Massively Overthinking: How much would you pay for an MMO sub in 2021?

    
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A few weeks back, MMO YouTuber Napyet tweeted that he liked Fallout 76’s private servers but that compared to MMORPGs, the subscription for the game was on the high side. The optional Fallout First sub is around 13 bucks a month, with the base game – which launched almost three years ago – still clocking in at around $40, which does seem high for a title that isn’t a full-fledged MMORPG.

How much should and would you pay for an MMO sub in 2021? And what would you expect to get out of it? What’s your top limit for a monthly fee? Let’s ponder that for this week’s Massively Overthinking.

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): Man, subs just aren’t what they used to be. I just don’t like the idea of being locked in, especially given the amount of great buy-to-play titles. However, I also don’t like gacha mechanics or feeling nickel-and-dimed. I did initially pay $5 a month for a mobile title that admittedly still wanted lootbox money for entry-level competitive play on top of the sub, but $5 didn’t feel too bad. If I could pay that for an MMO but also have a cash shop for non-competitive boosts and/or cash shop for avatar items/customization, I think I’d go up to $8 a month for a $60 box-priced game with, say, $40 expansions every two years.

However, if we could get monthly updates on a free-to-play game that rivaled Asheron’s Call’s monthly content, I could probably do $15 per month tops, but the cash shop would need to be similar to what I mentioned above.

Andy McAdams: My gut reaction was to say that I would pay a max of $20, but I just checked the inflation between 2004 and today and what was $15 in 2004 is really only about $11 and some change in today’s world (being that a dollar today is only worth about 74% of a dollar in 2004). So while we’ve gotten better at development, and the creation of things like AWS, StackOverflow, and other service-based tools has made it less costly to launch an MMO, we are also paying 25% less, at least in terms of a pure sub, and our expectations are astronomically higher than they were in 2004. It’s something like $20 /month for developers to get the same amount they were at $15/month in 2000 if we just look at straight inflation. If I consider that MMOs are my main form of entertainment, depending on the game I would probably pay between $20-$25 a month, but I would likely downsize my subscriptions. Right now, I maintain active subs to two or three different games at a time. If I were paying $25, I would likely drop that down to one game at that price point.

But for a lot of the games in the wild today, $25 is a hard sell. I think there’s probably only a handful of games that justify that cost – FFXIV probably could, maybe ESO. As much as I love Guild Wars 2, I don’t think it could justify $25 a month for me. WoW, most assuredly not. I guess at that price point I’m expecting a full-on virtual world or metaverse. Themepark or PvP gankbox won’t cut it. It needs to actually realize the potential that MMOs have to be more than murderhobo simulators. If a developer vomits out more of the same like they do today, I personally couldn’t justify the cost.

Ben Griggs (@braxwolf): It does seem a bit egregious to ask for both a purchase cost and a recurring subscription (and likely a cash store on top of both). But I’d go the opposite of Sam. I’ve come to the point that I understand that some kind of predictable monthly revenue is essential to recoup recurring server/data center/development costs. I’d propose getting rid of the up-front cost in favor of subs, instead. Granted, this would remove the ability to capitalize on preorder/early access hype so it probably won’t happen. But in choosing between the two, subs feel like the more reasonable match for the persistent nature of online game to me.

If a game were to be subscription only, The amount I’d be willing to pay for a sub would vary greatly depending on the amount of content/polish in the game. $15 is reasonable for a AAA title with a good deal of content. For Fallout 76, perhaps $9 or so.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): I think my answer has to be reined in a bit because I’d pay a whole helluva lot for games I want but don’t exist. I wouldn’t think too hard about $50 a month on Star Wars Galaxies 2, for example. I would also be much more willing to pay quite a bit more than the industry standard for a game that actually properly paid its staff and wasn’t just going to take our extra coin for the executives’ third yacht while claiming they just can’t possibly push out content any faster and won’t you please buy something from the overpriced “microtransaction” cash shop. But for the most part, most MMORPGs aren’t actually offering $15 a month of content, and most of them are funneling so much new content through things like cash shops and battle passes that asking for even more than that for a VIP sub seems absurd in context.

