She said, "You been gone." I said, "That’s only natural."

This MMOG business is unnatural, y’know. I mean, apart than all those demons and magic stuff. And aliens. And superpowered beings. And physics-defying weaponry. And grown men pretending to be lithe elf chyqs, or pretending to be lithe women pretending to be lithe elf chyqs pretending to like other lithe elf chyqs played by grown men pretending to be lithe women (who like girls who like boys who look like a girlfriend that I had in February of last year). No, that stuff is all fine, the unnatural bit is they expect you to keep playing them.

“Normal” games, you play ’em, you finish ’em, you move on, like books, or films. Now the Law of Imperfect Analogy starts kicking in somewhere around here, wherein you say “you can’t *directly* compare games to books, and anyway, playing an MMO would just be like reading a series of books by the same author”, and then I’ll say, “only if that author totally recycled the same formulaic plot in every book”, and you’ll say “Dan Brown” (and we’d laugh uproariously) “besides which you’re ignoring the investment in your own character in MMOs”, and I’ll say “OK, in that case, Choose Your Own Adventure books”, and then you say “I haven’t read one of those since they were given away with Weetabix”, and then we’re in a discussion about breakfast cereal.

But the basic point is: aren’t Kellogs Variety Packs great? Especially mixing two different boxes together (which also gets around the problem of being left with cornflakes at the end). No, wait… the basic point is: the subscription model of MMOs is quite different from most other forms of entertainment. There’s no incentive for the author of a book to keep you reading it as long as possible, or for a film to keep you in the cinema forever (though the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels seem to think there is, even without an intermission to boost ice cream sales). MMOGs, obviously, want to keep you playing, hence timesinks, “the grind” and related fun and games (though obviously the rest of the game needs to be enough fun to keep you going. Or sufficiently addictive, at least.) I’m not sure the $15/month all-or-nothing subscription is necessarily the One True Way for MMOGs. Course, a single payment alternative isn’t automatically better; once you’ve paid for a “normal” game, as long as it isn’t so disastrously rubbish that you storm around to the developers and demand a refund in person, they’ve got your money and don’t really care how much you enjoy it. OK, they’ll want good reviews so people buy the game in the first place and want expansion packs or a sequel, but why bother giving the user 500 hours of the most exquisite gameplay ever devised, when you could give ’em 30 hours of adequate fun, 10 more hours in a more-of-the-same expansion pack, then a bit of a shonky sequel with a few re-skinned elements.

From careful, in depth research (OK, vaguely scanning down rss feeds at high speed, if we’re being entirely honest), there are other payment models brewing or already here; free basic play with deluxe paid-for bonuses (like Dungeon Runners), microtransactions, RMT (which might all be the same thing), and I think that’s a Good Thing(tm), variety (packs) being the spice of life and all.

6 thoughts on “She said, "You been gone." I said, "That’s only natural."

  1. Elf

    Meh, it seems more or less like other subscription models to me. Take satellite TV: your interaction with it doesn’t change much, where you plonk yourself down on the sofa for a couple of hours at a time, and the content you are served is pretty much the same each time. And how many repeats are there compared to new programming? It’s easier and cheaper for a broadcaster to add another ‘+1’ channel than produce something new, and that’s what you get.

    Or you could buy a subscription to a magazine. Again, your interaction with the magazine doesn’t change, and the content is going to be, or at least become, all too familiar, albeit with variations of a theme. You could argue that there is all-new content in each issue, but I would say that it’s mostly only superficially new, as it’s slightly different information presented in exaclty the same way.

    Subscription services seem to be set up precisely to present more of the same, whereas individual purchases offer more variety. In this respect, MMOGs don’t differ from other forms of entertainment.

  2. Zoso

    To say “the content you are served is pretty much the same each time” about TeeVee surely implies that Batman is pretty much the same as Big Brother? I thought about satellite TV, but the entire point of that is you have a wide range of choices, even if you end up with, as Oscar Wilde said, “57 channels and nothin’ on” (or was that Bruce Springsteen? I always get them confused.) Satellite TV would be more like Sony’s Station Access (though Sony’s Station Access TV would be four really similar channels, and one all but indistinguishable from free-to-air anyway), and I think there’s definitely a market for a single-subscription/range-of-games model like that, but as expounded in a previous post it just doesn’t make sense with SOE’s current lineup.

