In the comments section from yesterday’s post, Rohirrim raised the issue that with so many failed MMOs being demoted to the F2P minor leagues, gamers today might be weary of jumping on a new game that is sub-based for fear of the F2P switch. I think the issue has two parts, one being overall recent market conditioning (which includes things like Steam sales rewarding waiting rather than buying on day one), and the other being the somewhat recent sub-to-F2P trend.
Both problems are solved by having a quality game, but making a good game is hard.
When a new game is released on Steam, I only pay full price if I want the game right away, and the only games I want right away are the best ones (for me, of course) or if my friends are playing it and I want to join in. Civ V and its expansions were full-price purchases, and I consider those money well spent. Same for XCOM and Skyrim. How many people paid $30+ for ARMA II because their friends were playing Day Z and they just had to jump in? But that is a high bar to reach, and again, most devs can’t reach it.
The same goes for MMOs; if you have a good MMO with good retention, you stay with the subscription model. If you launch an MMO that can be ‘finished’ in 3 weeks/months, or one that doesn’t have the social hooks to keep guilds going, you switch to F2P and milk suckers with the F2P math tax for as long as you can get away with it.
Will WildStar or TESO be good-enough to stay as subscription games? We’ll find out ‘soon’. At the very least, they are not throwing in the F2P towel on day one, so they have that going for them.
But let’s not kid ourselves, no successful MMO has ever switched to F2P, because if you have a successful title, the subscription model is where the money is in NA/EU (Asia is completely different for countless reasons). You don’t go F2P because you will make MORE money with a successful title, you go to F2P because you are failing and a cash shop might hook enough suckers to keep you afloat, especially early on as you have not yet destroyed your overall game with the kind of additions you will eventually add to the shop (gear, lockboxes, etc).
And the F2P “sell the future for the present” design destruction will only accelerate as the dummies catch on. You (usually) can only fool someone a few times before they realize buying lockbox keys is stupid, or that they are paying way more than $15 just to come close to getting what they had before with a subscription. Zynga made a lot of money when it beat everyone else to those tricks, but it caught up to them (as did the laws) and the company is worth a fraction of what it once was (that they are still in business is a miracle actually).
By the time EQN is finally released, how many uneducated F2P dummies will be left? By that time, how many actual MMO gamers will be fed up with the cash shop trash and looking for a straight-up deal? Even at a site like Massively we are already starting to see such comments, and if there was ever a bastion for F2P dummies, its Massively.
Side-note; I think the next evolution of the sub model will be to increase the monthly cost. The sub ‘barrier’ of $15 is nothing to something who actually wants to play an MMO, and the only people you are going to lose are the people who were already flaky. If you have a solid title, I don’t think increasing the cost to $20 or even $30 a month is going to matter to fans (again, people paid $30 for ARMA, an older title, just to play a mod), while it would allow a developer to continue operating at a certain level with a smaller total population.
Even at $30 a month, an MMO you play as your primary source of gaming would still be ridiculously cheap entertainment compared to anything else, but it would more than double the income a studio would get per player, lowering the ‘make or break’ threshold and allowing for more target-focused titles, rather than the ‘try to cater to everyone, deliver to no one’ junk we have been seeing over the last few years.