repeat.

When you take a look at early EverQuest, or a game like Darkfall, or Ultima Online, or Star Wars: Galaxies or Asheron’s Call or Dark Age of Camelot or any of the other other “dinosaur” MMORPGs, you’ll see one constant theme among them: community and group-based gameplay. They were not single player titles. They were MMORPGs, meant to be played and enjoyed alongside others.

You grouped, you adventured, you chatted, you made friends, you hosted events, you roleplayed, you had guild parties, and you spent hours upon hours per week within those games, investing yourself in those communities and those friendships, as well as those worlds. You didn’t just play for 30 days; you invested years of your time.

While some of those games disappeared, others evolved to face the changing of the times and the saturation of the industry, and the reality that if they wanted to command the same income as before, they were going to have to make their games accessible to the casual gamers and instant-gratification self-entitled trolls of the game world. And the only way to do that was to dumb down the content, make everything low-hanging fruit, and eliminate challenge and grouping from the equation.

Wildstar is one of the most recent games we’ve been compared to as a model of “this is what’s going to happen to you guys as well. You just wait. You’ll go free to play just like the rest of them”.

We simply don’t agree. Period. Here’s why.

First and foremost, we aren’t a game that needs to recuperate 250 million dollars of investment funds. Secondly, we aren’t supporting a development team of 150-300 people. Instead, we’re a lot like the guys behind Darkfall. It started off with five guys in Norway, who merged with three guys in Athens, to create the eight man team that would work seven years to create the game.

Now, they have a company of 40-50 (not verified; pulled from the wiki), and while the original Darkfall has been sunset and the game evolved into the sequel, the last public numbers in 2013 had them boasting 20,000 paying subscribers.

For a small team, such numbers are more than profitable, and keep everyone with a full-time income that allows them to keep generating future expansions without the need to compromise.

Secondly, we aren’t designing a game around single-serving, instant-gratification content. Quite simply, players won’t logging in to play for 15 minutes and then logging out. Ours is a game where players need to invest time + effort in order to accomplish anything worthwhile, and the only way to build friendships and become part of a community is to (guess what?) invest time and effort.

Our game focuses on making a commitment. Not just to the game, but the people you adventure alongside. And whether that is playing a single 3 – 5 hour session per week, or several sessions per week as your schedule allows it, ours is a game that revolves around putting in a significant chunk of time – more than enough to justify paying a monthly subscription.

Especially when you consider all of the things we are doing above and beyond just the content itself, such as GM support and world events. Our entire development team still pays monthly subscriptions to various games, and so do millions of others around the world; it’s not a “broken” model, it’s just not the favored in today’s instant gratification climate.

When there is plenty of content that makes it worth it, paying a monthly subscription fee = a moot point. The content very literally pays for itself.

Thirdly, and most importantly, there is zero pay-to-win in our game. Period. Just like it used to be in the old days.

By working with a monthly subscription model, players have 100% equal and total access to all of the game content. You can’t pay 5 dollars for an xp pot to help you race to the top ahead of someone else, or buy a special mount with 50% extra run speed that will allow you to be faster than somone else.

We know for a fact that there is a massive and vocal community out there who absolutely hate, with every fiber of their being, cash shops that allow play to win. We’re among them. Any type of item or potion that can allow you to bypass game content = completely against our code. Everyone has equal access. Period.

What people do with their access is up to them. Some players log 15 hours a week, others 3 a week, others 30 a week. Players will progress naturally based on their own levels of availability. That’s normal. That’s organic. That’s natural progression. Someone who dedicates 2 hours a week versus someone who dedicates 4 hours a day to playing the piano, or drums, or painting, or the gym. Time + effort = reward. Nothing more, nothing less.

By elimating the idea of a cash shop where players can pay-to-win, or pay-to-access-content (such as with LOTRO where you are literally road-blocked from accessing quest content unless you pay micro-transactions; alternatively, the VIP monthly sub gives you unfettered access), you eliminate the instant-gratification element from the equation.

Most of this boils back down to the simple fact that we don’t need 100,000 subscribers to be a profitable game. Much like the guys behind Darkfall, we are a small team, building up from nothing with our passion, and that sweat equity allows us a much more profitable position in the long run, with much smaller numbers than if we were beholden to a company for tens of millions of dollars, or with a staff of 100+ with literally tens of millions of dollars in payroll every year to worry about.

