What have you paid for me lately?

paypal_logoThe Great MMO Payment Model Debate smoulders on across the blogosphere (and it should, it’s an important question), and something occurred to me I hoped one of you guys might know. I’ll check into it when I get a chance, anyway.

Are there any “pay what you think we’re worth” games out there? There’s plenty of software like that — game mods come to mind — where you don’t have to pay but you’re encouraged to pay something. As for me in that model… sometimes I do, many times I don’t. I’m old enough to remember the good old days of paying for shareware I really used and not having to pay for shareware I thought was crap (as opposed to the “try a really cut-down version you can’t do anything with” way crippleware shareware is sold today) — and I actually did pay for my shareware. If someone makes the effort to create something I find useful, it’s only fair to pay them for the product. But as far as I can tell, shareware’s more or less dead and probably doesn’t apply to MMOs anyway.

I just wonder if it’s even possible to run an MMO under the “pay if you like it” model — and more, “pay WHAT you like,” though you could probably have a minimum amount in there, say $5. Presumably that’s just way too unpredictable (or, to be more cynical, totally predictable in failure) to actually plan around, and would only work for something that didn’t really need funding to begin with. Or something that had alternate sources of funding, like advertising or game-item transactions or whatever.

I’m not even saying it would be a good model — though it’s an alternative, even if it’s not a particularly attractive one. I tend to be a little too idealistic (underneath my glamour of cynicism) and assume more people would pay for something than actually would; and in all honesty, looking at my own current budget, I’d only pay if I felt I could afford it, and our sense of what we can afford these days has shrunk pretty dramatically.

Of all the discussions I’ve read lately, one suggestion stuck in my mind. I think it was Tesh’s — apologies if it’s misattributed, I’m only on my first cup of Joe — that proposes paying (in advance) for time played. Not for a certain number of days, which is effectively what the current subscription model is, but for a certain in-game amount of time. Let me buy 10 in-game hours at a time, or however much I think I’ll need. Hell, copy many other entertainment companies (like paintball, f’rinstance) and give me a certain amount of time per monthly fee — $5 buys me 10 hours, and if I want to be online more, I’ll need to buy more. If I don’t use them all up, consider rolling them over. Pay-as-you-play, so to speak.

I can tell you one thing for certain: if I were paying somewhere around $5 a month for a “limited” access time (as opposed to potentially 24/7), I’d be subscribed to a lot more games, which would please me a lot more. As others have said, we’re becoming game-hoppers, and there’s nothing wrong with that, apart from the current price tag. I’d probably end up paying about as much as I am now, but I’d be “hosted” in 5-6 games instead of in 2-3 — and the way my gaming acquaintances and friends have spread out in the last few years, that could only be a good thing.

15 thoughts on “What have you paid for me lately?

  1. Often pay as you go ideas scare me, I think because it brings back old ISP minute plans and cell phone plans that always feel limiting. I think that is because of a lack of blocks past the first usage though, overage charges are bad.

    I’ll give my full and complete support to this idea though. I think I’d do a back flip for the ability to buy a block of subscription hours for a smaller amount right now. There is so much I want to play, running WoW and WAR, and very torn towards LotRO and EVE. If I could drop $20-30 and have access to all 4 for a certain amount of hours, I’d be on that in a minute.

  2. The idea for payment scheme that I had for a MMO is somewhat a hybrid of that idea and present day. Namely:

    $5/month = 20 hours.
    $0.50/month per extra hour.
    $15/month cap. (reached at 40 hours, or 10 hours/week)

    This sort of idea would let a time-casual player pay only $5/month for a MMO, a more time-hardcore player pay a normal $15/month, and people in between would get varying degrees of ‘discounts’ off of a normal $15 MMO price.

  3. It is an interesting concept. Although I doubt any large MMO companies will ever do this. It would most likely be a project created by students, or hobbyist. Maybe even in the Asian market. Although in some ways the Asian games do this. Not in quite the same light, but with many games being free, and only adding a cost if you want something more. So in a sense, you get what you pay for.

