Payment options in MMOs have been fairly consistent since the release of UO, you pay a set amount of money per month, and you are granted unlimited access to the games servers and all its features. A current ‘hot topic’ in MMO circles is the coming of micro transactions, small little fees for specific content. The lure of micro transactions is that the base game is discounted or even free, and the company makes money of these small transactions.
Lets do a little breakdown of the two payment methods from the perspective of the ‘hardcore gamer’ and the ‘casual’. In the monthly fee structure, both players pay the exact same amount each month, but the hardcore player get a lot more game time out of his payment, resulting in a much higher time/pay ratio than the casual. The hardcore player is likely to go after all the content available to him/her, maxing out reputation grinds, crafting, pvp, etc. The casual player will pick what he/she finds enjoyable while fitting it around their more limited play time and pursue that, perhaps completely skipping over other aspects of a game. They might focus on PvP, ignoring raid content, or focus on crafting and ignore reputation-based questing.
Lets assume a set number of micro transactions is assigned to each area of the game (pvp, crafting, questing, raiding), and the game itself is ‘free’ to play. Now if we compare the play style of the hardcore player to the casual, the time/pay ratio swings in favor of the casual. They will require fewer micro transactions before they run out of the current content, while the hardcore player will burn through each area faster on a monthly basis, requiring more transactions.
In effect, micro transactions punish the ‘complete everything 100%’ type of gamer, and favor the casual. Without a monthly fee, a casual can continue to come back at random to a game, each time paying a small amount for a quick burst of entertainment. A dedicated player will quickly outpace this rate, and be forced to pay more money each month the more they play.
It seems to me that micro transactions are a poorly veiled return to the AOL method of ‘pay per hour’ dialup. If you only use the internet to check email, this works great for you. If you are someone who is online for hours each day, it’s a smart move to ditch the old AOL and go with a set rate provider.
Which brings me to my point, will the type of payment an MMO has, micro transactions vs set rate, separate the player base into the hardcore vs casual crowd? Will those that play for 5 hours or so a week be playing micro games, and those that play 20 hours+ stick with set rate games? And to a further extent, will game design reflect payment type; will we see more casual games are designed around transactions, while the more hardcore games are designed around a set rate?