I want to share my view about MMO business models with you, and maybe find a new one. So, let's start directly:
As massive multiplayer online games started years ago, most of them used the subscription model. Mainly with the excuse that servers and bandwith weren't cheap those days, and players also had to pay for maintenance. For a long time this was the dominant business model in the market. But nowadays the subscription-model seems to be outdated. The negative sides of this model are too obvious.
- The subscription fee is still a huge obstacle for many players who aren't willing to pay 10 to 15 dollars a month - most of them won't even try out the game, even if there is a free trial
- Players feel forced to play the game, because they pay in advance for playtime, and if you don't play the game for two or three weeks, you feel you wasted your money
- On the other side, players can't spend more then the subscription fee for the game, even if they would like to. You get the same from every player, even if someone would be willing to pay more.
- You limit your playerbase only to paying customers. Massive multiplayer games need lots of online players to work, especially if you have a lot pvp going on.
So, Free-to-Play came along, quite suceesful, and solved a lot of problems that the subcription fee model had. There are no big obstacles to try out the game, you have a continuing stream of new players coming into your game. Nobody feels being forced to play, you can take a break for several weeks and join back in whenever you want to. And, especially, players can now spend nearly an unlimited amount of money for the game, sky is the limit. And many are willing to spend a lot of money for such a game. But this model also has it's downsides.
- The business model takes a real big influence on gamedesign. While in the subscription model you just have to add new content, to keep the players busy. Here you have to balance out the new content and always think about how you can persuade players to spend real money for the game within that new content.
- So, balancing the game is very hard. Much harder then balancing a subscription-based game. But you also don't want your game to mutate into a pay to win game. And you also don't want to get back to the pay to play model. You want to assure that playing the game for free, without spending any money, is still fun - at least for the first couple of hours, days or weeks. But you want players to spend money for your game, a lot of money. It's a walk on a tightrope.
- This ends up in a conflict between developers and the player base. The community wants new content, the producer wants to make money. Bringing out new free content is nice, will probably make the players happy, but when there isn't any new stuff to sell in that update, the producer gets mad. Other way round, if you just offer new stuff to buy, maybe your numbers look good, but the players will complain and tell you that you are a greedy mfsob. Again, it's a walk on a tightrope.
- Next problem is that you need to advertise your stuff ingame. That means having shop-offers, banners and happy hours in your game that will destroy the immersion for some players quite hard. Nothing is worse for an escapist then going down into a dark dunegoen, lighting your way with your torch, looking fearful around the next corner - just to see a big banner that tells you that light-cystals are on sale now.
Free-to-Play - a different approach
Now, trying to solve the problems of the current Free-to-Play model isn't easy. But it's possible if you take the advantages of the subscription-model, combine them with the advantages of Free-to-Play and think about the ongoing success of platforms like kickstarter or projects like the indie humble bundle. The solution is simple. The game is totally free to play, you can not spent any real money to buy ingame currencies or items. It's like a subscription-based game without the subscription.
But how do you get the money for developing the game? Here's the point. On your webside is a huge section where new possible content updates are presented. Like a new raid, a cool new dungeon, a new questing zone, or a new pvp zone, maybe a new class - anything cool your gamedesigners can think of. Maybe stuff where you already got some concept art for, or a tech demo, and that is possible to integrate into your game. You can even make a small video where the gamedesigner presents the feature, and how it should look like.
So, the next step is that players can go to this section, select a feature that they really like to see in the game, and then pledge money for this. It's like on kickstarter, you can plegde 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 or more dollar/euros to that feature. The rest is simple: the feature which got the most backers will be done with priority, and find it's way next into the game. It's a vote-with-your-wallet system. But, every feature has also a minimum amount of money that needs to be funded, so that it is even done at all. Features that don't get enough backers will stay in the list for a while, or get kicked out of the list after some months (wild guess: 6 months).
You can even start doing this during the development phase, when the game isn't launched yet (like a normal kickstarter project), but instead of switching to another model you just stay with it and let players continuously decide in which direction the project should go in future.
1. What type of game do you need for this model?
2. What are the positive effects of this model?
3. What can you do to make it more attractive for players to pledge money?
4. How transparent should the backing process be to the players?
5. Shouldn't players also be able to decide how the features should look like in detail?
6. How big or small should a new feature be?
7. Should players get their money back if a feature has not enough backers and doesn't find it's way into the game?
8. What overall pitfalls are there?
9. Okay, why will this model work nevertheless?
|E Zachary Knight|