Greedy Goblin

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Would you pay $100/month for a good game?

To see why the gaming scene sank so low, you must ask a simple question: why did WoW change after BC? It was stupidly successful. It was stupidly profitable. It was a cultural phenomenon. Why oh why did the devs do a 180 with Wrath of the Lich King? It seems stupid and in retrospect, it was stupid. However, it was destined to be.

Why? Imagine that there is a grazing field that can support 20 cows. There are multiple farmers using it. If they have a wise chief, they'll have 20 happy cows ever after. If any of them hires a business consultant, well, that won't be so good. Or think of the 2008 business crisis. Everyone knew that the trees can't reach the sky. Giving out loans to subprime homebuyers whose only reasonable income source was the expected growth of value of the home you give the loan for was pants on head retarded. But suits did it anyway for another well known reason. Since Star Citizen destroyed the option of crowdfunding an AAA game, if you want to make one, you'll need business investors. With them will come the consultants and suits and whenever they appear, the mentioned phenomenons will follow.

The thing is that we have to accept is that consultants and suits don't care how much money your game makes. Suits only care how can they make more money of it in the next few quarters. And there are two surefire ways to do that: add an item shop and make the game more accessible. It doesn't matter for them and they can't comprehend even if it mattered that such actions destroy the engagement of players, therefore the longevity of the game. It is not their job to care. Their only purpose in this life is to make more money in the next few quarters. Can you prove that tolerating "gambling" in your game increase revenues? Yes you can. Can you prove that breaking the rules for IWI and designing a game-breaking income source to them killed EVE? Not even in retrospect. We believe it did, but can't prove. Maybe it was "fatigue" or the loss of Goons and their content creation, or Santa Clause. The manager who said "unban IWI bankers because last month these guys got payments from gamblers who bought 100 PLEX-es" just followed his short-sighted interest.

Today I want to discuss item shop, tomorrow comes accessibility. We can agree in two things: one is that the majority of the players want to buy power. The other is that power in a game only exist in comparison with others. If you give a better car for everyone in real life, everyone has a better life. If you give a better sword to everyone in a game, you just mudflated and no one is better off. Which means that if someone buys power, someone is worse off and this someone will not be happy about this. In long term, this will surely kills the game as if the poorest 10% quits for being pwned by everyone who paid more, the next 10% will be the poorest 10%. There are two Nash Equilibriums for this situation: one is free-to-play. There is no "poorest 10%" just "poorest 90%" as 90% of the players are equally paying nothing. So most of the time they aren't facing a whale so they have no reason to quit over being outpaid.

The other equilibrium is "whale to play" aka high subscription. What do I mean? The subscription should be high enough that the "poorest 10%" pays more than a few whales. In case of a $15/month subscription, a $1000/month whale pays as much as 67 subscribers. If you have 1% whales (and you usually have), you are better off losing 66% of your players than not having an item shop. In case of a $100/month subscription a $1000/month whale only worth as much as 10 players, so losing the lowest 10% can easily be worse than gaining the money of the whales.

Please note that illicit goldselling will always exist. How bad they are depends on game design and the security team, but even in BDO where you can't give gold to the other players you still have goldsellers: they offer to grind on your account. Having higher subscription cost works against that too (official item shop, PLEX system and goldsellers have no fundamental difference). The illicit buyer must pay for the account of the goldseller and risk his own account. If the account cost doubles, the cost of illicit gold will also double. In EVE the price of illicit "gold" follows half of the official PLEX exchange rate for this reason. Therefore if your subscription cost is high enough, you don't have more problems with goldsellers than you have now.

The point isn't that an MMO with $100/month subscription has bigger income than a $15/month. Maybe it doesn't. The point is that $100 (or something like that) is a Nash equilibrium and $15/month is not. If you design your game around $100/month, you don't have to afraid that your boss will get some consultant telling him "power item shop".

So to have a game which is not P2W, you need to pay about $100/month as subscription. Would you?


Metolius said...

