Massively Overthinking: How much should MMO subs be in 2021?


MMORPG blogger Wilhelm at The Ancient Gaming Noob has a fantastic piece up this month on the traditional $15 MMO subscription. He dips back into ancient history when the common subscription was actually $10 and then points out that the standard has been $15 for a really, truly long time, seeming “stuck” in that price bracket. Part of the reason for this, he notes, is that we’re all accustomed to tech prices falling over time, not increasing, so there’s a lot of pushback against raising prices in those few MMOs – usually either extremely old like Ultima Online or extremely popular like World of Warcraft, EVE Online, and Final Fantasy XIV. But in reality, the game companies have simply switched over to tacking on new and bigger fees in place of (or in addition to) the sub.

I thought it would be fun to riff on Wilhelm’s musing this week for Massively Overthinking, especially in light of the roundtable we just had on how much money we spend on MMOs every month. How much should MMO subs be in 2021?

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): It really depends on what that sub is supposed to do and how the game is being monetized. I was just thinking about how cash shops are understandable enough as a way to do revenue, but to add stuff into the gacha-pool really is gambling at its worst. The product isn’t just fake, but artificially rare, and requiring the player to dump real money into fake slots (whose odds can and are manipulated sometimes based on big data) is the epitome of a scam. To use those in addition to a sub is revolting. If you’re using paid gambleboxes, your sub should be $0. You forfeited your right to that cash.

If you wanna mix a cash shop with subscribing, $5-$10, depending on how fast you want to make content and whether or not you’re going to do game crossovers within your own IP. I’m looking at you, Blizzard.

But if you’re going to limit your expansions, update at least monthly with content, not bug fixes or skinned mobs, and keep cash shops out, $15 is fine. Heck, for the right game, I can see myself shelling out as much as $25 a month, though the game would also probably have to have a low barrier of entry (most likely free to play) in order for it to attract a large enough player base that my personal circles could get their own friends in and make more of a community.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): I’m personally OK with paying a higher sub, so I wouldn’t mind subscriptions increasing – commensurately with developer wages and game quality, that is. But that’s not happening, so I see absolutely no justification to lift subs just to pad investor pockets a little bit more. That’s a hard no.

In general, I am more inclined to sub in the $10 range without even giving it any thought. Trove, for example, has a cheap optional sub, and even if I know I am only gonna log in for a few days, I’ll still pay it for the jumping. For other games that I know are going to nickel-and-dime me on a grander scale, I’m going to take all that into account when weighing whether the sub is worth it. It rarely is. On the flipside, there are some MMOs that really ought to add a sub with some perks – like Guild Wars 2. It’d make a lot more money from my family if it did.

Carlo Lacsina (@UltraMudkipEX, YouTube, Twitch): Every time I see the word “subscription,” I think of a stack of sports illustrated magazines. But that’s beside the point.

I’m OK with subscriptions, but any company with a new game that comes out with a subscription is being damn bold if it think its game is good enough to justify one. But that to me is exciting; it communicates confidence and dedication. Will it fulfill that? I don’t know. Wildstar couldn’t. But if a game came out right now expecting a sub, I’ll do a three-month sub just to see what the dealio is.

Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): I’m no economist so I really can’t say what price would appropriately adjust for inflation or other factors. That said, I personally feel comfortable with a sub price adjusting to $17 a month. It would, at the very least, make it easier for me to better consider whether a game is a good enough time for me to apply that amount of money towards it on a monthly basis; I’ve been in situations where I’ve been subscribed to a game without really realizing it, and I feel like a price hike to that point (or perhaps higher) would make me pay more attention.

Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): Indeed, with more and more options out there and the fact that subscriptions aren’t the standard any longer, the price point needs to come down. I’ve long since thought that Final Fantasy XIV’s sub-$10 price point (for a single character) is a lot more on the nose than the long-standing $15 a month. I also love the very few MMOs that promote family subscriptions for multiple memberships in the same household. So let’s call it $10 and see how many more subs your game will get. You might very well make more money, since I think more people can mentally justify ten bucks rather than fifteen.

Tyler Edwards (blog): Subs are a bit of a hard-sell for me at the best of times. Mandatory subs (rare as they are these days) are almost invariably a no-go. I do sometimes purchase optional subs for games I’m playing a lot of, but even that’s not a super common occurrence.

So it may not be fair when you consider inflation, but honestly I probably wouldn’t pay more than $15 a month. However, one thing that might be interesting to see more companies experiment with is multiple subscription tiers. Maybe give people a choice of a $10, $20, or $30 subscription, with increasing perks. That could risk creating too big a gap between the haves and the have-nots, I suppose, but I know I might subscribe more if there was a cheaper sub tier, while others might be willing to pay more.

Every week, join the Massively OP staff for Massively Overthinking column, a multi-writer roundtable in which we discuss the MMO industry topics du jour – and then invite you to join the fray in the comments. Overthinking it is literally the whole point. Your turn!
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