  4. We need a company that buys subscription time from multiple MMO’s at a bulk rate and sells the hours in multiple formats. So, you could go to their website, set up an account, buy 4 hours of WoW time, 2 hours of WAR time and an hour of LOTRO time, ect. You could also get a monthly subscription from them at a discount for the game you play all the time. This site would also have game downloads, free trials and information on upcoming games as well as beta information. Awesome idea. Not sure if anyone is doing something like this?

    -NK

  5. Oh and as an aside, I recently read an article in Time where payment-model changes are also kicked around for “print” media. Since fewer and fewer people are paying for paper copies but not many sites charge for the internet version, one of the ideas was a micropayment model — charge a teeny tiny amount per article and make sure paying is almost as easy as breathing (or people won’t bother doing it).

    I still like the paper medium, but my ecological side knows it can’t last forever, and I rather like the idea of paying for whatever article I want to read.

    I’m sure there are drawbacks to the idea, but it seems to me that we’re slowly but surely moving (back?) towards pay-for-what-you’re-using models rather than flat-fee ones — not just in games, but in general. (Hrm, or not; I just remembered the one-price-package phone/internet/whatever deals. Oh well.)

  6. I like the pay one time and then don’t pay anymore except for expansions model because its more friendly with families and wives personally. You can buy your kid and MMO and then forget about it for example, or you buy a copy for each person who wants to play and then forget about it. The company gets paid, if they make expansions then they keep getting paid, and everyone is happy. If they stop then they eventually let the servers wind down but by then the game is so dated anyways that nobody cares.

  7. I’ve floated the idea a few times, but I think it was Chris F over on ihaspc that suggested it before me in one of our discussions on payment models.

    I lean heavily to charging for content like Thallian mentions (the Guild Wars model) since I have a philosophical objection to charging for time in *any* function, but as noted, being able to customize the time-cost function a bit would be a great step in the right direction.

    It’s funny to me that almost every argument for the supposedly “great price” of the $15 flatline is just assuming that the cost per hour works out to be something like 20 cents. That’s a couple of buttloads of time spent on the game every friggin’ day (OK, it’s just 75 hours/month, so a part time job’s worth), which may be realistic for basement trolls, but people with jobs and families have other priorities.

    Now, if they were to monetize the game at a flat rate based on time spent in-game, that would be another step in the right direction. (I’d suggest minutes, actually, since hours aren’t granular enough, or at least just tally the minutes played per month and round up to hours at the end of the month, rather than charge “an hour” every time you login to check your mail for five minutes) Say, *everyone* pays 20 cents per (total) hour of time they actually spend playing the game.

    *That* would make the “flat rate” more “fair” than the currently monthly billing system that gives an insane edge on value to those with way too much time to spend in the game per billing period.

    …but I digress…

    A “pay what you feel like” model would be interesting. Apparently Radiohead tried that with one of their albums released digitally. (They aren’t my cup of tea, but I’ve heard of the experiment.) I seem to remember that it didn’t go so well for profit, but many people did get the album (if only for a pittance or free). It worked as a PR stunt and brand name builder, but I’m not sure you could build a business around it.

    The microtransaction model works because, while players only pay what they feel like, they are paying for something that enhances the game, and the devs set the price for those items. There’s some control over the process, and some use for the items, in other words. A complete MMO monetized by voluntary payment may well work for a while, but I suspect that it would be hard to build a budget with it.

    …that’s not to say that I don’t think it should be tried, just that I think it might not be something to hang a 100 million dollar production loan off of. :)

  8. A lot of companies use the forward-billing method where they bill you for the time coming up. It seems a lot of the new billing models we’re suggesting also fall into that as well, such as paying for what you think you’ll use or buying chunks of time that dwindle as you play in the game.

    But what about a model that actually does just charge you for the time you played in the previous month? They set an hourly rate and whatever time you accumulate, you pay for? I guess it’s the cell-phone “pay as you go” method so it’s not new and it’s probably been discussed somewhere else, but paying as a reaction instead of paying as a foresight might be a bit easier on some people who can’t effectively predict how much time they’ll spend in the game.

