Sunday, April 27, 2008

MMOG Pricing – Get it Right!

There are many Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOGs) on the market at the moment and almost all of them come at a price to the consumer. Obviously game companies cannot make their games free as it costs them money to run servers, provide maintenance and game patching. So which pricing model is the best for you?

Not all MMOG pricing strategies are the same, some benefit the consumer more than others. There are currently five different pricing schemes, of which one or more make up the pricing models of most MMOGs:

  • Pay Upfront(PU) – Where the consumer buys the game outright
  • Pay to Play (PtP) – Where the consumer is required to pay an ongoing subscription fee (usually monthly)
  • Pay for Extras (PfE) – Where the consumer must pay if they want to access/unlock additional parts of the game. This can be in the form of a subscription fee or an upfront cost. Often in the form of a 'Premium Account'.
  • Pay for Artifacts (PfA) – The consumer must pay to obtain artifacts within the game
  • In Game Advertising (IGA) – Where the consumer doesn't pay at all but is subjected to advertising during game play.

Below is a table outlining some of the more common MMOGs and the pricing schemes they use:

World of Warcraft (WoW)YY   
Guild WarsY    
Hellgate LondonY Y  
Eve OnlineYY   
Dungeon Runners  Y Y
The Matrix OnlineYY  Y
Entropia Universe   Y 
MapleStory   Y 
RuneScape  Y Y

Most games use one or two pricing schemes to make up their pricing model, however some MMOGs (i.e The Matrix Online) use three schemes, which in my opinion is just plain greedy. I mean how many times should the consumer pay for the same peanut?

One thing that really upsets me is that a lot of MMOGs charge an upfront cost and then an ongoing subscription fee, WoW and Eve to name a few. I think it should be one or the other. I'd be happy to pay $15 US a month for a game if it continued to interest me, but why should I pay $60 - $80 US just to get a copy? This is where I think games like Guild Wars and MapleStory have the right idea. Both their pricing models use a single pricing scheme. Guild Wars makes it's money by bringing out an expansion pack every six months or so and charging around 70 US for them. This would have worked out to be the same as paying around $11.66 US a month. The catch is that you don't have to buy the expansion. What I can't believe is that games like WoW charge the consumer for expansions as well as an ongoing subscription fee. How do they get away with it? Is it that consumers are so used to having their money taken, that they think its the norm, or is it that they are so addicted to the game they they will pay for extra content no matter what the cost? In either case I definitely think the consumer is getting screwed.

The pricing model used by MapleStory and Entropia Universe is an interesting one. Essentially the game is free, however if you want to 'enhance' your gaming experience you must buy items within the game. This can be good and bad at the same time. Its good because you get a feel for the game and can determine if you like it or not before paying a cent, but bad if you become seriously addicted to the game, as you will continue to hand over money to 'enhance' your experience.

I think Hellgate London's pricing model is a joke. You must first buy the game, but in order to get the best weapons and armor, you must buy a 'premium' account which comes at a cost of $9.95 a month. The downside here is that you get a bunch of overpowered rich guys running around taunting all the penny pincher's.

So which model is the best for the consumer? Without being too biased to a game I love, I definitely think Guild Wars has it right with a pay upfront model. It worked for Blizzard with Diablo 2, so why did they change with World of Warcraft? The simple answer is greed.


Tesh said...

I've always leaned heavily to the Guild Wars model. I also really love the Puzzle Pirates model, which is effectively a microtransaction model, but players can play everything without paying a dime thanks to the dual currency blind exchange auction system.

In an increasingly saturated market, the subscription model will always have a home, but it just can't be the only option out there. There are plenty of players that want something different, and the more options a company can give players, the better their market share will be.

Crimson Starfire said...

Hey Tesh, great to have someone comment on this post. I've never played Puzzle Pirates, but I definitely think a micro-transaction model works if done right.

looking to the future, I definitely think the Guild Wars model is the best, as it helps with gamer retention (ie. appeals to the casual gamer).