Monetization Models as a Gameplay Shaping Feature

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One of the most ubiquitous debates in the MMO gaming community surrounds monetization. Games cost money to make, and as a result, it goes without saying that they need to bring it back in somehow. Near every forum on the internet has raged with debate over which way is the one true way, with posters, writers, and even businessmen weighing in as to why exactly their preferred way is the only way games should ever be made. As with any argument where a concept is applied as the ‘best’ option to a broad array of situations, I find these arguments to be both puerile and superficial; there are many variables in play that determine which model is best, and I find that they are almost never considered.

Different Strokes for Different Folks

At the risk of stating the obvious, not every MMO gamer is interested in getting the same experience from their game of choice; there is nowhere this becomes more clear than when examining the arguments for or against specific payment models. Take for example two of the most common arguments for and against the implementation of subscription payment models.

  • The subscription model is good because it fosters a persistent community where you can log in and see the same players over and over again.
  • The subscription model is bad because it makes players feel forced to log-on to take full advantage of the monthly fee.

Though these are both brought up in nearly every discussion by their respective proponents, their clear relation is rarely pointed out; the subscription model fosters a persistent community precisely because it makes players feel forced to log-on. These aren’t arguments about the way people prefer to pay, but rather about the way they prefer to play – and for them, the monetization policy can have real effects on their gameplay. In this way, pay-to-play games specifically attract players who are interested in that type of game experience, and repel those looking for a past time requiring less of a commitment. These players are looking for fundamentally different gameplay experiences that in all likelihood will come from different games.

Different Folks for Different Strokes

And that’s what it really comes down to. We all like to think that our way is the one true way, but that simply isn’t the case in most situations. When different consumers are trying to get a fundamentally different result from a product, the clear solution is to have different products tailored towards their separate demands, a philosophy that would be well applied to monetization strategies as well.

To take the example above, MMOs whose mechanics promote or rely on long-term community building would likely be best suited to a subscription model, while those focusing on quick, bite-sized gameplay sessions with community bypassing features like LFD may find their game performs better with a free-to-play system; it is no coincidence that the rise in free-to-play models has accompanied a design shift in this direction.

The Final Stroke

The prevailing logic that the subscription and free-to-play models are locked in battle for total dominance over the genre simply misses the point. As much as I would like to declare my preferred model the reigning king, the fact is that both are better suited to monetizing different products made for different types of players due to their ability to shape certain facets of the gameplay experience; there is no one-size fits all. The subscription model isn’t going anywhere, and neither is free-to-play.

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3 thoughts on “Monetization Models as a Gameplay Shaping Feature

  1. My personal dislike for non-subscription models primarily involves the incentive structure it creates between players and developers.

    A subscription model is an informal contract between developers and their players which creates a simple set of incentives which promote the overall health of the game. If developers continue improving the game, adding content, and responding to player feedback in a positive way, then those players will continue paying for the service.

    Micro-transaction funded games have a more fuzzy incentive structure. Players get to selectively pay for perks and services which make them better (i.e. give them an advantage over other players). Developers primary directive becomes to create content which is most profitable.

    I am personally of the opinion that the most financially successful cash-shop content is not equal to the most successful MMO content, although others may disagree.

    I think the subscription path is the “harder choice”, particularly in the modern MMO market. Going subscription is betting big on the longevity and downstream success of your product. Going micro-transaction is a safe bet with substantially less risk.

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    • I also prefer the subscription model, but at the same time, the types of game I’m likely to play are the ones which foster and rely on strong player communities. While the nature of the company/player relationship you described is undeniably a great strength of the subscription model, I would still wager that a strong persistent community is a greater factor in the longevity necessary for that model; WoW players, for example, are often more attached to their friends, guilds, and server communities than anything unique provided by the game itself.

      Of course, as long term readers know, I consider the long-term community to be near integral to the state of being an MMO, and as such, do consider the subscription (or at the very least freemium) model to be the best choice for a game I would actually play.

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  2. Pingback: MMO Monetization Gone Wild | The Errant Penman

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