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[Column] General: What's Next For Subscriptions?

SBFordSBFord Associate Editor - News ManagerThe Land of AZPosts: 16,649MMORPG.COM Staff Uncommon

In our latest Free Zone column, we take a look at what may potentially lie ahead for subscriptions. Can we go back to "the way we were" as in the heady early days of MMOs? See what we think and then leave your own ideas in the comments.

Furthermore, I don't see any other projects on the horizon that have the potential to flip the world or even just North America back to the way things were. Titan used to carry such hope for some, but I always thought they were being overly optimistic, as if stating what they want in the form of a prediction would make it more likely to happen. Now though, we've been told it won't be a subscription MMORPG. Granted Blizzard's Mike Morhaime didn't explicitly exclude the possibility it will be a monthly fee-based non-MMORPG. I welcome anyone who'd like to make a case for this scenario to do so in the comments. 

Read more of Richard Aihoshi's The Free Zone: What's Next for Subscriptions?

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Associate Editor: MMORPG.com
Follow me on Twitter: @MMORPGMom

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Comments

  • FlyinDutchman87FlyinDutchman87 London MIlls, ILPosts: 247Member Uncommon

    I agree.  The masses will want there games FTP and Micro transactioned. Those who want more "Niche"  games with specific features will pay for them.

    It's like retail, Most people shop at walmart because they can get a decent for cheap. Players who want something more specialized will get a more customized experience and pay a premium for it....

     

    It's almost like capitalism or something......

     

  • RocknissRockniss Youngstown, OHPosts: 1,034Member
    As long as there continues to be a quality difference, subscription model needs no change. Outside of the amazing Gw2 buy to play and Swtor's model, f2p quality is way behind what sub games offer and even at that Swtor is way off the mark too. Current subs need fear not, and future subs need only deliver quality. If your game lacks quality you better just go f2p.
  • FlawSGIFlawSGI Woodstock, GAPosts: 1,379Member Uncommon
    Originally posted by Rockniss
    As long as there continues to be a quality difference, subscription model needs no change. Outside of the amazing Gw2 buy to play and Swtor's model, f2p quality is way behind what sub games offer and even at that Swtor is way off the mark too. Current subs need fear not, and future subs need only deliver quality. If your game lacks quality you better just go f2p.

    I agree with this except for the SWTOR portion. I think what they did with the F2P conversion was a blatant gutting and I refuse to play it. I have never played a MMO that I payed for only to have it go F2P later and take away stuff that I had when I purchased the game. They should have left a lot of the unlocks available for the people that had played the game before the conversion since we were paying customers at once. 

    I agree that quality can keep the subscription types viable but sadly in a flooded market it has become tough to differentiate yourself enough to hold onto players when they can easily go elsewhere. Also I think it is sad how developers have adapted the mindset that if you aren't retaining a million + then the ship is sinking and drastic changes need to be made.  I personally do not agree with sub + box + expansions  let alone throwing in cash shops, but I detest F2P and all of the bottlenecks that come with playing those games. I am sure I will find middle ground somewhere eventually but right now GW2 has offered the best bang for my buck even though I hardly play like I used to.

    RIP Jimmy "The Rev" Sullivan and Paul Gray.

  • SephastusSephastus New Brunswick, NJPosts: 448Member Uncommon

    People need to stop diluting themselves thinking this is one pay method vs another. In the end it is all about how you make revenue.

     

    Subscription games were/are all about delivering a full product and having built in time sinks to get you to continue paying the monthly fee far into the future.

     

    Free to Play game were/are all about instant gratification. If you have the money, you can get what you want practically instantly, as long as you pay the money

     

    Pay to Play games, like LoTR and GW2 were/are about getting all the money they can get at the beginning through a lifetime subscription (GW2's initial cost), and then continually get money from those that buy from their cash shops and expansions.

     

    All of these pay methods are just ways for the companies to get to your wallets. Some in more obvious ways than others. Free to Play are getting a reputation for being cash grabs because of how obvious their "give me money, and get this benefit" deals, but GW2 is also in this boat by charging a huge initial cost, while putting a cash shop, as well as a concealed RMT. Nothing wrong with any of this, but there is a saying: "A fool and his gold are quickly parted."

     

    If subscription models do bite the dust, so will the original MMORPG players, since most of us are no fools. Dollar per dollar, you can get much more out of a subscription model, than a pieced together free to play model. And yes, GW2 is a subscription model of sorts... you just pay for the lifetime subscription up front instead of monthly installments.

     
  • OSF8759OSF8759 Riverside, CAPosts: 284Member

    Allods Online recently launched a subscription server, so we can watch that with interest to see how the world's first f2p-to-p2p conversion performs. My prediction on that one is it will not be very successful and Allods will continue to be the irrelevant-to-the-industry game that it is. So irrelevant that it wasn't even mentioned in this article.

  • DrakephireDrakephire Fontana, CAPosts: 445Member Uncommon

    Faulty premise Richard.  All Western MMOs begin as subscription models.  The trend has been subscriptions transitioning to f2p models.  Wildstar, ESO and others aren't breaking any new ground, nor are they reclaiming lost ground. They're simply continuing the tradition.

     

    The only western title breaking this model is Everquest Next/landmark with is launching f2p.

