Anyway when I mentioned on our boards that I thought charging more was good, Kash, Director of LumCorp, accused me of rooting for Elitists Online (hence the headline — thanks Kash). He’s right you know. Higher prices for gaming will create elitists online with those not able to afford the fee doing the battlenet thing or whatever. Which is fine — the massive model isn’t a particularly good one IMHO. I’m more and more coming to think that massive is bad bad bad and can only work in an FPS type of setting and why you would pay 10 bucks a month for that is beyond me. Oops there I go digressing again. Bad me.
It gets worse though (or better, depending on your point of view). Not only will people be paying more per month, they’ll be paying for the big ticket items. Want a house in the next UO-type world? I bet you’ll have to pay real dollars for it. Want a l33t spaceship in SWG? Be prepared to give Verant your bucks. Those of you sitting here saying you’ll never do it don’t matter one bit to Verant or whoever. There will be plenty of people who will. Look if they’ll spend forty to eighty hours online camping spawns and whatnot you had best BELIEVE they’ll shell out disposable income as well. These people are nuts — they’ve already proved it. Why start doubting now? People will lie, cheat, steal, scam and spend all their disposable time and much of their non-disposable time in online games. I’ve seen people get divorced over games. I’ve seen people lose their jobs over games. Of course they’ll spend money to get the good stuff. This was only a matter of time — you can’t tell me you didn’t see it coming.
But above and beyond all that I think there’s a deeper issue here. I think the ten bucks a month has devalued these games to the point where people don’t care. They don’t care about bugs, they don’t care about bad customer service and, more importantly, the companies don’t care about them. You know if you have 300 thousand people paying 10 bucks a month, losing even 500 of them is not that big of a deal. That’s .001 of your customer base. Now if you’ve only got 100 thousand people paying 30 bucks a month, losing 500 becomes a bigger deal. Looking at the recent models by Marc Jacobs on numbers needed to maintain a small profit margin, if you have 50 thousand people and lose that many it becomes a much larger issue. Perhaps a trend you might want to consider spending the money to investigate.
Conversely, if you’ve been playing for a year at 30 bucks a month, losing your account to scamming, hacking, or harassment or whatever, it becomes a much larger issue. That’s approximately 400 bucks in one year. What if you actually paid real money for that house you just placed and along comes some twink and scams you out of it? Now you have an actual legal issue. (Of course convincing the courts of that is another matter entirely). Nonetheless, the larger the amount you spend, the more valuable the product, the larger the deal it becomes when you lose it or when the company loses your subscription.
Now I know most of you that read this site and post on our boards are going to disagree with this. From the fact that *you* will never pay more than 10 bucks a month (and we should care about that because….???? Like anyone cares about your 10 bucks a month?) to your much mistaken belief that customer service will not get better and bugs will not be fixed faster you’ll take this as evidence that all these companies will go under if they charge more. Sorry. Wrong. They won’t.
In fact, this shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone who keeps tabs on the online gaming industry. A smaller user base means less support overhead. A smaller user base with higher subscription fees and less overhead equals more profit. As a matter of fact, we’ve already seen higher subscription fees and charges for the little extras that can make a game that much more enjoyable. It has already been proven that a playerbase will pay exorbitant fees in order to be a part of a game they love. It was called Neverwinter Nights on AOL; an online world where players spent hundreds of dollars a month to be a part of that community (When AOL charged by the hour). I believe Gemstone charged for uber items. You will see this again.
MMORPGs are a business. Businesses in the Western World run according to the rules of capitalism. Companies in a capitalist system charge what the market will bear. If a gaming company can build a profitable, yet smaller user base by charging more, they will do so. If they can charge for the extras like housing, spaceships, or special items, and still maintain that profitable user base, they will do that as well. In an infant industry with the potential to attract tens of millions of subscribers, it is simply a matter of time before one company will test the limits of the market. Richard Garriot, though a tad flaky around the edges, has always proven himself to be slightly ahead of his time in the industry. I don’t find it unbelievable to assume he will do so again. He often manages to accomplish the unbelievable.
After all, he got you all to pay for Ultima IX, didn’t he?