There are a range of financial models that MMO’s fall into. There’s the subscription based model where you pay a monthly fee and that gives you access to all the content the game offers. There is “Freemium” where the game is free to purchase and free to play with some restrictions. Paying a subscription fee on this occasion will open up additional features. And there’s the micro-transactions model, where the game is free to purchase and play, but you can buy things using real money from an online store, such as clothes, mounts, potions etc. Ether Saga Online is an example of this model and it’s a popular model in the Asian market where it is prolific. Lately I’ve noticed a rise in a different model; that of the subscription based game that also offers items to purchase in an online store. Or maybe it’s always been there and I just never noticed.
MMO’s have always offered additional “services” for a fee, such as server transfers and character renaming, and I personally don’t have any issue with this. Nor do I have an issue with the micro-transactions model. If you want to pay $10 or $100 a month on items to enhance your game-play or just improve your enjoyment then so be it. But a subscription based MMO is different. In this case, you’ve already forked out money for the game, be it the boxed version or digital download. As well as that you are paying a monthly fee, and for that fee you should have access to everything that the game has to offer.
By now everyone has heard about Blizzard’s Celestial Steed Mount virtual item, and the enormous queues and eight hour backlog as WoW fanbois rushed to fork over an additional $25 US to be one of the hundreds of thousands of players to own it. And Blizzard isn’t alone in this, with Cryptic, the developers of Star Trek Online and Champions Online also providing their Cryptic Store, where you can buy things for real cash, such as new Bridge layouts, Starship Skins, and character races, just to name a few.
MMO’s are notoriously expensive to develop and prone to failure. Gamers are reluctant to pay $15 a month for games that might suffer server instability or bugs, but it would seem that they are more than happy to pay $15 a month plus extra at the online store if they like the game. Is this a trend we’re seeing and will we see more of it in the Western market? Are Bioware’s Execs sitting in the boardroom discussing their upcoming Star Wars MMO and greedily rubbing their hands together saying “We’ll give everyone access to a lightsaber, but only offer the double edged lightsaber in our online store””