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The Pub at MMORPG.COM  » Box sales or subscriptions, where is the real money at ? ( poll )

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21 posts found

Elite Member

Joined: 8/15/07
Posts: 2938

OP  4/22/12 7:36:57 AM#1


Of coarse I could only speculate on this ( opinion ).  But in my six years of playing most every mmo, and seeing how many are released shallow with many never even trying to evolve into a better game.  Seeing many broken promises from Pre-marketing. 

Using SOE for the best example with their Everquest 2, they seem to only advertise with each and every expansion pack as if the game is brand new.  And also speculating that SOE never really gave a rats butt about retention of players, as long as they kept there few hundred hard core players for appearances, they make the real money on box sales.....I can't help but  think most all the money is in Box sales of an mmo and subscriptions are only a byproduct of making some more money.

Obviously a few games like WoW, EvE and LOTRO and maybe a few more are the exception to the rule.  Adding that several years ago, back in the earlier days it my have been an equal pay off.  But now it seems to me that more and more developers are taking the EQ2 approach.

Many below this OP will try and give financial figures trying to prove me wrong BUT that is only speculation too....I'm sorry, but companies can fug numbers, hide figures, maybe not to the IRS but from the public.

I think the BIG MONEY IS IN BOX SALES, subs are just extra cash made with a very small crew of designers and a few phone tech support.......Buy our box please !

People may only think an mmo failed !!!!!!


The big money is:

Box sales alone
Mostly box sales
Subscriptions alone
Mostly Subscriptions
just let me see the poll
(login to vote)

Apprentice Member

Joined: 8/02/05
Posts: 3047

Haggis Humper

4/22/12 7:40:30 AM#2

I'd say box sales are mostly to recoup development and advertising costs then the profits come in with subscriptions either at the start or further down the road depending on how popular the launch is. Really though, all we can do is guess without hard numbers.


Spotlight Poster

Joined: 5/19/06
Posts: 2149

4/22/12 7:45:53 AM#3

From my experience with online products in the past it goes as follows:

-Box sales, used as immediate cash-flow to recoup dev taken out...etc in order to justify further development.

-Subscriptions, where the REAL money is and allows for growing or shrinking of the company based on interest.


However, I'd like to point out that due to past actions by very shadey companies trying to get you with those box sales on initial release and THEN charging a subscription for a sub-par product (ie: Age of Conan is a fine example) has caused a rift in the modern gamer making "Free to Play" a growing popular demand.


The fact that you want to "Play For Free" is a misnomer. In fact, most people do NOT want to play a quality product for free, but DO want an extended free-trial like experience so that they can decide if they want to. This has made "PayToWin" popular because then people can start paying for something they like after getting attached to it for so long playing as a "free" player.


It's the "Entry Condition Syndrome" for newer MMOs. Whether or not Planetside 2 has this nailed down is yet to be seen however.

The Theory of Conservative Conservation of Ignorant Stupidity:
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Advanced Member

Joined: 10/18/04
Posts: 477

4/22/12 7:46:26 AM#4

I once worked for a company that runs an MMO, they made enough money just from advertising on their site to pay most of the staff wages.  The money from subcriptions pretty much went on maintenance, servers and in to the pockets of investors.

A mix of optional "micro-transactions" and adversiting in a free game probably makes more money than subscriptions now.  The more active players you have, the more you make from selling advertising space as they will have more hits AND you will sell more box copies as people know they can play for free.  I bet PS2 will have adverts on the launcher, website and maybe on loading screens which will make most of what's needed to keep the game running.  Also as Sony probably own their own data centers the servers will cost next to nothing to run.


Elite Member

Joined: 1/18/06
Posts: 2410

4/22/12 8:55:28 AM#5

What ever happened to the idea of making a good product? This industry is going down the wrong road, trying to milk an old cow.

Once upon a time....


Novice Member

Joined: 2/14/04
Posts: 992

4/22/12 8:56:48 AM#6

Well, both box sales and subscriptions generate real money, thus the answer would be "both". :)

In practice, it depends.

In theory the big money comes through subscriptions and it's easy to see why. Even if the publisher/studio would get the full resale price for the box (and he doesn't unless it's a direct download) the usual price point of games is so that a subscription of 4 months generates more revenue than a box sale. Thus when, statistically, a customer stays subscribed for longer than 3 months the company gets more money from the customer through subscriptions than through box sales.