Assuming those numbers are a reasonable approximation -

$100 buys 2-3 top tier computer games or 50 older / indie games in bundles. I think about wow at its best during BC / WOTLK, and it definately wasn't worth $100 a month. I don't know what you could add to Wow to make it worth $100 a month.

The initial buy and expansion buys should have been enough. The monthly payments should just cover continued access to what was already bought.

Executives have to make yacht payments though...

Steel H. said...

Yes. If I get immersive virtual world with no contrivances, lots of depth, slick art, music and writing, no twitchy gameplay, etc. And give everyone an intelligence test before letting them in. :throws money at screen:

Anonymous said...

Gaming is going the same way as the film industry. Compare the movies made in 70s when directors were free to be creative, then studios (suits) took over and, well you can see what happened to movies today.

maxim said...

The fact that people are using the cash shop if it is there is not a sufficient justification for introduction of a cash shop. Saying that "majority people want to buy power" is a result of circular logic. Majority of people don't want cash shops and definitely don't want to see power sold in cash shops. If we were actually using majority votes to justify game design decisions, there would be no cash shops. However, when power is already sold, the majority starts feeling it has no choice but to buy it.

If my boss wants to cash in a few quicks bucks now over long-term sustainability of the game, then he won't be the boss of me for long (either company folds, or i leave).

Anonymous said...

"The manager who said "unban IWI bankers because last month these guys got payments from gamblers who bought 100 PLEX-es" just followed his short-sighted interest."

I am interested in which manager this was.

Anonymous said...

Im sure many will argue against a 100$ subscription, yet many ppl spend 100$ on a guaranteed cancer subscription (cigarettes)

Rob Thompson said...

I could pay $100/month, and I would, if certain conditions were met. I only play EVE at the moment, so have to use that for explanation.

For $100/month, I would expect a top game, in terms of design and execution. I would expect exemplary customer service and clear, honest marketing.

I would also expect to have just one account, with multiple characters, any or all of which could be simultaneously active and skilling-up at any time.

I'd expect the CSM to disappear (Bye!).

Of course, you'd lose the students and many of the other under-28s, along with others on low or comparatively low incomes.

Of those who remain a good portion would exhibit entitlement attitude like you've never seen. How dare the servers fail; buy bigger/better ones! I pay your wages, you'd better perform!

Sound familiar? We already get that stuff for $15 a month.

CCP would have to sign up one high-roller for every 6 of the current crowd and the status quo would be preserved. That would not be sufficient. The pay wall would become an abyss and there'd have to be a major clear-out of amateurs and sadists at HQ.

It's not gonna happen, but it was fun musing on a Wednesday morning...

Good, thought-provoking blog, Gevlon.

RunsWithBear said...

Hey Gevlon,

I wouldn't, cause I can't think of a good enough game that would justify that price in comparison to what I earn. But I would definitly be able and willing to pay a substantial monthly fee, say $25. I'm no businessman, I have no idea, if one could run a better game of off that.

So yes, I'd be willing to pay a substantial fee, if I'd get a good, lasting game.

Hanura H'arasch said...

"The thing is that we have to accept is that consultants and suits don't care how much money your game makes. Suits only care how can they make more money of it in the next few quarters."

Every industry on this planet faces the same issue. Yet we still have companies who pursue long term goals successfully. The key is making it very obvious to investors, who typically know nothing about games, that this will hurt them in the long run.

Another solution would be family run corporations. The owners will want to pass a healthy company to their children, and are thus much more focused on sustainability.

Sebastian said...

You can easily derive from (financial) successes like Star Citizen one fact: There are a lot of people that grew old playing online games. Now they have a job, a family, maybe a house, a car - all of them moving a lot of money each month.

A hundred USD is nothing in comparison, especially when you break it down to the hours you might spend with it - that might end up with 2 USD / h. Take any "real life" hobby - I do some fly fishing, easily spending double that amount per year. You prefer photography, cinemas, cars, colelcting stamps? All of them will spend more than 100 USD / month easily.

