Before we get into the details of this post, I think it’s very important to keep one thing in mind; no matter the payment method, someone is going to end up paying more for option A than option B, and vice versa. The discussion here is what method would work best for not only the majority of players, but for the health of the company and future MMO development.
The pros of the current AAA model, a set monthly rate, are fairly obvious. If you are budgeting your gaming expenses, you know your favorite AAA MMO is going to cost you $15 or so a month regardless of how often you play. That breaks down to 9 cents an hour if you play 40 hours a week, 18.75 cents for 20 hours, or 37.5 cents for 10 hours. That monthly rate gives you access to everything currently in the game, and all future development short of a retail expansion. Most AAA developers add ‘free’ content fairly regularly, and continually fix up the product. In the purest form of cost/hour, the more you play, the less you pay, and regardless of what you actually do in-game, you are paying for the complete product. Chatting in town costs you just as much as high-end raiding or PvP.
The RMT model has a few forms. One would be a pay-per-minute method, which works similar to the subscription model above, but rather than a flat fee per month, you pay for only the time you actually play. The cost/hour ratio favors those who play less, and the total cost per month can vary greatly. If we assume a base rate of 25 cents an hour (the cost of someone playing 15 hours a week using the sub price of $15), someone playing 40 hours a week would be paying $40, someone at 20 hours pays $20, and someone at 10 hours pays $10.
Then you have the ‘free to play’ RMT model, where you pay nothing for a beginners slice of the game, and then pay to get access to further content, be it levels, items, quests, or instances. This model also frequently offers shortcuts, allowing you to speed up in-game progress by paying more.
I’ll be up front and say that I highly favor the subscription model, and the very notion of RMT is enough to drive me away from a product. Part of that reasoning is cost, I play ‘enough’ that a subscription is an extremely cheap deal in terms of cost/hour. Simply put, no other form of entertainment offers as much value to me as a subscription to an MMO.
However cost is not the only factor. In my opinion, the RMT model adds a lot of ‘features’ that I’m not looking for in an MMO. From the harmless (and imo useless) fluff, to game changing xp potions, to balance changing paid items, RMT changes how one approaches an MMO.
If we are charging per minute, my tolerance for waiting around for a PUG group drops to zero. I’m not going to pay to wait for some random person to arrive, or arrive and slow down progress by being a ‘weaker’ player. If I want to make raid progress, I surround myself with like-minded players in a subscription game. With RMT, if I want to make progress AND not spend more money, I HAVE to gather only the top players, and anyone below that level is strictly excluded, far more so than with a subscription model.
It also places added stress on guild activities. If a raid is planned for 8pm, and a few members arrive at 8:30pm, we have now paid for 30 minutes of waiting. This not only places more pressure to arrive on time, it also excludes those who can’t commit to a set schedule. If your kid is crying and you go afk, my patience for you will drop far faster when the pay-per-minute clock is running. Now that afk member is wasting both time AND money. MMOs have enough barriers as it is for group and social content, do we really need to throw money into the equation as well? What happens to flight paths that are not instant when we are paying per minute, or character downtime? If a priest kills mobs slower than a rogue, now not only do you need to spend more time, you are also spending more money to reach the level cap, or catch up to guild mates. XP potions are a nice option, but again you are spending more to reach the same spot.
Paying for content also has its pitfalls. If I buy access to an instance, I have to hope all my buddies did too; else someone is going to be left out. If I join a new raiding guild, it’s time to buy whatever current raid they are on, and forget whatever raids I already bought for my old guild. Players hate broken content already, what if in addition to wasting your time, you just paid for a broken quest, or a broken instance? At that point the old “slap in the face” forum post might actually be justified. If we are paying for gear, it creates more problems. If all your buddies bought tier 2 armor, and you are using the free tier 1 stuff, good luck getting a raid or instance spot. Who wants to bring the freeloader with ‘noob’ gear? Not to mention, if we remove the item carrot from an MMO, what exactly are we grinding towards? MMO gamers love to grind, we just like it cleverly disguised by things like XP, reputation, renown, gear tiers, keys, or any number of things. If I can pay to remove the grind, what exactly do I have left going for me, other than mailbox pimping? Sure things like ‘exploring’ and ‘seeing content’ sound nice, but single player games are notoriously better for those activities, and if we remove the grind of an MMO, the content goes by very quickly. It won’t take players long to figure out that dropping a ton of money for a character with limited options is not that great an idea.
The item/content RMT model works fine for single player games, as the only one impacted is the person making the purchase decision. As soon as you throw other players in the mix, you have just added another barrier of entry. Raiders now need 3-6 nights a week of time, and an extra X amount of money to raid. Groups of friends must decide on content together, and agree what to purchase. If the purchase is subpar, have fun playing the blame game. Players with the best gear are now either no-life loser, or spoiled rich kids, etc etc.
I’m sure fans of RMT have their reasons, and I would love to hear and discuss them, but keep one more thing in mind. The only reason a company would switch from a subscription model to RMT is if RMT earned them more money. Unless RMT guarantees you more customers, that added money comes from your current base. If I’m hardcore Bill, and I have two similar MMO games, one with RMT and one with a sub, which one am I going to play? If I’m Joe Casual, which one works best for me? Now which customer does the RMT company prefer, and which one does the subscription model company prefer? See the problem?