Pricing Psychology

[Note: I started this post last week. Reading it today, it seems a bit “train of thought” and perhaps rambles a bit; I’m not sure if it even gets to the point I set out to make. But I’m posting it anyway.]

It’s no secret that I’ve become a fan of, shall we say, alternate pricing arrangements for my entertainment. MMOs in particular, I find more and more difficult to justify a $15 monthly subscription simply on the basis that I know I won’t “get my money’s worth” out of any particular MMO in any given month. I’m in the travel industry, therefore I’m only home a couple days a week. Totaled, I am away from home roughly 8 months of the year.

The unfortunately-named “Free To Play” or F2P model is attractive to me at this point in time because, in theory, in allows me to play at my own pace and toss the devs a few bucks here and when I see fit if I decide their product is worthy of my dollars. I say “in theory” because we’re all-too-familiar with years of F2P systems that either routinely gate content behind a mandatory pay wall, or gouge players for mandatory consumables.

Guild Wars is my favorite model, and one which in another sense is similar to my experience on Xbox Live: buy the software once, play forever at no additional charge, and buy DLC for continued adventures. I am very interested to see how often issues content updates for Guild Wars 2 which will also be using this model.

SiriusXM ran a promotion recently where they gave everyone two weeks of free satellite radio, along with a promotion to signup for $25 for 5 months, equating to $5/month compared to the normal $13/month. As I just mentioned above, I’m not home enough to justify $13/month for radio, no matter how many stations they offer. The longest I’m in my car is driving to and from the airport, twice a week, 30 minutes each. Otherwise nearly everything I need is within 10 minutes of my home. But for $5/month? That’s the cost of a Frappucino at Starbucks, so I can justify that to have a few months of new radio stations I couldn’t otherwise experience.

Bringing that back to MMOs, at this point in my life with not only limited time for gaming but so many gaming choices, both within and outside of the MMO genre, I feel developers or publishers need to continue their pricing experiments, perhaps offering a time-limited access for a substantially lower fee if they insist on subscriptions. I could foresee spending $5 to $7 (which is what a streaming-only Netflix subscription costs) per month for say, a block of 50 hours per month tops?

I look at everyone on Twitter playing RIFT and I can tell just from the scenery graphics I would enjoy the game (or at least the scenery) for awhile, but at the end of the day, it’s just another “level up, gear up” game that has and/or will have all the same problems every other vertical-progression MMO has. I may not have played RIFT‘s sub-systems but, to paraphrase Bartle, I’ve already played RIFT countless times and can’t justify $15/month on it when I consider the other MMO’s I’m already invested in plus all the other games I play in my limited time.

A lot of this falls in line not only with my limited gaming time but also the notion that the subscription is a “game as a service” which is where the unconscious “need” to get your money’s worth comes in. Currently, I don’t have any MMO subscriptions. I casually play three MMO’s — Lord of the Rings Online, Star Trek Online, and Champions Online — all of which I have Lifetime Memberships for. Aside from the convenience of never having to update my account page doing the Re-sub/Un-sub dance, lifetime memberships allow me to change my outlook from “game as a service” back to the normal “game as a product” that I grew up with and continue to experience with non-MMO games. I can pick up or walk away from any of those three at any time, never having to concern myself with my account status, never worrying about getting value out of a single month. Are they a gamble? Certainly! One has to look no further than Hellgate: London to see how short a game’s lifetime can be. But I figure $200 is roughly equal to four full-price games for my Xbox 360, which would be $240 (plus taxes or shipping) or six PC games at the $50 that seems to be the average these days. I currently have a stack of 58 games for my 360, only a few of which are “finished,” and my Steam library shows 26 games installed. Add to that all the MMOs I’ve bought, the non-Steam PC games at home, and so forth. Even though a good chunk of those were pre-owned from Gamestop or purchased during a Steam sale, that’s still a large chunk of money set aside just for my gaming hobby. So when I look at the total gaming library I’ve already invested in, $200 doesn’t seem like that much of a worry anymore. The two Cryptic games are pretty much the only chance I have to play alongside certain people like Blue KaeMMO Gamer Chick and a few others, so I can easily place the “reward” of that over the “risk” of the lifetime membership as part of my own justification process.