Micro-transactions make millions, there is absolutely no doubt in anyone’s mind about that. That’s why all of these big-name companies have switched their games over to those models in order to placate the masses and maintain maximum profitability. But they are not the only way of doing business.

The reason why Wildstar and ESO both had to switch, in my opinion, was not because the subscription model is broken or outdated. Rather, it was because they tried to be the ultimate game for every type of player, and in their marketing push they both marketed their game towards players who very clearly have no desire to pay a monthly fee because they don’t play more than an hour or two here and there; they are not dedicated MMORPG gamers.

Instead, they are the single serving micro-transaction gamers of the Facebook generation, used to spoon-fed content that can be completed in 15 minute “hard modes”, max level in 30 days, and then they are off to the next game.

There were still more than enough players for BOTH of those games to maintain a steady, core profit….IF they had marketed their games as niche products instead of trying to market them as WoW-killers. Because let’s face it, a subscription-based game in today’s market is never going to generate hundreds of thousands of subscriptions or hundreds of millions of dollars per year of revenue (with the exception of perhaps WoW).

But it can generate a handsome profit for a small team who has realistic goals and doesn’t try to market their game to every player of every style.

By focusing 100% on our target audience, we trim the fat, eliminate the chaff, and are left with nothing more than lean, mean, gaming enthusiasts who are more than willing to pay a monthly fee to access a game world where the pay-to-win children and their entitlement complexes are completely nonexistent.

Moving beyond that, every modern MMORPG that exists today is a 100% quest grind. There is zero incentive to invest in the world, or the lore, or the people around you. Instead, players are just spam-clicking through those quest dialogues to get their quest journal loaded up to get their flashing icons on the map so they have glowing trails to follow so they can kill the mobs and collect the loot to take back to get the quest rewards and repeat the process until they are max level.

On top of that is the current model of allowing players to level up to max with zero commitment, effort, or time involvement. So….there’s no interaction. No community. No friendship. No involvement in anything even remotely long-term. There’s no incentive to play beyond 30 or 60 days because BAM, you are max level in that amount of time and the only thing left for you to do is grind “hard mode” runs every night for the next year or two until an expansion becomes available.

By eliminating quest hubs from the equation, and by eliminating experience points and levels, we eliminate that part of the problem from the equation. Taking it back to the roots when it was the players themselves who created the content, the players who determined the hot spots, the “orc hill” areas, the best dungeons, the favorite cities, the EC tunnel where everyone congregated to sell their wares.

Now, technically, players still have to “level up” their skills. But that is done through organic gameplay, which happens regardless if players want to follow an epic storyline or just head out into the wilds with their friends on an adventure they themselves created.

And lastly, is the simple fact that much of the issue is with the generational gap between our generation of gamers, and today’s generations. Our generation grew up on monthly subscriptions and forced grouping and community-basd gameplay, and we never asked for the industry to evolve: it simply did.

We’re still here. We didn’t go away. We may be older now, we may have to schedule our sessions differently than we used to when we were teenagers and college kids, but we didn’t somehow just disappear. We still exist, and we are still more than happy to pay monthly subs for games that have those things which appeal to our roots.

Tying into this is that the modern day generation of players are the 99% entitlement brats who think they deserve a first place medal simply for existing, because mommy and daddy have told them since they were little children that they are the special flower of the universe, that they deserve everything simply for existing, and that no one should ever tell them no.

Personally, we have zero problem telling such self-entitled trolls to crawl back into their hovels and leave the big boys and girls alone with our big-boy-and-girl toys. We’ll leave the scraps on the floor for the rest of you to gnaw upon while we’re filling ourselves up on steak and eggs and ham and cheese and wine and ale and bread and jams and creams and more.

At the end of the day, we aren’t a free to play title. And we have zero problems telling the F2P babies to fuck off, here’s a tissue, cry yourself a river. We’re a box purchase + monthly sub to play, and anyone who has a problem with that can go download the next F2P title and enjoy their 30 days of gameplay.

Meanwhile, those of you who are interested in investing months/years of your time into building yourself up as part of a community within a world that is more than just a video game….welcome home.

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