Thus, as long as the company can get more than 3 months out of a customer, it will get more revenue through subscriptions than through the box sale. However, to stay subscribed, the customer has to enjoy the game - and that can be hit and miss.

Here's where the box sales come in: marketing, hype, all the pre-release stuff, pre-order, pre-purchase, collector's editions, 3 month plans, 6 month plans, lifetime subscriptions, etc. all have one big advantage for the publisher/studio: the customer pays before he actually can play the game, i.e. he pays before he knows that he enjoys the game.

That's why all publishers try to push these things that come along with the box sale: they get your money even when you toss the game into the garbage bin after 2 weeks. :)

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Novice Member

Joined: 9/14/10
Posts: 3824

Facts do not require fiction for balance.

4/22/12 9:19:32 AM#7

Your poll fails to mention the options that include cash shops both as a P2W formula and as a cosmetic enhancement formula. GW2 for example, is box sales + cosmetic enhancements cash shop, which will likely prove to be a very successful formula.

Oderint, dum metuant.


Advanced Member

Joined: 5/28/06
Posts: 1687

4/22/12 9:21:43 AM#8

Well, the answer is both.

If a game does well in box sales, then yes they make a massive profit from it. And then they make a profit from subscriptions, but it's pretty much added profit on top of what they made on box sales which initially recoup development and marketing for the title.

  User Deleted
4/22/12 9:26:54 AM#9

There was a time in the not-to-distant past I would not have agreed with you. But I think you are correct regarding the current slew of games pushed out there .


Novice Member

Joined: 4/18/10
Posts: 2657

4/22/12 9:33:46 AM#10

Subs, I would say a bigger cut of the box/digital goes to other people, where as the subs, a bigger cut goes to the company...Even though it is smaller, it probably only take 3 months of being subbed or less to equal their cut for the box, so if they can keep someone subbed for 3 months, they more than double their money from them, if they buy the game.


So if they can get you to buy the box, and then promise things (Not to get into a big debate, but the most current example would be TOR and the 1.2 patch people were waiting on) to keep people for 3-4 months, they are doing pretty well.  Most people don't want to buy something and just quit, if they like something, even a little, they want to believe it will get fixed...




Novice Member

Joined: 6/14/06
Posts: 2030

4/22/12 9:37:16 AM#11
Originally posted by delete5230


Of coarse I could only speculate on this ( opinion ).  But in my six years of playing most every mmo, and seeing how many are released shallow with many never even trying to evolve into a better game.  Seeing many broken promises from Pre-marketing. 

Using SOE for the best example with their Everquest 2, they seem to only advertise with each and every expansion pack as if the game is brand new.  And also speculating that SOE never really gave a rats butt about retention of players, as long as they kept there few hundred hard core players for appearances, they make the real money on box sales.....I can't help but  think most all the money is in Box sales of an mmo and subscriptions are only a byproduct of making some more money.

Obviously a few games like WoW, EvE and LOTRO and maybe a few more are the exception to the rule.  Adding that several years ago, back in the earlier days it my have been an equal pay off.  But now it seems to me that more and more developers are taking the EQ2 approach.

Many below this OP will try and give financial figures trying to prove me wrong BUT that is only speculation too....I'm sorry, but companies can fug numbers, hide figures, maybe not to the IRS but from the public.

I think the BIG MONEY IS IN BOX SALES, subs are just extra cash made with a very small crew of designers and a few phone tech support.......Buy our box please !

People may only think an mmo failed !!!!!!


I don't know if it was an anomoly, but I remember Funcom saying during one of their quarterly reports that they only got about 20% of the box price themselves.  The rest went to the publisher, the store, etc.  These days though, I don't know if that would be the same with digital downloads being so popular and a large portion of individuals buying directly from the developing company themselves.


Novice Member

Joined: 1/06/07
Posts: 2541

Hype (noun)
1. to trick; gull.
2. exaggerated publicity; hoopla.
3. swindle, deception, or trick.

4/22/12 9:38:26 AM#12

Depends on how good/crappy your game is.

