I know that this sort of post is pretty late in its arrival, but I never really said I was going to be up to date with everything…though I will say for the record that I think the Dress is UGLY IS HELL AND STOP ALREADY PLEASE I BEG OF YOU!!
Now that I’ve got that out of my system…a thought occurred to me when I was thinking about MMOs, business models, and how people perceive them. These thoughts were spawned by the recent-ish announcement that EverQuest Next may not be a free-to-play title, as well as exposure to reaction to the announcement. A comparison arrived to my mind while I was pondering the question in my isolation chamber.
It’s not a secret that the way MMOs are being monetized is changing rapidly…perhaps even violently. We’ve gone from buy the box and expect a subscription to buy-to-play, free-to-play, freemium, pay-to-win, pay-to-test, crowdfunding–there are so many ways that these sorts of games can be launched and maintained that it’s perhaps easy for someone to believe these schemes are all hatched by Snidely Whiplash.
Naturally, when there’s a period of great amounts of change, there’s a level of pushback. It’s human nature, especially gamer nature, ESPECIALLY especially when gamers are given open forums to air out their grievances regarding these changes whether said opinions were directly asked for or not. Change has always been met with a period of resistance born out of fear or worry that a new idea is maybe not too bright. Tie that up with the way people are asked to spend their money and it just makes it worse in the minds of many.
Here comes the part where I offer what I think…and I also come to that whole comparison thing I alluded to before.
We’re seeing the fashion industry right now make a shift away from the supermodel image to the “real women, real beauty” side of things. Instead of having ultra-glamorous mega-waifs trying to convince people that the creature they see in the mirror is a thunderthighed hellbeast, magazines, clothing companies and beauty companies are understanding that the concept of a perfect model isn’t universal…nor should it ever be. What one person considers beautiful may be outright reviled, and the amount of effort put into making an already over-manufactured woman look even less realistic is being shunned by the buying public en masse.
So it is, too, with MMO business models. Not every person is going to find a single model appealing.
The wealth of choices in the MMO market today has never been broader, and so competition is going to naturally arise from that pool of clawing hands looking to sink their nails into your gaming dollar. Value for dollar, like a standard of beauty, is a completely subjective thing and one monetization model might not work for all games. For example, Final Fantasy XIV is often lauded as one of the few MMOs that, for many, offers enough regular updates and content to make charging a monthly subscription fee worth it. Despite that, there are many who simply refuse to touch the game because there is a subscription fee. It doesn’t make XIV less or more of a good game because it requires a charge, or keeps “the freeloaders” out–it’s personal perception. That model is not pretty to all customers.
Guild Wars 2 is another example–a game that, many feel, offers stupendous amounts of value in that they have a practically psychotic update cadence without requiring more commitment than a box purchase. Hugely appealing to many, but others feel the Living Story updates were just seasonal events in a shinier wrapper. Perceptual difference. That model appealed to different people for different reasons.
The point is that not every single customer is going to find every MMO worth their time and money universally. I subscribe to WildStar but barely play it because I feel that the game is making the right moves but still isn’t actually at the right place in terms of content, so I offer financial support in order to fund further development. I sub to and ruthlessly play XIV because that game’s amounts of updates have more than paid for the sub time. I won’t be paying for ESO until it goes buy-to-play in a few months because, though it’s a solid game, I don’t feel it has enough going for it to warrant regular payment. I have bought Guild Wars 2 and a lifetime sub to The Secret World but hardly fire those games up because…well…they really haven’t grabbed me totally.
My standards of payment model beauty, just like my standards of physical beauty, are mine alone, and are varied. Sure, there can be patterns. There can be a great swath of folks who share my precise same tastes and feelings. But it still isn’t a universal truth. MMO companies and especially MMO gamers all need to understand that the days of a single answer for monetization are dead and gone.
I don’t find this kind of change horrible or yet another sign on the MMO Mayan Calendar of the end of times, but I find this more as a response to the way games are made. These things are now multi-million dollar endeavors that require unique and “creative” methods of funding. Development is costly, and keeping MMOs alive is costly. We’re seeing the business of gaming adapt, and it’s only natural that people do the same thing.
Regardless, game companies need to bear in mind that not everyone is going to find the model you’re presenting pretty. People are going to look it over, compare it with their own sense of what appeals, and outright judge your model right to your face. And to everyone else’s faces within earshot, but I digress…
Change happening will ever be our only constant in this genre, and the payment model is the strongest illustration of this. We’re living in a time where MMOs are making completely crazy mutations. It’ll be better for the mental health of many if we all begin to accept that the standard…well…isn’t. And MMO companies will live or die by understanding that tastes are different. This goes double for monetization as it does for design.