I do think Nap is right that Fallout’s ask is way too high for what it is.

Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): I feel like about $20 a month is a reasonable price hike for a subscription MMORPG. Maybe even as high as $25 a month, though that’s pushing the envelope for me personally. I recognize that these things are freaking expensive to make and I feel like I can’t rightly support a dev studio (and especially see its workers get a good wage) without something of a price raising.

That said, I also recognize that these numbers would see me trim back how many games I subscribe to, or how long a game would keep me paying. As it stands right now, any games I do sub to are done so with general lack of care for whether I play them a lot or not, and I think a rising monthly cost would very possibly see me be a bit more stringent in that part of my monthly spending budget.

Colin Henry (@ChaosConstant): I don’t like to pay for a subscription for anything. If I do, it needs to be for a game that I already like, that I’m already playing a lot of lately. In other words, subs need to be optional for me to even consider them. I don’t want to be locked in for a month and then realize that my interest in the game was fleeting. That makes it kind of a tough sell, because if I already have access to play the game for free, why would I pay for it?

Things that entice me to subscribe are usually optional quality of life things, like anywhere bank/auction hall access, or something like ESO’s unlimited crafting bag. But the game will have a hard time pulling me in to the point where I want to sub if its F2P is too punishing — like SWTOR’s aggressive money cap, limited auction slots, frustrating gear restrictions, and just downright petty restrictions on things like emotes, displaying titles, and hiding the head slot — so holding commonly expected features hostage and billing them as a subscription “perk” doesn’t fly. I also expect some monthly stipend of cash shop currency. It doesn’t have to be $15 worth like ESO, but I want something. Subscriber-only sales or freebies might help push me over the edge, but aren’t generally enough to make me sub up without some of the above. I don’t generally notice or care about things like subscriber XP or gold rate increases.

I feel I should point out at this point that Guild Wars 2 doesn’t have a subscription, and gives you almost everything on this list for free. Just sayin’.

As for how much, I’m more likely to subscribe to a game that’s around $10/month (I’m currently subbed to LOTRO on their $30, three month plan), but I will pay up to $15 if it’s a game that I know I’m going to be playing a ton. I can’t imagine ever paying above $15, though. If your game has a way to earn subscription time with gold — WoW Tokens and the like — I will be more likely to sub up to chase that for future months, because I know it’s at least possible to get to my preferred state of playing without paying a monthly fee.

Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): If I really really wanted to play a sub-only MMO and had no other options, I could swallow a $15 fee. But I’ll tell you, $10 goes down far more smoothly and is actually a tempting prospect even if I have the option for a free version otherwise.

Sam Kash (@thesamkash): I haven’t changed my mind on the topic of subscriptions at all. To me, they simply have no place in the world anymore. I really don’t think anyone should pay a sub to be honest. There is too little time in the day and too many great games out there for any of them to warrant a monthly access fee.

Now I’m not a completely closed minded person. I’m open to discussion and opinions. Maybe if the model was more akin to Netflix or even Xbox game pass, where you payed monthly for free access to games that’d be compelling. However a lot of these games not only demand a sub to play but also a purchase to get to sub. That just doesn’t fly for me. On top of that, we’re not about taking $3 or $5; often the sub is still $10 or more. Did you know that you can listen to just about every song in the world for $10 a month? But you think your single game is worth that or more? No thanks.

Tyler Edwards (blog): I’m pretty much with Sam on this. I’ve always hated subscriptions, and I don’t mourn their passing.

If I was to be convinced to pay a sub again, it would either have to be a truly special game, or it would need to be a lot cheaper. I might be willing to pay like $2-3 a month for an optional subscription with minor perks. Alternatively a low annual subscription might work for me — I’d probably be willing to pay $20-30 a year for a game I play sporadically. Of course, this would still need to be supplemented with micro-transactions, so it still might not be worth it.

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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