Give me something truly amazing game, maybe a full virtual copy of Earth itself with a huge team providing content and I would not think twice investing 100 USD in my hobby. And would be sure, another million of people would join there.

Anonymous said...

"the majority of the players want to buy power" is a nonsense. Smart players actively avoid games that have P2W tools or games that might be changed into one in the near future. It is obvious that such games will be played by a majority that supports such practice.

And no, why would anyone pay $100/month for some game, if there are way more games that will satisfy your needs for much less? People seem to forget, that they are customers foremost and they have a choice what to buy and what to play. Developers should not dictate the rules.

@anon 4:20
That is just not true. One can argue, that you have more top-notch titles out there nowadays than you had before, but it is the ratio of good ones compared to bad ones that deteriorated by the sheer volume of titles being produced.

Gevlon said...

@maxim: true, but irrelevant. A few people want cash shop and when it's introduced, the rest don't quit instantly. Then they "have no choice but to buy power" after the first buyers pwned them.

What game are you working on, by the way?

@Anon: it doesn't matter who it was. All employees (unless fired and the company apologized for their evildoing) are representing the company.

@Rob: it was a somewhat rhetoric question. I'm fully aware that there is a reason why subscriptions aren't $100 but rather zero and then they sell power items, since people tolerate bad games as long as they can "pwn the noobz".

@Hanura: that's easy to say, hard to do. You have only circumstantial evidence (game X went down after doing it) while the suit always have numbers: "more $ for you NOW".

Family corporations are nice. Does your family have $100M?

@Anonymous: no. EVE was free of skillpoint trading and there were no signs of it ever implemented and yet when it was, people jumped on it like starved dogs on a piece of meat.

There are NO games that satisfy my needs. There are games that are better than watching the paint on the wall, that's all.

Theodora Dunkelmauer said...

First I would gladly pay 100$ a month for a good game, but I wouldn't care if it's
P2W or not.

Actually, if P2W mean a friend that is now married with childs can still play
with me by spending a few euros to skip the grind, that would be fine by me.

Lately, I played BDO, and just like you said yourself, it may as well have been a
single player game to me. So the others players buying power clearly wasn't the

The lack of long term goal that isn't a hamster well is.

Today, most PvP goal are just the same old fight recurring over and over.
As for PvE there is no more progression ( And I'm a PvE player ). You don't unlock
any new levels anymore, no new content. At best you unlock the same old content
with bigger number, dropping the same exact loot, with also bigger number.

But here, I'm getting off subject, so I wait for you to post about
that part of the games.

@Anonymous Anonymous 10:27: "the majority of the players want to buy power" is a nonsense.

Actually, I think it's true, it's just a dirty little secret, like sex.
Most dream of it, does it, want it, but everybody will look and act shocked if you
insinuate they might be fucking, at the wrong place, the wrong way (And that mean nearly
all places, all ways except maybe if your talking to your best friends ).
No BDO player would say he bought power, but most would gloat about the fact
they bought 4 auto-looting pets. ( It mean you don't have to stop to loot.
Looting take as much time as killing, so you level twice faster... )

Hanura H'arasch said...

@Gevlon: I agree that it's hard, but all other options seem futile. Unless there actually is a market for a $100/M subscription game of course.

Do we really need $100M? A game doesn't have to be a super expensive MMORPG with fancy graphics to be successful. Though family corporations in highly capital intensive industries do exist, like BMW. The nature of games, having basically only fixed expenses, does make this difficult though, so you might have a point.

Samus said...

You are basically assuming that every developer everywhere will come to this same conclusion, that none of them care anything about the quality of their games unless it makes them more money, and that all of them will ignore the large and very vocal number of players complaining about how cash shops can ruin games. I am sure you can point to plenty of games that this applies to, but there are hundreds of developers. You don't need hundreds of games. You just need a few developers to make "good" games.

Gevlon said...

@Samus: care to name a good game which is not a 5-hours single player with 8 bit graphics?

