4 thoughts on “Subscriptions: The new weapon in the game monetization arsenal”

  1. Lloyd – This article was very interesting. However, it seems to have overlooked one part of the game industry where subscriptions were once dominant, and today remain a vibrant part of a F2P/B2P/CashShop/Sub business model mix. That branch of the industry is, of course, the MMORPG.

    The big take-away from MMORPG subscriptions is that they need to be a strong value proposition to customers, while avoiding any appearance of “buy to win” features.

    An excellent contemporary example of a successful value proposition is Elder Scrolls Online (ESO). The game team regularly expands content, as you recommend. Players can either purchase that content for a one-time fee, or gain access to it with a subscription. Given that the cost of acquire all this content is now well over $100, while subscription is $15/month, it’s no surprise that players prefer monthly subscriptions. Furthermore, subscribers get access to a variety of cosmetic and other “show off” items unavailable to anyone else (subscribers are the VIPs in the ESO ecosystem).

    This leads to “buy to win” perceptions. Five to ten years ago, MMORPGs ported to the First World from Asia included cash shops (where players purchased things for real-life cash). These included items providing in-game advantages. This included weapons, outfits, or even special camouflage paints. When first introduced, these drove short-term income. However, it also acted as a brake on growth, since new players were discouraged by the growing “sticker price” of being competitive. In some cases the designers didn’t feel the items were of any significant advantage. Nevertheless, any advantage, no matter how tiny, gained enormous attention from dedicated players. Ultimately, quite of few of these games disappeared, or massively revised their “cash shop” so items were clearly not advantageous. Players wanted all in-game advantages to be available via game-play, and in the end, that’s what they got. Today there are virtually no surviving “buy to win” MMORPGs.

    Your point about “Keep it simple” in subscriptions is very well taken. MMORPGs are complicated games, and frequently become more so as they expand and age. Simply understanding all the benefits of a subscription can require a master’s degree in game play. This is the Achilles Heel of many MMORPG subscription offers, including ESO. I suspect the continuing success of MMORPG subscriptions is simply because the market is so familiar with them. The in-built expectations about what a subscription “should” provide make marketing much easier. Mobile/social gamers rarely have such expectations connected to subscriptions, making the marketing message more important.

    – Arnold Hendrick


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