Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Tanking MMO Subscription and RMT Fees

"Tanking MMO Subscription and RMT Fees." What kind of title is that? Well, the title doesn’t refer to bloggers ability to draw aggro from their readers by writing about what players receive for their subscription fees or what they pay for items in the RMT shops in free-to-play (F2P) games. But I think Syncaine at Hardcore Casual in his WoW vs. Eve subscription comparison and Darrin at The Common Sense Gamer in his $10 Runes of Magic horse posts do bring up some good points. The major point both bring up is what should we expect game publishers to give us for the money we give them?

Instead of me trying to explain all of this in dry terms, think of the MMORPG genre of games as one big meta-game. Players wander around this world going from game to game (or perhaps just staying in one) trying to choose the game world that offers them the most rewards. Players’ wallets serve as their armor, health, tank, or whatever term your favorite game uses to represent the amount of damage a player can take before dying. Game companies are in a constant battle to extract as much money as they can from your wallet while players fight to mitigate the damage. This amount varies greatly since players’ ability to tank (absorb) the damage to their wallets depends on their economic conditions in real life. I’m beginning to think of this amount as damage per month (DPM) with your favorite local currency the measure of the damage.

The amount of DPM a player is willing or able to tank does not just depend on the overall amount of DPM a game publisher dishes out. The type of damage also comes into play. For example, some players are able to handle a large alpha strike (a rather apt phrase from Eve Online meaning the initial damage inflicted by an attack) on their wallets as long as they do not have to worry about suffering under the pain of DOTs (dollars over time) in the form of subscription fees. Guild Wars comes to mind as an example of this pricing model in which players buy expansions and don’t have to worry about monthly subscriptions.

Other players don’t have big enough wallets (or have the desire to open them to play an on-line game) to tank either a large alpha strike or DOTs but can tank smaller alpha strikes. For those players, F2P games like Runes of Magic and Wizards 101 fit the bill nicely. In EQ2 terms, these players are avoidance tanking and only pay money if they choose to do so. Other players can not only tank small alpha strikes but a small DOT as well. For those players I expect to see the emergence of more games like Free Realms that offers players, to use a WoW analogy, the option of normal F2P payment schemes without DOTs or heroic payment schemes with DOTs.

When the subject of the so-called triple-A MMO is concerned, the question of money becomes more complex as players have to tank both alpha strikes in the forms of purchasing expansions and DOTs in the form of monthly subscription fees. Well, some games are exceptions, but in general players have to tank both types of damage from the big bosses at corporations like Blizzard, SOE, Turbine, EA/Mythic and NCSoft. An indy game publisher out of Iceland called CCP has developed another strategy in which they forgo the alpha strikes of expansions (all content additions are free) and lure their player base into tanking more DOTs by enticing them into purchasing multiple accounts.

So where do bloggers like Darrin and Syncaine fit into this picture? Why, they are the theory crafters and min/maxers! If people can get past Darrin’s outrage at paying $10 for a horse, the point he was trying to make was that game companies can be taught certain financial facts of life. For instance, how long have MMO subscriptions held at $15 per month? The game companies learned from the players that $15 is the highest amount they can charge for a subscription and attract players. Darrin wants players in F2P games to resist purchasing expensive items in RMT stores in order to get the F2P game industry to lower their prices on those items. If game developers in the early games learn they can only charge $5 for an in-game mount, then that becomes the standard for all other games that will follow. Or in gaming terms, Darrin is trying to mitigate the incoming DPM.

Syncaine’s point I think was lost due to his well-known hatred of WoW. What should players demand from the big game publishers who insist we tank both big alpha strikes and DOTs? Is it okay for a game company to just keep the servers running with just enough content release to keep the player base happy, as Syncaine contends Blizzard does in WoW? Or should a company be like CCP and see its game, in this case Eve, as a service and be continuously trying to improve that service? If you are a min/maxer looking for the phat loot, the answer is obvious. More thinking like CCP’s, less like Blizzard’s.

But most players are not min/maxers and theory crafters. Instead they are looking for something a lot more intangible. Those players just take the games as they come and as long as the attacks on their wallets are bearable they'll allow the developer of their favorite game a great degree of freedom of action as long as they deliver the phat loot. And in the case of games, the greatest loot of all is fun.

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