Antze said...

I might even pay $200/month, but for that I need just one thing, much less than previous commenters demanded, but very hard to fulfill: I need the game to stay the same it was when I started playing it. That doesn't mean I'm against content patches, but actually I need them much less than other players and could totally live with "one new dungeon every half year", or maybe "a year".

But my main point is that the game shouldn't suddenly change from grinding based MMO to dexterity based MMO, or from honest competition MMO to item shop competition MMO, or from hardcore raiding game to interactive movie, or you name it.

Since there's no legal way to even define such obligations, I probably won't ever pay the mentioned $200/month, but I might be OK with $75/month as long as I have reasons to trust the developer. Anyway, many modern MMOs attempt to suck the same amounts out of you in form of "invisible subscription" via "required" item shop stuff. And they do that without promising anything.

maxim said...

You are significantly basing your argument on the notion that people actually WANT to buy power in cash shops. Not being manipulated into doing so, but are actually enjoying this and looking for this. This notion is false.

Currently working on an MMO side-scroller beat'em up. Turning out fun so far :D

Gevlon said...

@maxim: when CCP allowed skillpoint trading, people started buying like there was no tomorrow. PLEX sales tripled. They might be manipulated into buying PLEX, but sure as hell no one manipulated them into buying skillpoints.

People want to keep up with the Joneses. They want to look cool. They don't want to be "losers". The cash shop offers them just that without being any good. They just love it. Sure, not the "gamers" but who cares about gamers anymore?

Smokeman said...


The problem here is your definition of a "good game" is impossible. It appears to be, and you can correct me if this is in error:

A "Good game" (tm):
"An MMO where single player challenge cannot be gamed by the multi player aspect of the game, or advantage purchased in the cash shop. but where the economy can be rigged such that people dedicated to that can appear to be "rich" and superior to the grinding masses."

The first major problem here is that if the "single player challenge" is too hard, people will cheat at every opportunity they think they can get away with. They did this in actual "single player games" too, but could not use the "John Gabriel's Greater Internet Dickwad Theory" to shove that "victory" into the faces of others in an effort to appear more competitive than they have the skills to otherwise be.

Even without hacks and cheats, people will use the multiplayer aspect of the game to totally cheese any available challenge... Case in point: Everquest. Everquest was essentially the first modern MMORPG that was huge in scope. But like it's predecessors, it was based on a single player game concept and was damn hard... it was nearly impossible to level to max without cheesing the difficulty by using multi-player grinding techniques, or abusing certain "easy" mobs like the Dwarfs in Butcherblock Mountain. (Or close to there... you know the zone, people would constantly yell "Dorfs are camped!") Any "challenge" was avoided like the plague 99% of the time because of the grievous death penalty.

The internet is what ruined gaming. Competitive people, the ones who would otherwise relish a challenge, are also the ones who cannot resist shoving that victory into the faces of others. The anonymity of the internet emboldens them to use dubious mechanics (Cash shop advantage, cheesing multiplayer grinding to bypass challenge, etc.) such that we can establish a corollary to the "John Gabriel's Greater Internet Dickwad Theory" that I'll call "Smokeman's Greater internet Game Cheater Theory" which goes:

1) Take a highly competitive person.
2) Put them in an anonymous multiplayer game.
3) Give them the ability to cheat while having the plausible deniability to claim otherwise.
4) Result: Rampant cheating.

The only way to eliminate number 3 is to eliminate number 2, but the urge to abuse number 3 makes games that eliminate number 2 look less attractive.

As such, you cannot have a competitive game where you get to abuse the multiplayer economy. It will destroy itself because of the blatant cheating (Eve.) or remove it's own challenge so the mass appeal, story aspect is dominant(WoW).

Gevlon said...

@Smokeman: both WOW BC, WoT and EVE were very good candidates. WoW was nerfed to the ground. WoT matchmaking (and probably other things) is cheated to allow M&S to have 50% winrate. In EVE cheating (botting, RMT, real world abuse of opponents) is tolerated if the perpetrator is the buddy/business partner of the devs.

