[The online game market has a battle raging between subscription-based and alternative microtransaction-related business models - Gamasutra examines the matchup with SOE's John Smedley, Three Rings' Daniel James and EA Mythic's Mark Jacobs.]
While the majority of MMOGs in the U.S. still earn their keep by collecting monthly fees, the classic subscription business model is no longer a knee-jerk reaction for most domestic publishers of new massive-multiplayer online games.
Indeed, publishers say they are thinking long and hard, weighing their options, and not announcing earlier than necessary how their forthcoming games will produce income.
Consider Sony Online Entertainment. Every one of SOE's six current MMOGs -- EverQuest, EverQuest II, Vanguard: Saga Of Heroes, The Matrix Online, Planetside, and EverQuest Online Adventures -- requires gamers to shell out a monthly subscription fee. But come 2009, when Sony launches The Agency, an online action shooter, it still isn't clear what will be its method of generating revenue.
"We'll be launching another MMOG -- Free Realms -- prior to The Agency late this year. And we've already said that we're absolutely going away from standard subscriptions there, using 'freemiums' instead," says John Smedley, SOE's president. "That means you can play for free but you can also sign up for a club within the game if you want extra features.
"As for The Agency, we're taking a wait-and-see attitude," he adds. "Before we make any decisions, we want to see how the combination of free play, microtransactions, and advertising support works for Free Realms. If I had to guess, I suspect we'll be doing the same with The Agency, but we're not quite ready to commit."
"In the meantime, we've designed the game to fit different models. Regardless which we actually choose, I foresee us moving to various business models other than subscriptions over time for newer games."
SOE's The Agency
Smedley wouldn't comment on DC Universe Online, another forthcoming SOE MMOG that has not yet been officially announced.
But he did hint there's even the possibility of re-tooling older MMOGs to accept new revenue models.
"We might be able to get new life out of an older MMO by going away from the subscription model and adding microtransactions," he says. "It is possible to do that, but it's probably unlikely. We'll more likely save the newer revenue models for our newer games."