    The magazine subscription analogy is good, but this suggests that only 10% of magazine sales are by subscription (assuming Australia is representative of the rest of the world, fair dinkum cobber etc.) which either reinforces my point (there needs to be other models than just fixed monthly subscriptions) or your point (which I think is: taking “games” as a whole rather than MMOGs specifically, there already are a range of models?), or just goes to show that any argument involving analogies breaks down into discussion and refinement of the analogy itself.

    So, if you’re an otter, and games are an ice cream factory, then obviously a subscription can be seen as a carpet…

  3. Elf

    Yes, my point was that ‘games’ offer a range of options, with ‘MMOGs’ being the subscription model of games, and that this subscription model doesn’t differ significantly from those in other entertainment fields.

    My link to TV was more that whilst there may be a wide range of programming, you will not interact with the vast majority of it, in general, as you won’t watch, for example, soap operas or medical dramas, or whatever. You’ll stick to the genres you enjoy, like sit-coms and panel shows. Sure, you will watch different shows, like Big Brother and Batman, but how much do those shows differ from episode to episode? And, sometimes, isn’t it a grind to sit through the current episode just because you watched the previous one?

    The different programmes could be akin to playing an alt versus your main, or running one instance over another, and is certainly analgous to playing a different MMOG.

    As for SOE’s multi-game subscription service, I can see direct analogue to the current satellite/cable TV model, where you pay for access to multiple sources of similar entertainment, but your choices are artificially limited to the ones the company wants to push, because they know full well you wouldn’t choose them voluntarily. How many Sky channels do you have access to that you don’t want but are forced to pay for? Maybe there will be more options in the future for Leeloo multi-pass games, where two or three games you want to play are bundled in a single subscription with a couple more crappy ones, but it may take an entrepreneurial company separate from the publishers to arrange this. It’s an interesting idea.

  4. Zoso

    ‘games’ offer a range of options, with ‘MMOGs’ being the subscription model of games

    Right, but if we narrow ‘games’ down to ‘games with persistent worlds’, then the fixed subscription MMOG is the dominant model (not exclusive; course there’s Guild Wars that I forgot about, and user created persistent NWN worlds, but mostly it’s fixed subscriptions). Now you can say “well them’s the breaks if you want to play in persistent worlds” (and to stretch the already creaky analogy, you could probably say a similar thing about wanting to watch sport on television), but my contention is that adhering to that model is reinforcing necessary evils in game design (like timesinks, farming and “the grind”), and perhaps other payment models could encourage persistent world designs that don’t place such a premium on time devoted to a game (while acknowledging it’s also possible that other payment models could encourage money-grabbing bastards to nickel-and-dime you to the very depths of Hades).

  5. Elf

    It’s not the persistent world that has a subscription service and thus encourages certain behaviours, as any game that can be saved can be considered persistent, particularly something like Darwinia. It’s the ‘massive’ part of ‘MMOG’ that is the cause.

    Without the game being massively multiplayer it is quite feasible to run your own server and play a game with your friends, and there need be no subscription for that. But for a ‘massive’ game you’ll need a central server owned by someone in order to play, until the time comes where a peer-to-peer model is possible without cheating at even the lowest level by modifying the data packets.

    You’re right that the subscription model encourages time-sink gameplay, as people need to justify the subscription to themselves, and that is best achieved by playing as much as the subscription allows, and it is generally unlimited. It remains to be seen whether alternative payment methods can involve and reward skill more.

  6. heather (errantdreams)

    Mmmm. Now that would be nice. If I could pay one fee and have access to a selection of things like CoH/CoV, LotRO, WoW, EVE, Pirates… life would be good. The incentive for them to keep quality high could be a sliding scale of income from the subscriptions based on which games people play most.

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