  9. I’d say my favorite revenue model currently out is the ‘doubloon’ model on Puzzle Pirates. A service where each feature beyond the free play features can be purchased, individually, for 30 days of login time (not 30 days on the calendar.) The interesting thing there, is that other players can get these doubloons, and legally sell them over the market, for in game currency. This creates a situation where time and wealth hardcore players can buy doubloons from cash rich players, who effectively pay for their ‘subscription’. This has the added benefit of being like the ‘pay what you feel is right’ model–a player who wants to support the game, can either go for a full subscription, or buy many doubloons on these servers–getting all features–and possibly even getting more doubloons to trade to other players. A player who wants to play more casually can potentially trade their efforts to get their casual play paid for free.

  10. The problem if you get too granular (pay per minute, pay per hour) is the social friction it would cause. Imagine having to go AFK while in a group and having the other group members being able to calculate in their head “OK, that AFK of yours just cost me $0.68.”

    I think a pay per day model is about as granular as you can go. $15 gets you 30 days of play, but you choose which 30 days. One you log in, you can play as much as you like for the next 24 hours and it’ll only cost you 1 day from your pool.

    Alternatively, the company could make an arbitrary reset point in the day, probably late night early morning to the majority of your audience. Say 6 am ET, 3 am PT for NA based games.

  11. I think there is room for multiple subscription models. Is buying a retail box for 50’ish bucks and then pay 15 bucks monthly they only thing that is going to work, no. What about Micro Transaction? will they be the only payment play that works.
    Let’s say you take a micro payment type of game and try to force it into the 50$+15$ montly fee type of game would it work? Lets see, how happy would you be if you bought Dungeon Runners for 50$ and had to pay your monthly 15$. I bet most of you would cancel and be a bit angry about the whole thing. However, Dungeon Runners does works as a free to play game, or if you want access to more items a 5$ monthly fee game.
    Okay, flipping the coin, lets jam WoW into a micro payment style of game. Sounds nice at first, free client, free to play, and if you wanted to upgrade to a payment plan it’s only 5$ a month, sounds awesome! Then along comes reality and slaps me with a giant smelly tuna! With all the new free players comes longer queues, but wait I upgraded to the 5$ payment plan, I get queue priority. so now I am in 2x a fast as a free player, but it’s still no good since WoW subscription numbers would probably double or better if they moved to FTP/MP type of system. Okay, I waited my priority 45 minutes got in the game, what is this I can’t move, there is 1000 people in XXX city, ahhh! yes they could add servers and more bandwidth, but that cost money. So now they are earning less money, and have to spends more to keep the game playable. something is going to give. Also, probably the worst chat discussions in the MMO world just got worse.
    All in all it just depends what type of game you want to play and pay for. For me I prefer WAR, LOTRO, WoW, Eve, and EQ series type of games over DOMO, Wizard101, Maple story and Dofus online. I think all of these are quality games, some are for me some are not. I have played all of these and a lot more. I know what works best for me and the people I play with. My only concern is that micro pay items are working their way into subscription based games via card games, character name, sex changes, server transfers, and in some actual fluff items. I think a hybrid system might work, but once again not for all games.

  12. Pete, that’s another good reason to just charge for the content, rather than try to monetize time. Someone will always whine about how someone else’s schedule impinges on tier own, at least in an MMO where the point is that you can play with other people. (Note: “can”, not “must”)

  13. MMO subs come down to, “Will one pizza be more fun than playing this game in my spare time this month?” I suppose that depends upon the pizza, but after you’ve eaten the pizza the only thing you have left to show for it is in the toilet. I suppose that IS more than what we have to show for all of the time we play these games.

    Shareware models didn’t catch on for a lot of reasons, and one of those is that it makes it difficult to employ people when you are at the mercy of a very fickle consumer base. It also makes it difficult for the altruistic developer to feed themselves.

  14. I’m sure it would be a pain for the MMO supplier, but an alternate subscription model for infrequent game users like me would be nice. The $15 for all the time you want and $5 for 20 hours would be great for me. Some months I might not even use all 20 hours and then I’d like it to be there for the next month. Seems like it wouldn’t be impossible.

    There would probably have to be a limit such as if the game time isn’t used in x period of time, it’s gone, and/or you have to spend a minimum of $5/month, sort of like the low end NetFlix subscription I have.

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