Perfect "Good game" can't be made. But make a BC server, a WoT server where matchmaking is either random or rated and rating is clear or an EVE server where rules are enforced and I'll be happy.

Theodora Dunkelmauer said...


Seriously ?

"it was based on a single player game concept" ? The game that just didn't allow you to solo with most of the classes ? The game where you would need others nearly all the time, especially after a death to recover your body ? The game that at no point of his story told you that you were unique, the chosen one, or any other single player story crap ? You mean that game that was based on D&D nearly to the books was single player ? like D&D is ?

Wow, i just don't know what to answer here...

Also, about " it was nearly impossible to level to max without cheesing the difficulty by using multi-player grinding techniques, or abusing certain "easy" mobs like the Dwarfs in Butcherblock Mountain.", unless you were trying to solo in EQ, incredibly wrong. Sure, it was pretty long to reach max level, even while playing in group, but perfectly doable. Sure, not in 3 weeks, more like 6 months, but doable.

More importantly, you forgot to point something important : the game didn't start at max level. As there was no penalty for attacking monsters above your level, you could raid 10 or even 20 level bellow the level cap, and enjoy the end game content.

Also if "Any challenge was avoided like the plague 99% of the time because of the grievous death penalty.", we really didn't play on the same servers. ( Or again, you tried to play solo without any resurrecting classes )

Finally, back on subject : Sure, there was some peoples cheating, or abusing some weak mobs to gain levels, but it didn't do peoples any goods. Like you said EQ was hard enough so you had to know how to play, and play in group. The reward wasn't to be the first maw level of a server, but to see the end zones of an extension. While I played EQ, even on a PvP server, at no point I was feeling I was competing with others players, the world was hard enough to be the main antagonist.

vv said...

No. I don't think it's possible. There's at least two reasons.
1. I don't think that $100 per month can compensate far less subscribers.
2. F2P games are making more money than premium games in most cases.

Smokeman said...


Bit of history: I started playing online games in 1993, and started working in the industry in 1995. Back in the day, no one in the industry knew what the hell they were doing, we all just did our best and threw it onto the wall to see what stuck.

When EQ came out, everyone at the office ran out and bought it. "research", right? The game was a single player game modeled after D&D, but with the inclusion of "solo" classes like the Shadow Knight and the Druid. Now, Each class started in it's own corner of the world, with the Dark Elves ("Drow", as it were.) in the farthest corner of some dark forest, in a dark cave 3 levels down. Just getting out of that cave as a Shadow Knight was a challenge. Grouping with anyone at the office was basically impossible in that they were in their own corner of the world. MY experience with EQ was from launch to some time in 2001.

Very quickly, though, it was clear that grouping was the best way to get beyond about level 20, and the most efficient grouping was to follow this formula:

1) Find spot. You needed a spot near mob spawns, but where no "Alpha Predator" pathed. Once you found a spot, you basically stayed there for a while. If you were too mobile, you risked one of the group getting picked up by an Alpha Predator (Griffon, Giant, Cyclops, etc.)

2) The puller pulled as few mobs as possible.

3) The tank picked them up and the main assist selected one to kill. All DPS then assisted the main assist in killing it. Repeat until all mobs in pull are dead.

4) repeat for hours.

This was the most efficient way to get experience. But incurred the least risk and was essentially challenge free. This was the free market solution, not what Sony "designed" into the game. Sony just covered all the bases and threw the game against the wall to see what would stick.

The internet, and by it's effect of allowing multi-player games, produces the market forces that find the most efficient way to circumvent risk.

Esteban said...

Perhaps the time of a Rolls Royce MMO has come. MMO players self-select to be more interested in flaunting power than the general population, and being on the game could be marketed as a RL status symbol. Stupider things have happened.

