The Daily Grind: Can a sub still work for MMORPGs in 2018?


Last week, almost buried in the avalanche of other news was a datapoint from SuperData that the analytics firm characterized as bad news for the existing subscription MMORPGs. “Continuing their decline, the Social and Pay-to-Play MMO segments shrank 5% and 9%, respectively.” A downer for the incoming MMOs planning subs, yeah?

Maybe not. It’s possible that, as our commenter Sally Bowls noted, it’s not doom for sub MMOs; that’s just to be expected when we have so few existing sub MMOs as it is, and surely that pay-to-play number is heavily influenced by World of Warcraft specifically. “So we would expect the P2P segment to drop or be stable in Q1 and ‘pay-to-play’ MMOs [to] show huge increases in Q3,” she argued. But then again, even WoW is in gradual decline.

I know there are plenty of MMO veterans who are more than willing to pay subscriptions in 2018 – I’m paying one right now. But that’s different from whether you believe they still work for new games or have enough appeal to make subs truly viable. Can a sub still work for MMORPGs in 2018?

Every morning, the Massively Overpowered writers team up with mascot Mo to ask MMORPG players pointed questions about the massively multiplayer online roleplaying genre. Grab a mug of your preferred beverage and take a stab at answering the question posed in today’s Daily Grind!
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I am sick to the point of collapse about Black Desert milking me for around 1000 dollars in 6 months just to play it, i actually feel raped and molested … I do

its getting beyond the joke, Im going back to oldschool sub models with no cash shop
im not playing another shop model game again after BDO

old UO
lets hope shroud of the avatar doesnt have a shop
EVE model is pretty good

Teh Beardling

I wish it did. The amount of free to play titles out there makes it pretty clear that as mmo-s stand today very few can survive on a sub model. It sucks too because most of the free to play titles run me off. Especially ones who sell crafting items/benefits for money. Like in order to craft it takes energy and you have a set maximum. I hate it. “But it recharges on its own!” people say… yea at the pace of a drunk snail. But look! If you want to be able to craft all the time, you know, play the game you as person want too, there’s a handy potion in the shop to restore your energy. It only costs 4.95…. I absolutely LOATHE that kind of thing. I’m fine if its just cosmetics but ANY sold benefit runs me off from the game.


A subscription can definitely work.

What we need to look at is how subscriptions are implemented and how MMORPGs are designed.

The first big hurdle is the design. We’re 20 years in and the genre is still primarily based around single player mechanics. Devs are not even designing their games to be massively multiplayer! As a consequence, they are played like single player games, with a definite end and then people move on. What’s worse is the games are providing a worse experience than single player RPGs. So, revisit the design, rethink the core concepts and start building games that are meant for a massively multiplayer environment!

Then, think about how subscriptions are implemented. £8.99 per month? Industry standard, sure, but is it valid? As consumers, we actually love subscriptions! Just think about a lot of your modern entertainment. Music? Subscribe to spotify! TV? subscribe to netflix and amazon prime! Subscribe to sky or cable! Phone? Get a mobile contract! The gym? Get a gym contract.

I think MMO publishers need to team up and create a new platform. Put as many MMOs as possible under one roof, completely remove cash shops and charge one subscription that gives access to them all. Lets say £20 per month, but you can play ESO, GW2, SW:TOR, LotRO, STO, WoW, WildStar, etc etc. Share out the money based on hours played or something.


Can a sub still work for MMORPGs in 2018?

Yes. It could.

It won’t. But it could.

I keep coming back to it, but for me the prime example is SWTOR. IF (and it’s a big if) they could have addressed before launch the technical engine problems and reached a consensus on endgame design, in a way that didn’t result in 85% of players abandoning the game within the first year – I honestly think that game would still be subscription now.

It would have had enough money coming in to sustain regular BIG content updates and that in turn would have maintained the majority of the player base.

They dropped the ball and did so with a licence too big to fail.