"Censorship is never over for those who have experienced it. It is a brand on the imagination that affects the individual who has suffered it, forever." - Noam Chomsky


Advanced Member

Joined: 5/04/07
Posts: 2249

4/28/12 12:55:35 AM#13

Subs alone.

You may sell alot of boxes when the game goes live, but what happens if the majority leave in the first 1-3 months?  All that boasting about selling a big amount of boxes will now be a subject of laughter.  Too many big name titles have companies boasting about large numbers of box sales, only to see everyone leave within 3 months.  Age of Conan was quite famous for that.

The subs will dictate success.  If you retain a good number of the initial buyers, then GOOD.  If you can accrue more subs afterwards, then GOOD.  It means a steady flow of money.  But bleed them off or never do a good job on getting a nice one?  Well, say hello to Tabula Rasa or whatever other failed titles, or even the ones that live on in a zombie-like state with small playerbases.  Playersbases that are a far cry for the developers' initial, lofty dreams.

"I have only two out of my company and 20 out of some other company. We need support, but it is almost suicide to try to get it here as we are swept by machine gun fire and a constant barrage is on us. I have no one on my left and only a few on my right. I will hold." (First Lieutenant Clifton B. Cates, US Marine Corps, Soissons, 19 July 1918)


Novice Member

Joined: 3/14/09
Posts: 6125

LARPer Hunter

4/28/12 1:02:36 AM#14

The problem with box sales is the physical box. Everyone from the companies that burn the discs, make the cases, print the booklets, then include retail markup and whatever profit sharing that goes to publishers - the developers make jack-all.

Subs have always made the majority income for a game, as there is no middleman. Straight funding (dividends given out, nonwithstanding).

A good pool to have, though, would be if microtransactions bring in more money than subs... but it would be hard to argue that they don't. Nobody is willing to pay neither the box price, nor the monthly sub anymore.

Writer / Musician / Game Designer

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Novice Member

Joined: 4/07/10
Posts: 1533

4/28/12 4:36:52 AM#15
I voted subscriptions since I would rather be paying for a game that has a single server active for an open world than I would pay for a game that has expansions to open up new stuff in more instances.

NEWS FLASH! A bank was robbed the other day and a man opened fire on the customers being held hostage. One customer zig-zag sprinted until he found cover. When questioned later he explained that he was a hardcore Darkfall Online player and knew just what to do.


Advanced Member

Joined: 8/12/09
Posts: 717

4/28/12 4:38:07 AM#16
you left out "both"

Apprentice Member

Joined: 8/24/05
Posts: 881

4/28/12 4:39:45 AM#17
Box sales. All modern MMO's are geared towards getting customers rather than keeping them. So it must be the most profitable.

Advanced Member

Joined: 3/07/04
Posts: 2610

4/28/12 9:26:20 AM#18

Any publisher will tell you subscriptions is what brings in the money.

Because of how box sales work they barely see any money from them.


Advanced Member

Joined: 10/03/06
Posts: 2725

Life Liberty and the Pursuit of those that would threaten It

4/28/12 9:30:10 AM#19

" Lifetime Subscriptions " before they introduce Item shops and F2p not sure if anyone will buy into this but " Let the Buyer Beware ".


Apprentice Member

Joined: 7/24/03
Posts: 1428

4/28/12 9:35:50 AM#20

It depends on your game. If you have a good game you can rely on subs if your game is bad its all box sales. Hartsman once said if you have a game you know is bad you will hide it from as many people as possible but if you have a game that you know is good you will expose to as many people as possible.  The two examples of the extreme  here are AoC and Rift.  AoC did all they could to hide the game from its customers to maxmize box sales knowing they willbe getting almost nothing in subs.  Rift did the opposite exposingt he game to as many as possible and then investing money into the game with lots of new content.  While AoC shriveled up and died and has almost no one playiong Rift has been growing and gaining subs since Decemeber thanks to all the money they have been putting into the game.

Not surprisingly the same thing happened to Eq2 also run by Hartsman. After a terrible release SOE pumped money into EQ2 wherebt a couple of years after release the game had a revival in subs.

One thing to keep in mind about box sales is the compnay only gets 25% of the retail sales back unless the game is bought directly from the company.  So large box sales are not near as much money as they appear.  Although recently digital sales have exceeeded physical box sales upping the % that companies earn per box.

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