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Player Perspectives (Archived): Expanding the World of Subscription-Craft

Columns By Jaime Skelton on April 23, 2010

Expanding the World of Subscription-Craft

This week, Sony Online Entertainment introduced a new subscription option for players of EverQuest II called “Passport.” The subscription plan costs $5, and allows players to play three consecutive days per month. Designed for casual players, multiboxers, and the noncommittal, the subscription plan lets players basically blitz-play the game for three days out of a month. The plan is not without its flaws: players get 72 consecutive hours, meaning they can't pick and choose three days out of the month; this  also means if a player chooses to spend more than three days out of the month, they'll still end up forking out for a full month on top of the $5 they spent.

On the surface, it might seem the Passport is a terrible business idea. $5 for 3 days is three times the daily amount paid by a regular subscription; a poor choice for the person who's positive they would get more use out of a regular subscription. However, with a portion of players cutting their gaming budget – possibly only visiting a few days out of the month as it is for special events or just to check in on friends – the Passport is offering a new economical option.

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What some may see as a clever business ploy by SOE, however, is actually – well, it's a clever business ploy. It also opens up an new avenue of thought when it comes to the subscription model dichotomy (i.e. either you have one or you don't). After all, the diamond $15 a month standard has been around for a long time. New players, new niche markets, and new independent studios mean it's time to open a dialogue about how we pay for our online gaming habits.

For example, we have three feasible options for paying for our games right now: a monthly subscription (usually $15, and scaling downward for more niche games), or free-to-play, either with an optional subscription or micro-transaction reliance. Micro-transactions are beginning to permeate all three of these models, but remain optional. For players who can only afford a few hours of game time per week, free-to-play games offer the best value, but may not offer appealing options; subscription-based titles may be exactly what they want to play, but not worth the value of a subscription given their play schedule. The EverQuest II Passport model goes after this group of players, but it could do better. Players aren't completely opposed to paying more per day of game time, so long as they're paying less per month. Offering a three day weekend blitz, à la SOE, is certainly a new option that will work for some.

Imagine, a secondary subscription system that allows players to pay-per-day, however, at a rate of $1.00, for example. While twice the amount of a regular subscription, this secondary option still proves more affordable for players who believe they will log in for less than 15 days per month. A pay-per-day option gives players more control over their payment options, while doubling per-day profits on each player that chooses the more casual option.

Another possibility is for online games to go the cell-phone route, offering game cards which allow minutes of play time, for the ultra-micromanagement of your gaming funds. After all, why pay for a full day of play when you may just be logging in to check your mail and seeing if anything exciting is going on?

Lifetime subscriptions have also become a popular option recently, and they're quite compelling as well. To a lifetime subscriber, the question isn't so much in the price of a lifetime subscription, it's in the value. Perks aside, a lifetime subscription ensures you can always play the game – no matter your future financial status, no matter if you just log in one day every six months to see what's changed. There's about a half-dozen games I wish I had a lifetime subscription to for just that security; as much as I'd love to revisit some of my favorites, I'm not paying $15 to do so.

Despite what forum trolls will tell you, profit, in and of itself, is a good thing for gaming companies. Profit means new games and better games. Unethical and otherwise exploitative profit is obviously not good, but if a company is up front in offering multiple payment plans, they offer consumers choice. Choice is a statistically good thing. So is rewarding customers, possibly by a long-time subscriber discount or, as many companies do, rewarding long-term subscription purchases over one-month subscriptions.

The only way gaming companies are going to know what players want, however, is for us to go forth and tell them. Consider what options that you would seriously consider paying for your favorite games, and then write or post about it. Open up community discussions, and help game makers create a “passport” style option for your favorites.

Jaime Skelton / For fourteen years - since the days of Ultima Online - I've been playing MMORPGs with a passion, from paid subscriptions to free imports. Online gaming has become one of my most passionate hobbies, as the games internally and externally evolve over time, providing an ever-changing gaming experience. I write for several websites about MMOs, including MMOSite, Examiner, and BrightHub.
Player Perspectives (Archived) Player Perspectives (Archived) Editorials
Jaime Skelton has been playing MMORPGs religiously since Ultima Online and brings the unique voice of an experienced player to her weekly MMORPG.com column. Based out of Utah, more of her content can be found over at The Examiner.

Her column looks at the industry from the eyes of a gamer and appears every Friday.
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