Welcome to Player Versus Player, the bi-weekly column that throws two writers in a cage in a battle of faction warfare. We debate the topics nearest and dearest to your heart and then throw it in the comments to you to decide the victor. This week, we cast our gaze to business models and ask whether it’s time for Pay to Play to go the way of the Dodo. Let’s get it on!
Chris “The Tourist” Coke: Chris has played more than his fair share of MMOs and wrote the column to prove it.
Ryan “More bounce for the ounce” Getchell:Ryan values his time, and puts a price on it.
Without further ado, let’s get it on!
Ryan: Hey Chris, welcome back to another Player vs Player. Last week we discussed The Elder Scrolls Online making the move to Buy To Play, this week I thought we’d dig a little deeper and ask the question: Is the pay to play model dated? P2P is the foundation for a fantastic community. A lot of people think sub-based games are gone, but look at Dark Age of Camelot, a game released in 2001 and still going. Is it a WoW killer? Not even close, it may spot 20,000 people, but you know what, that’s still a lot of people, and a lot of money ($300,000 per month). You don’t need a 10 million playerbase to be a success in the P2P model, you just need a good game that people want to play.
Chris: That may be true, but here’s the thing: publishers don’t look at MMORPGs the same way they do. Most of the big wigs funding our favorite and most anticipated games look to World of Warcraft and see dollar signs for their own pockets. That’s why most games should just stop trying. That said, there is life in the subscription model! I look at games like Camelot Unchained and see smart decision making. They’re finding their audience and setting their expectations in the tens of thousands, not millions. Now, big games planning and spending in millions? I think the time has passed. The era of Free to Download has begun.
Ryan: It’s interesting that you say there is a place for it among the niche games, whilst saying the era of Free to Download has begun. Isn’t every game a niche game? You like a specific game because of specific things that it offers. The era of Free to Download is a fad, it’s a phase that the industry is going through. Is it going to go away completely? No, but the Pay to Play subscription model is also going to be here and will be making a significant return. The $14.99 a month model is dead, that I will fully agree with. We’re going to see games adapting and offering plans that similar to $4.99 or $6.99 a month. Offering a the P2P service provides the company with a solid financial plan they know the income they’re making, it allows for future planning, but above all else, as I said before it provides a better community. Bots and hackers are statistically less in P2P games than they are in B2P/F2P. Now, before you start saying WoW is P2P and has tons of bots and hackers, yes, you’re right it does, but it also boosts a population in the millions. When you look at the ratio of players vs bots/hackers, P2P has a smaller score, strictly because the investment to return to the game is much greater.
Chris: Fair enough, and I’ll even concede that a cheaper subscription is better and even something I would hope for, but it doesn’t solve the problem of marriage. What I dislike about the subscription model isn’t the cost, it’s the pressure. I don’t want to feel like I have to log in or else waste money. It saps the fun, right there. And I’m not so sure P2P a healthy choice for most games. AAA MMOs are flipping free-to-play because subscriptions aren’t giving them what they need to stay afloat. If we’re talking bots and hackers, I would rather developers make their money from whales and microtransactions and then get them then develop a bot-free game on life support.
Ryan: Marriage eh? Do you feel married to a single player game after you buy it? Probably not, but you just spent $60 on a game that will most likely be completed within 48 hours of actual game time. So your time while playing that game is worth $0.80 an hour. Whereas with an MMO you spend the same amount of money, but it takes roughly 100 hours if not more to reach level cap (explore most of the content), your time is worth $1.6 an hour. Now let’s extrapolate that to $14.99 sub fee, if the company produces content that takes even 25 hours to do, which isn’t much, you’re time is worth $1.6 an hour. So you tell me, which one would you consider yourself married to in terms of getting your moneys worth.
Chris: But I don’t think it’s practical to compare MMOs with single-player games. They’re two different beasts when it comes to how players relate to them. To end, I’ll say this. I am not anti-subscription. I just don’t think it works for games targeting more than a few hundred thousand players -- and even that might be asking too much. We live in an era of choice. Players move on after 90 days leaving only the most loyal players behind. If publishers can wisen up and plan for those players instead of the 90 day boom, P2P can work, and be good, for exactly the reasons you mention. But right now they’re not. The games most likely to pull pay-to-play off are from the indie scene, like Mark Jacobs’ Camelot Unchained. Not NCSoft. And for that, I don’t see F2P and B2P taking a backseat to subscriptions anytime soon.
Ryan: Sub Fees are the better option in terms of quality of game, as long as the company behind the model is doing it correctly to justify the means. As I said, even with a sub fee your overall investment is much higher than that of a single player game, which also doesn’t boast the community and social aspect that you get with a MMO. While I do agree that F2P/B2P does allow for more freedom in choice of game it will never hold itself against the freedom of being able to do what you want, when you want, without having to worry about a “weekly allowance”, or lockouts.