Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Alternate Pricing Models

Openedge started a discussion on MMO monetization. He wonders what alternatives there are to the $15 a month subscription fee that seems to be ubiquitous in Western MMOs.

One model I would prefer would be a tiered subscription fee, just like you see with cell phones. For casual players, you might buy blocks of time (a "pay as you go" plan), with no contract. I might buy 15 hours in City of Heroes and even if I don't use it up for a year, I can still come back and play whenever I want.

Above that, you would have a low-priced time-limited subscription. For $5 a month you might get 15 hours of play, with overage charges if you play longer.

And above that, you would get your standard $15 a month unlimited subscription.

There are a lot of MMORPGs installed on my hard drive right now. I have a lot of disk space. I have Warhammer Online, World of Warcraft, EverQuest II, Vanguard, Planetside, Matrix Online, Pirates of the Burning Sea, Star Wars Galaxies, and City of Heroes. Right now, I only subscribe to EQ2. I could get all the Sony games for $30 a month, but I don't put in enough hours to make it worth my while. But if I COULD play all of these games for a reasonable fee, I would.

If I could pay $5 and get 15 hours of play (or something similar), it might be months before I used that up in City of Heroes, but that would be $5 they aren't getting right now, because $15 a month for something I'd only fire up once a month or so isn't worth it to me.

What other kinds of subscription models could there be? How about something modelled after the cable company? Instead of having MMO creators managing pricing and payments on their own, maybe they should just focus on content creation and outsource payment processing to third parties. Those third parties can create their own bundle deals for access to any of the games they've been licensed to resell.

With this model, I could subscribe to one company and access games from more than one game producer. Maybe I could pick any two MMOs for $25 a month, or five MMOs for $35 a month. I would get unlimited play and can swap one game out for another once per month (if you've ever used an e-Book service like Safari, you'll be familiar with this idea). The third party will determine the proportion of play time I'm spending in each game and pay out accordingly.

Another model could be paying be chapter in an episodic MMORPG. I don't mean what Guild Wars did by selling each Campaign separately for one flat fee. What I mean is having an MMO designed more like a TV series that's broken up into distinct story-related chunks that start and, more importantly, END. And you pay for access to each episode.

Let's have a game which ends when the episodic ends and then starts up again with the world changed based on what happened the previous time around. This wouldn't be a game for achievers, since each episode would essentially reset everyone just like many single player games don't let you keep your level 20 in the sequel even if you are supposedly playing the same character. This allows new players to join in any time in a world where everyone is on the same level, and it means we'd get a world that truly evolved over time and wasn't purely static. Each episode might last a month or two and then the game might be shut off until the next episode was ready. The main idea behind this model is that the world changes between episodes. The tower with all the orcs in it one episode has their angry ghosts in the next. The bandits are defeated and the fledgling outpost becomes a commercial and economic hub. No timesinks, because the game resets, just a focus on story and exploration. And we keep paying to keep taking part in the ongoing story.

There's plenty of other ideas but those are the ones off of the top of my head that I would prefer to see over the two current models: free-to-play with microtransactions, and the $15 a month subscription.


Tesh said...

I've written before about a cyclic/periodic resetting MMO. I like the idea quite a bit, as it has the potential to give players more power than we've seen to date. (Things can't get too far out of whack; the resets see to that.)

That's one place where I can see charging for time rather than content, since you're effectively selling people a pocket universe that only exists for a set window of time.

Great article!

Chris F said...

It seems everyone is blogging about this these days. It is refreshing and hopefully more momentum gains and we can see some of these payment structures implemented in AAA MMO.

Crimson Starfire said...

"Instead of having MMO creators managing pricing and payments on their own, maybe they should just focus on content creation and outsource payment processing to third parties. Those third parties can create their own bundle deals for access to any of the games they've been licensed to resell."


The first company to offer a subscription bundle will do very well. To start off with, the bundles will most likely be kept within the same companies. I.e: An EA bundle including WAR, SW:TOR, DAoC etc. An NCSoft bundle: Guild Wars, Aion, CoX, Lineage 2...

I'm drooling just thinking about it.

Down the track a bit, I'm sure a third party will start offering cross company subscription bundles.

Can't wait till it happens!

Scott said...

We're wanting MMOGs to become more like cable or satellite television -- pay one fee for everything, or pay a smaller fee for "packages" perhaps.

Great idea, and some entrepreneurial company may give it a shot someday.

Notice though that slowly networks are trying to separate themselves though? Aren't NFL and MLB making their own channels now and will likely (eventually) restrict "public" content to monetize their own channels. Don't the Yankees have their own channel? The television industry is trying to make everything a la carte, which MMOGs for the most part have always been, while we MMOG consumers are wanting to stuff ourselves to obesity in an all-you-can-play buffet...

Tesh said...

Notably, I don't buy cable service. I buy DVDs. There's always a market for both. I see both industries diversifying, which I welcome with an "it's about time".