But if they’d had gotten it right, this story would likely have never happened and other developers might have realised that for the right price and the right amount of content, it’s possible to build a loyal playerbase.

Game Design > Game Mechanics > Game Sound > Game Graphics > Game Price > Everything else.

It still amazes me how many good games there were on ancient hardware.
But whilst its possible to put microtransations and gambling boxes in bad games, bad games will remain the most profitable.


I’ve been wanting to play a subscription sandbox for years! A player crafted market for cosmetics and such instead of a cash shop!

Kevin McCaughey

If the sub was $5 instead of $15 then you would see a lot more subs! I wouldn’t mind being subbed for 3 x $5 rather than 1 x $15 and fucking lockboxes! I just wish the industry could see that less than $15 sub could actually make them more money than insisting on $15.

Zen Dadaist

If you’re the kind of gamer that goes all-in on one game at a time, then sure.


If you’re the kind of gamer that plays multiple games at once and flits back and forth, then no I don’t think it would work. You’d feel like you were wasting sub time and not getting your value for money, but if you then forced yourself to stick to the one game, you’d get bored unless the developer puts out a torrent of new content at what has always turned out to be an unsustainable pace.

I think the second type is the more numerous of the two at this point in time. So unless the sub-only MMO is niche and very dedicated to rapid content release schedules, and doesn’t piss off the sub-payers with extra microtransactions and lockboxes, I don’t see it getting big.

Kevin McCaughey

Sad but true. The flitting in and out of MMO’s came about as the market failed to release a compelling game equal to EQ1 and over the years we get more and more desperate trying more and more games.

Robert Mann

Yes… but you have to give back for success. If you have a surging player base, reinvest a good portion of the extra. Tell people you are doing so, note hiring and more content creators, and give us that warm feeling of being valued in turn.

The lack of the above is why subs died, in part. Not every game can support a sub, but if you have a game that can and does, and you offer something in turn for success other than to investors, it will likely not only continue to succeed (that increase content generation is a big draw) but grow.


I think the problem is that sub based MMOs just don’t provide enough value for most people. Why pay 15$ a month for a game that gives you new content every 3 months rather then spend 15$ on other games? (Or better yet, playing one without a sub) They used to provide enough value because people didn’t have as high expectations for content. Even reliable quarterly updates is uncommon these days in ANY MMO; especially content of substantial value.

Jeffery Witman

If developers can go back to making games that give enough value for a recurring sub, then absolutely. The best MMOs I’ve played were sub games. And when I think about what kept me playing them it’s the same things each time: there were lots of things to do both with other people and by myself, both combat and non-combat, both PvE and PvP. This kept the population up enough that you rarely got ghost towns. I think SWG had the best balance of this, overall. Dedicated crafting classes that mattered to the overall gameplay, like structures and ships needing to be made, etc. A well thought out resource system that required actual engagement, not just AFK grinding. Plenty of PvE events and missions to play with at all levels. Great factional PvP that actually had an effect on the game world, even something as simple as a captured PvP zone determining whose NPC guards would be on duty in towns and cities. The ability for players to build their own cities and have minute detailed control over their own houses was great. Space battles and a separate pilot ranking system was genius, especially because you could have a noncombat crafter on the ground that was an ace pilot for your faction owning people in space PvP. You could watch dancers and musicians for fun or buffs at public and private venues. And there were entire worlds to explore. Not just one world, though it could have easily been made into different continents for a fantasy game taking place in a single planet. It lacked a good LFG tool built into the game, though. Something like DDO’s LFG tool should be standard in every MMO.

If that’s too much, then let me put it simply. If studios make games where people can live, they will pay rent to do so. If you’re just making Skinner boxes with different motifs, then your return will be based on the effort you put in.

It’s not a short term strategy, however, and I recognize that we live in a world where short term gains are prioritized. However, when you have sub games that run for a decade or more, and pull in $10-$15 a month from thousands of players every month for that duration, it can be very profitable. You just have to be patient, or willing to take lower regular profits for a longer period of time.