We have a new blogger in our midst (thanks for the link KTR), and his first post is so good that I’ve already added him to my daily list of sites to visit (feed readers are for nerds). The post is about the pricing model for MMO games, with the basic idea being that while games and gamers have changed since 1997, the standard model for selling an MMO has not. Good stuff, especially the microtransation parts. While I avoid MMOs with that pricing model when possible, I’ve spent my share of cash in the iPhones app store, and it IS a model that can work in the right environment and with the right execution.
The one part I do disagree with however is at what price to sell the ‘boxed’ (in-store or virtual) game at launch. If you have been a part of any new MMO launch, you know the first few days/weeks/months are more or less a clusterfuck of overpopulation, server queues, unexpected downtime, and the devs going “zomg we never though this many people would be interested in our game!” In short, your game is NEVER going to look worst from a functional standpoint than the first month, so why would you want to expose MORE people to that by lowering the entry cost?
Furthermore, the core audience that has been following your game for months/years is already sold, even at $50, so dropping the price won’t help you attract them; they are already in. Now assuming your game is not outright terrible, that core should be big enough to fill out the server(s) on launch day, and only after some of those players decide the game is not for them would you really need to bring in less-dedicated fans. It’s at this point that you drop your initial cost and lower the barrier of entry. The better your product, the more growth you will experience, rather than seeing a steady or negative rotation of new players coming in as older ones leave.
The huge bonus out of keeping the initial cost high is that by the time you lower the price, you have also (hopefully) improved your game and ironed out all launch-day issues. Now those less-dedicated players who are coming in are going to see your game in a much better light than they would have on day one, and are more likely to stick around. If they quit a week after go-live (hi tourists), they are more likely to share their negative impressions around their community, further hurting future sales.
And since an MMO is a marathon rather than the sprint race sale of a single player game, you don’t need (or want, really) a huge initial rush of buyers. Not only is this expensive in terms of marketing, it’s also self-defeating for all of the launch-related issues already mentioned. As such, a higher barrier of entry initially is actually a good thing for everyone but those initial buyers (but that is an excepted price that is paid by those on the bleeding edge of anything, and even they benefit by having a smoother launch), and again, if you have a quality product, in time your numbers will grow.
edit: I forgot to mention that in addition to the above, IMO the better solution to lowering the box price outright is to offer better incentives for long-term commitments. Something like “if you buy a lifetime sub for $200, you get the boxed game free”, or “if you buy the game and 6 months of time, the price of the game itself goes from $50 to $20 (this is currently the DF promotion FYI). In addition to giving people a better deal, you also get them for a longer period of time, meaning they are less likely to ragequit after one bad week. Depending on your game, that first week might be a far bigger hurdle than even the initial cost (DF and EVE jump out in this regard).