Fixing the MMO Business Model
You know it is easy for journalists to tell you what is right about a product and even easier to explain what is wrong. However while everyone can tell you what is wrong no one seems to want to step forward and give realistic ways to fix things. A few weeks back on this blog I attacked the F2P world for the mess it had become, a world that is mostly MMO style games. Well I do not want to be one of those people that will tell you what is wrong but never offer a solution, so Doug and I have spoken on this often and I thought I would share our ideas.
The F2P model is supposed to work on the concept of giving away a game and then charging for small items in game to build revenue. This model works but only when the company sinks most of it’s time and effort into creating new items for the micro-transaction store. The result is often a game that feels shallow to more hardcore gamers. This model does not give the developers a steady cash stream to work with either. Many studies show that only about 20% of a games players actually provide the money to allow the other 80% to have a game to play.
The problem is the old model was not a good one either. The gamer would pay $60 for the game and then be expected to pay $15 a month to keep playing the game, resulting in a game that had a lot of cost associated with it, over $100 within the first 3 months of game play.
There is a hybrid system out there right now, Guildwars took a mixed approach with the game costing the initial $60 but the monthly play being free and then adding micro transactions and you buy any deep expansions. While that system seems to work well it does have the scare of spending $60 to pay for a game that may or may not be worth the money in the end.
The subscription model can be a boon for the players as they do not need to worry about buying little things for the game. However if you have this with a large upfront fee for the base game and have a micro-transaction store you turn off a lot of players. However the developers benefit from a steady cash and fairly predictable cash flow that can be used for more content.
The best solution I think is in the middle of all of these and my hope is people like Richard Garriot and the folks making ESO will listen.
Lets begin with the initial game itself. The real cost of an MMO comes in two parts, first the initial recoup of investment and then the constant upkeep and expansion. That initial recoup is the big pink elephant in the room that gamers hate to talk about, but it is viable concern. You could simple give the game away, as most F2P games do now and then hope enough people play to bring that investment back. What if, however you could have the best of both worlds? What if you could charge for the initial game buy but do so in a manner that does not drive gamers away? The folks at CCP currently have that model working with the initial game purchase being $20 and that includes the first month of a subscription fee. Gamers want free, we all do but they also know the truth of gaming and if the price was reasonable for the start you could charge a small fee and still get a large turn out, helping to defer some of that development cost.
Now then how to make money after that initial purchase? Personally I think the best solution is a subscription model. This gives the players, hopefully, a chance for higher quality content to roll out faster and means the devs have a steady cash flow. The best way to do this however, in a world full of F2P options, is to keep that cost low. The $15 a month model is a bit steep when you have so many free monthly choices. Bring that price down to $10 or even $5 a month and I think you would seen gamers flock to it, as long as the content was flowing at a reasonable pace and was actually substantive.
Now we still have a third way to bring in money, the micro-transaction store. The key I think is to make it purely about cosmetic items. For example custom dye packs for gear so you can change the default color. Now I do not think you do this by limiting the color you can find in game. What I think you do is al the colors for an item exist in game but you have no control in what you get. The Dye packs are one shots to change an items color to match what you want it to be. The same can be done for mounts, when you buy a mount you get a random color but in the cash store you could choose the mounts color and style. These types of transactions would in no way effect game play but would still be snapped up as people would want to personalize their experience more. Simple skin and color changes that only effect the cosmetics of the game are easy to generate but could bring in some solid cash returns.
As I stated a few weeks ago I think the F2P experiment has failed, we are seeing the efforts being more and more junk, game quality is suffering badly. Yet Pandora’s box has been opened and there is no stopping it whole hog. However I feel that if we look at a more middle ground approach we could see game quality return and gamers get a more satisfying experience and game developers not having to compromise their game vision to earn the money they need to keep development rolling.
If you have some ideas on this I would love to hear about them…..