Similarly, I bought Call of Duty: Black Ops and both it’s map packs ($60 for the disc plus $15 for each map pack) strictly so I could play online with Aaron and Oakstout (even Genda jumped in twice as a bonus). I’m not sure if I’ve ever ranted here on about my utter frustration with Call of Duty games, though both Aaron and Oakstout are well-versed with my oft-profane-laden outbursts of vitriol towards the multi-player game. During my worst tirades, Oak usually breaks out into giggles and I have a suspicion Aaron mutes me momentarily if I enter territory that offends his Catholic upbringing. I’ve had a neighbor knock and ask if things were OK, so yeah, to say Call of Duty pisses me off is an understatement, but it’s also a testament to what I’m willing to put up with for the sake of having fun with online friends. I don’t necessarily approve of the steep price of the map packs, but in a sense the model itself falls in line with Guild Wars where I buy the game and play for free, then buy DLC on top of that to continue support. (Don’t even get me started on Call of Duty: Elite, however…) The only difference being that Call of Duty is a “game as a product” and will be replaced in twelve months with the next annual edition of the franchise as opposed to the continuing growth of something of the scale of Guild Wars 2.

Back in the pre-internet days of GEnie we had to pay hourly for the service itself then an additional hourly fee to play online games like Air Warrior or Islands of Kesmai. That adds up way faster than any F2P game that I have deigned to play, believe me. I don’t want to go back to those days, but I also feel that for myself and others who participate in the myriad gaming choices available, subscriptions just don’t cut the mustard any longer. I don’t want to feel psychologically “locked into” one game to the near-exclusion of others because of the full-price subscription.

Funny thing is, and perhaps this is a whole other aspect of psychology, even a few years ago I was all about the subscription games even as more viable choices began to appear, diluting my overall gaming value or perhaps making me spend more on multiple subscriptions. Money was tighter then, too. Now that I’m in a better financial position where I can easily pay for essentially three Frappucinos per month (roughly the same as an MMO subscription) I am more loathe to do so knowing I won’t get the same value from it as I did back in the earlier days where I had to consider the finances, but also had more time to devote to my one (or precious few) choice(s).


2 thoughts on “Pricing Psychology

  1. You hit a pretty sizable chunk of timeline there, man. I believe that is relevant and puts this kind of post into a needed perspective.

    I, too, remember the days of “pay by the hour” gaming access. I was too young to field a credit card of my own, and was only able to scam some time out of my parents once in a while (when my father also wanted to log in to whatever service). I remember being curious about UO’s monthly sub, but by then I could foot the $9.95/month bill myself. Even $15/month was doable. Now the whole idea of either lifer subs or F2P with cash shops doesn’t sound horrible. I can play LotRO with my wife, and NOT have that Sword of Damocles hanging over my head in the form of the monthly fee if I don’t get around to playing this month.

    I personally like the F2P model, especially since it also allows my friends — who seem to be more financially strapped then I am — to play with me. I really have yet to actually touch a cash shop, except in DDO…because I managed to score 20 or so points cards from their booth at PAX East 2010 XD

  2. Is it wrong that “… alternate pricing arrangements for my entertainment” makes me think of several things that aren’t actually currency?

    Also are three frappacinos worth 15$ a month?

    I prefer the monthly sub for the gouging/paywall reasons you mention. I do like Guild War’s system of buy once, get a complete game and buy some expansions later.

    I also like Blizzards extras in the store – stuff I’d never buy, but some chumps do. :)

    RIFT is WoW only I found it easier and had a very repetitive mechanics theme regardless of class; build up, release, build up, release… bleh.

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