Let's continue the discussion from yesterday about what we can expect around MMOs over the next couple of years. I won't finish today, but let's continue to build the frame-work for the discussion. Warning: more big picture, barely EVE-related stuff ahead.
About three months ago, Syncaine over at Hardcore Casual opined that "the MMO Dark Age is ending". It's a post that I've been revisiting every couple of weeks since he wrote it trying to formulate my own thoughts on this matter. I started writing the post that you're reading now around the first week of May as my thoughts started to crystallize, and it's being published on May 30. Then today -- completely by coincidence! -- I was surprised to see that Syncaine is again riffing on the "MMO Dark Age" ending.
In the first post, he celebrates the slow decay of WoW and the fizzle of SW:TOR. He then looks forward hopefully to the genre being "an interesting place going forward." In the second post, he says that the MMO "genre" is actually a small one that was, for a while, flooded with theme park-seeking "tourists" that were artificially increasing its population.
As I recall, the Chinese had something to say about living in interesting times. But let's come at the problem from a different direction, namely:
How much should a game cost?
Here in the U.S., we've gotten used to -- after much grumbling and gnashing of teeth over the matter -- a standard price point of $60 U.S. for a brand new AAA game. Less ambitious titles, such as the typical XBox Live purchase, generally run about $15 U.S. And the casual gamers are willing to put $5 U.S. or less into an iPhone or Android game, and often only as little as $2 U.S. Our expectation of content is then set in alignment with those price points. From a $60 AAA title, we expect 25 or 30 hours of game-play. From a $15 title, we expect perhaps six hours. And from our $2-$5 throw-away purchase, we expect to get through a boring train ride or the like.
As I've said on this blog lots of times, we're buying entertainment for our dollars. A $60 AAA title that has only eight or ten hours of game-play (I'm looking at you, God of War 3) is therefore considered "too short" and is often dinged as a sub-par game for that reason alone. Meanwhile, a AAA title that has a hundred or more hours of game-play (fus roh dah, Skyrim!) gets bonus points for this. It's even likely that we'll consider it a "better game" for this reason. Only if a short game is remarkably good or remarkably cheap will a short game be considered excellent. Portal is the measuring stick we use for that, which is why people were unconsciously disappointed at its sequel... even though it was quite good!
Now in this way, gaming is already the cheapest entertainment around. In my town, a movie costs $5 per hour and my cable TV service costs me around $6 per hour for the amount that I watch it. Live entertainment costs far more per hour, as do virtually all indoor and outdoor leisure activities. Most of us listen to a $2 downloaded song several dozen if not several hundred times, making them equally cheap. Our non-gaming hobbies can run $10 per hour or more.
Meanwhile, games are costing us about $2 per hour.
And yet we all bitch that games are too expensive. Some of us refuse to pay even that and pirate games to get them for free.
Yesterday, I had several people point out to me that my first post in this series was obviously about 38 Studios crashing last week, likely taking "Project Copernicus" (their intended Kingdom of Amalur MMO) with it. That was only partially true. As I said, I've been thinking on this topic for several weeks now. When the situation with 38 becomes more clear, I'll probably have more to say about that specifically. But Copernicus did have one aspect to it that prompted me to finally finish writing, editing, and publishing this series of posts. It was almost certainly the very last game that will be developed for which the business plan was built around a $15-per-month subscription cycle.
Because if a $60, $15, or $2 game costs us $2 per hour, subscription MMOs cost us maybe a quarter of that per hour. A half-dollar. Per hour. No wonder we all like them. ;-)
But gaming companies are quickly coming to the realization that they can't live on that amount of money and still develop the games that all of us expect. You might say that EVE is living on that 50 cents per hour, but it really isn't. Because CCP is not only getting our 50 cents per hour, it's also getting PLEX money from those that want to buy that super-capital ship now now now only to see it die in a fire a few hours, days, or weeks later. The fact that many of us routinely set $20 bills on fire in EVE is the only thing that's making the subscription model work on the very low number of paid accounts that CCP has access to.
Amusingly, even BioWare seems to have come to this conclusion pretty quickly. Not long after SW:TOR was released, you could see them marketing it here and there in an unusual way. "Want to play Star Wars The Old Republic 3, 4, or 5? That's what we put into SW:TOR," they said. The implication was clear: subscribe to our game for four months (so we can make our $60) and during that time get the 30-100 hours of content that you would have expected from a Star Wars The Old Republic 3, 4, and 5. And that seems to be the direction that SW:TOR is going long-term. It can't seem to break out of having about a million and a half subscribers. People who played the game at launch get bored, unsub, and are replaced by new players curious about what they're missing. BioWare seems to have given up on trying to live on $15 per month. They're trying to live on $60 per player.
Anyone who needs proof that game developers can't live on your 50 cents per hour only need look at DUST 514. CCP had the opportunity there to start a second $15 per month subscription game. They said "no thanks." And CCP has theoretically been living and succeeding on $15 per hour for almost ten years. Except that like I said, they really haven't. And they have no interest in doing so.
Which brings all of us to micro-transactions and the so-called "free to play" games. Many of them are being built on the model of trying to extract $60 of your money before you get bored with them and move on. But I'll have more -- lots more! -- to say on that topic tomorrow.
Welcome to Jester's Trek.I'm your host, Jester. I've been an EVE Online player for about six years. One of my four mains is Ripard Teg, pictured at left. Sadly, I've succumbed to "bittervet" disease, but I'm wandering the New Eden landscape (and from time to time, the MMO landscape) in search of a cure.
You can follow along, if you want...