Subscription fees have been part of the MMO genre experience since the very early days, with the likes of EverQuest and Lineage utilising these payment methods way back in the late 90s. Developers have long since defended these 'paywalls' by means of providing a consistent income to the game, ensuring sustainable development and upkeep of server costings.
When Zenimax Online announced that their upcoming MMO The Elder Scrolls Online would be utilising this subscription method, many cried out that such a thing in this day and age of "freemium" or "buy-to-play" was absurd, and that it wouldn't be sustainable for the game's health. In a blog on MMORPG.com
, CEO Ryan Dancey has taken to defending this choice, stating that MMO subs are estimated to bring $100 million to the West every month.
Dancey also states that while its tricky to really prove the calculations thanks to non-transparency in annual budget reports, he does believe that free-to-play utilising microtransactions barely bring in half this much.
"If we consider the MMOs that generate the most revenue in the Western market (North America, Europe, Russia, and Australia / New Zealand) a sizeable majority of the revenue being generated is in the form of monthly subscriptions," he writes. "The era of MMO subscriber transparency has ended but we can still make some educated deductions about these revenues and subscriber totals."
To help back up his statements, Dancey provided a list of rough estimates
for the best performing MMORGPs in the Western market, namely World of Warcraft, Star Wars: The Old Republic and Guild Wars 2. He explains that "It’s even harder to estimate how much revenue is being generated from microtransactions (MTX), but it is extremely difficult to imagine that the revenue even approaches 50% of the amount being paid as subscription fees. Half the subscription revenue is coming from World of Warcraft and Blizzard has just begun to dip its toe in the MTX revenue stream."
It is obvious that the MMO market is shifting to a more microtransaction-orientated field (if it hasn't already), but Dancey believes that the revenue raised from your typical free-to-play or buy-to-play titles is barely that of the more senior subscription model. Of course titles like Guild Wars 2 have seen a huge success in utilising the buy-to-play method, but is such ideas sustainable for a quite large online title?
"Subscriptions are really great for developers too. They provide a continuous dependable source of revenue. Many people allow themselves to be billed for a subscription even in a month where they didn’t access the service. Having the billing information for these customers makes it easier to market to them for re-engagement of lapsed customers, buddy programs for virality, and up-sales for additional revenue."
For more analysis on the subject check out the full in-depth article
of Dancey's, a great read for any avid watcher of the MMO genre and its ever-evolving nature in the industry. The question will always remain on whether a sub fee for The Elder Scrolls Online is such a good idea, but ultimately it will have to be a wait-and-see game when the title launches in April.
The Elder Scrolls Online will be available for PC and Mac come April 4th, with console versions coming sometime shortly after. Let us know in the comments on your thoughts about the aging subscription model, and whether there are still any benefits in keeping with the old ways.