That said, why do you continue to exclude FFXIV from your analyses? It's a stable $15 subscription MMO with purely cosmetic items in a shop, with one exception: you can pay an extra $2 of sub for what amounts to some additional bank space. So let's call it a $17/month MMO, probably in the ballpark of a million subs.

Samus said...

"@Samus: care to name a good game which is not a 5-hours single player with 8 bit graphics?"

I assume you mean competitive PvP-based MMORPG? There are plenty of single player RPGs like the Witcher 3 that don't cater to casuals or abuse microtransactions, and CD Projekt Red is now worth over $1 billion because it raked in so much cash. If you like grand strategy games, now is almost certainly the best time ever for that genre. For competitive FPS games, you have stuff like Overwatch and Team Fortress 2, and neither of those games sells power in the cash shop. LoL makes the most of any game now, also without selling any meaningful amount of power in the cash shop, and assuming you mute all other players at the start of the match, it is actually a very good game too.

I am aware these are not the kind of game you are looking for. But all these other genres suffer from the same problems you talked about, and still managed to produce great games that don't abuse cash shops or water their games down for "accessibility." You need to ask why YOUR specific genre is different right now. Cream rises to the top. Why does only your genre have no cream at all, while the other genres still have cream?

Anonymous said...

@Steel H.
> And give everyone an intelligence test before letting them in.
No, no-no-no, who are you gonna pwn if everyone is smart?

>people started buying like there was no tomorrow
Personally I bought it because I was in MoA dropping goons and my bomber dps sucked. I couldn't wait another month to Torps V. I couldn't care less about Joneses, or other people, only the fact remains that I could fix my shit bomber dps, I could afford it, and I did it. That said, I definitely "bought power", but I still don't think skill point trading was bad idea. I mean, if you 1v1, it's basically your skill points which decide who wins, player skill matters very little. If you don't want to lose to skill points, you have to throw ISK for better fittings. At one point, compensating with simply buying skill points becomes cheaper alternative to losing another ship with deadspace gear you were forced to buy if you don't want to lose. If you think about it like this, skill points are not giving me the advantage, they simply level the playing field to the point where a factor as minuscule as player skill can come into play and mean something - that's why I welcomed CCP decision, and leaned on everyone not liking it like they were just going to keep their power advantage for themselves forever. And indeed they wanted to - so they started buying skillpoints like crazy to have even more SP advantage, drowning in hypocrisy. It's actually like skillpoints themselves were a bad idea, not trading them. I mean, look at them, they are "wait a few years to git gud" mechanics, ain't that fucking horrible?

Regarding the post: I was, in fact, paying $100 per month for a good game. It was actually f2p, with membership and some pay2win factor, but I liked it and I paid exactly $100 per month without any enforcement. That said, I quit when I busted said $100 on gear enhancement and failed them all, felt like I wasn't getting value for my money...

S Riojas said...

To answer that question: the game would have to be frick'in awsome. I will say that on average, I tend to spend $50 a month on Mechwarrior Online grabbing new mechs when they get offered (Collectors Syndrome) and I find the game worthwhile.

Anonymous said...

@S Riojas
But MWO is a horrible game, how can you even play that... and even spend money on it, ew...

Honestly, I dropped Dreadnought because it seemed to be as much of a failure as MWO. Well, I guess, every pile of shit has a dazzled fly or two...

Edmund Nelson said...


Good games do not exist in persistent space MMOS in any form. This is because those games are very easy to add cash shop pay2win mechanic to. Non persistent games like prismata and starcraft have the possibility of being good since they at least don't suffer the trap of being easily made into pay2win garbage. (in fact these games require significant effort for creation of pay2win injection.

The only good games right now IMO are

and some physical board games.

Anonymous said...

@Edmund Nelson

World of Tanks already solved this problem by introducing your "customer value" into matchmaking and penetration. So did League of Legends. There are ways for pay2win without directly selling power.

Yaggle said...

I do think it's possible for an MMO to be worth $100/month and I would consider paying it, if it were Wow-quality, with no pay-to-win, and additional GM's hired to find and ban botters and gold-sellers.