These days, every game is your friend. They don't want your monthly fee, "put your wallets away!" they scream at the mere suggestion; no, they just want to be played - "go on download the new client" they suggest, sometimes they will even change the name ever so slightly so that upon seeing the words "EXTENDED" or "UNCHAINED" a player might drop whatever crockery they are holding, yelp in alarm, and smother their mouse in left clicks.
No one wants to use the word "subscription fee" anymore. It is a dirty word. Publishers much prefer the obnoxious phrase "F2P", even though under the trades-descriptions act, what they are doing is a felony. Nothing is free, we are just in the midst of new marketing strategies, and a rethink of just how more cash can be prized from your varied purses - but I've been thinking; are we in any better position with these new systems than with the old fashioned flat rate? In an effort to find out, today we are going to look over the varied subscription models and offer, and get to the bottom of this conundrum.
The World of Warcraft
Let's start traditional. Back in the good old days, you paid for a product, installed it, and then paid for a month of game time. For our continued loyalty, we got updates, patches, and a special warm fuzzy feeling in our tummies that said "we are helping out". Usually priced at around $10-15 this system was a sticking point for many prospective MMOers, but it made sense at the time. Does it work in today's standards? Well yes it does. You know where you stand with a fixed monthly fee - there are no hidden payments or extras, and with the exception of periodic expansion packs, this subscription model still attracts through its simplicity.
The Verdict: Simple and straight forward: “you pays the money and gets your game time.”
The EverQuest 2: EXTENDED
Did they really extend it? Or is the new title a reference to the executives at SOE’s private parts now that they've found a way to metaphorically flip its costumers upside down and shake out the remaining pennies? EverQuest 2 is one of the genre's most high-profile converts to the "freemium" way of doing things. The game is free to install, and to play, but with it comes a cost. Sony have essentially created obstacles and road blocks in which to usher you into one of its bronze, silver, or gold services. To cite Goodfellas: If you wish to use more than a handful of classes: f**K you, pay me. If you want to unlock inventory space: f**K you, pay me. Sony Online Entertainment have created a system akin to blind folding, anchoring, and nobbling your in-game avatar, and if you want to truly enjoy the Norrath experience, guess what you will have to do? F**king pay them.
The Verdict: You will have to spring for various premium content in a bid to enjoy the game and restore the "EverQuest 2 experience". Is it cheaper than a nominal subscription fee? Probably not. This one would be better served by a full F2P conversion.
Popular with the younglings and those oldlings that don't like to part with cash, RuneScape is the ultimate in budget MMORPGing. Boasting both a free and premium side that has hours upon hours of content, Jagex have managed to create a community for both the rich and the poor. With the subscription fee costing a flat rate of $5 with no hidden charges, this game feels more honest in its approach to the free-to-play category. Progression can be had on both sides of the subscription fence, and there is no mention of slapping an inventory restriction on you for not flipping a few coins by the way side. It is in-browser, and not quite as fancy as your traditional triple-A, but it makes up for it in sheer amount of content and playability, this one just feels more genuine.
The Verdict: It is honest and up front about what it does. Enjoy the game for free, but if you want to take it that bit further then the payment option is there for you.
The Lord of the Rings Online
It did wonders for the ailing Dungeons and Dragons, and so Turbine turned their population booster towards Middle-Earth. This "F2P" model follows the EverQuest way of doing things in that it handicaps those wishing to grasp at a freebie. Certain areas require "quest packs" and with the in-game item shop, there are plenty of ways to spend your green. Lord of the Rings Online does offer a lot of content for free, and in fairness Turbine Points can be gained from Trait grinding, but it will take you a very long time. Once a service is bought the game is free, but initially you will expect to spend more on the game than you would do if just simply subscribed. A mixed bag much like EXTENDED.
The Verdict: A great game and some amazing content, but it definitely isn't free and is costly initially.
The Guild Wars
People are still slapping their desks with delight to this day at NCSoft's decision for no monthly fees on this one. And they meant it. Guild Wars only cost a player the price of the box it came in, and from then on the enjoyment was yours to have without charge. Of course if we are being pedantic, it wasn't a truly MMORPG experience, and the game was more single-player with dashes of online connectivity thrown in at regular intervals.
The Verdict: I'm still smiling about this one, but can we truly say it was a traditional MMO?
The Final Say
So taking a sample of the five subscription models that are out there in the market, it is now time to ponder and decide which is best. In my opinion my heart still lies somewhere between World of Warcraft and RuneScape's way of doing things. You just know where you are with a subscription model - no hidden fees or obstacles to surmount with your credit card; you pay the admittance fee for the month and you're allowed on the attractions, it just works for me. Of course, Jagex's idea of having both free and subscription fee areas is an ingenious idea, one that boosts population and creates publicity for your premium services. And this is something that just strikes me as more honest and offers value for your money.
But who cares what I think I can hear you all yell, and you're right. I want to know what your thoughts and opinions are on this matter, and just which subscription fee you would prefer to opt for. Let me know in the comments below, I am truly interested.