  • TorvalTorval Oregon CountryPosts: 7,221Member Uncommon

    Interesting article. Here's my take:

    Niche games may be able to pull off a subscription and are the most likely candidate. They would also feel the impact of attrition much more dramatically than larger games. This makes the subscription model even more risky for them than it does for larger budget, broader appeal titles. If they can recoup the development debt before numbers dwindle then they could theoretically live off a much smaller core base than most games. This is why I think DAoC and other first gen MMOs can still retain their sub. They'll never get massive development like productive titles will, but the playerbase will likely accept that if they've stayed around long enough.

    Massive budget (aka AAA) titles will likely try and launch with a triple dip cash grab like TESO and Wildstar. These two titles have nothing to offer any other previous title has. What I think they're hoping for is the very common gamer behavior of jumping on the latest release. Even if, or more realistically when, those gamers move on the publisher will still have garnered a box fee, some amount of sub revenue, and possibly even some cash shop purchases. I believe they are gambling on enough initial surge to recoup dev costs before they need to shift revenue models. When profits drop below a threshold they will shift revenues on the fly so to speak, and continue with a more open revenue system. Doing this they have the potential to maximize their total revenue generation at some expense to the playerbase. I think games that have less confidence in what they offer will go this way because they can collect a lot more revenue before they're taken to task by the general mmo gamer community.

    There will still be major titles that will launch sub-free and possibly not even offer a sub-option. I'm not sure why these won't go for the cash grab in the same way the sub-locked games will, but I think it's because they feel overall numbers will provide a better revenue stream. These games I feel have confidence in what they offer because they're only going to make money if they're good enough to retain players. I can see EQ:N going this or a similar route. A happy compromise for these games might be a box fee with no sub and a free trial period (B2P). B2P would be a middle ground I could easily support.

    Hopefully what is next for subs is games that offer packages like Tera where you can play the game entirely through the cash shop or sub for buffs and bonuses that suit a more dedicated hardcore player. I like this hybrid model.

  • TorvalTorval Oregon CountryPosts: 7,221Member Uncommon
    Originally posted by Drakephire

    Faulty premise Richard.  All Western MMOs begin as subscription models.  The trend has been subscriptions transitioning to f2p models.  Wildstar, ESO and others aren't breaking any new ground, nor are they reclaiming lost ground. They're simply continuing the tradition.

     

    The only western title breaking this model is Everquest Next/landmark with is launching f2p.

    Neverwinter is a western game, published by a western division of an eastern company, that launched F2P. Your premise that all western games launch sub-locked is wrong.

    Lineage is a Korean sub-only game published by a Korean publisher and has never been F2P.

    Dragon's Prophet is an eastern F2P game published by a western division of a Japanese company.

    There don't seem to be any absolute rules at this time.

     

  • ZapzapZapzap Someplace, WYPosts: 224Member Uncommon
    I am not sure what F2P trend he is talking about.  I can only count one AAA game ever not being P2P at release and that was GW2 and it is debateable if you can call GW2 a MMO.
  • NadiaNadia Canonsburg, PAPosts: 11,866Member Uncommon
    Originally posted by Drakephire

    The only western title breaking this model is Everquest Next/landmark with is launching f2p.

    FreeRealms and Planetside 2 both launched as ftp but they are not tradtional mmos

  • GeezerGamerGeezerGamer ChairPosts: 5,596Member Uncommon
    This has absolutely nothing to do with niche games and revenues from the masses or whatever you want to call it. This is not about what MMO gamers have come to expect and thus the business model has to be adjusted accordingly. It's the other way around. There is only one reason the industry has turned in the direction it has. No developer has published a game that has been worthy of a subscription. Developers need to start putting out some long term quality here. That's all it is. FF14 is trying to break the trend and it appears to have a real shot at it. All you need is a game that gives its players a reason to keep coming back and you can charge a sub. All these games are short term experiences with little to carry them after a couple months. How will that pull subs?
  • acidbloodacidblood melbournePosts: 266Member Uncommon

    Maybe I just don't like F2P as a concept (it ruins the design) but looking back each and every MMO that I have ever put significant time into is sub based. I say is because while some of them have since moved to F2P I am yet to, and probably never will, go back.

    So what's the future of subscriptions? Quality. Plain and simple, make a quality game and I will pay for it, make a poor game and I don't care how 'free' you claim it is.

    Edit: PS, currently playing (and happily paying a sub for) FFXIV.

  • TorvalTorval Oregon CountryPosts: 7,221Member Uncommon

    For me, no game is worth committing to a $200 per year payment or you lose access to it. Even if my vision of a "perfect" game isn't worth that to me. I don't mind spending $200 a year on a game, but I don't want that as a doormat I must cross to enter. No game has that value and I can't see the potential for one having that value no matter what it delivers.

    Ten to fifteen years ago it was different. MMOs offered something in an environment that was new. We were gaming in a way we never had before. The approach was new and fairly costly all around. We were exploring gaming on an entirely new frontier. I didn't mind the cost of entry or maintenance at that time. Now times are different. The value has diminished for me.

  • Po_ggPo_gg Twigwarren, WestfarthingPosts: 2,723Member Uncommon
    Originally posted by Torvaldr

    Ten to fifteen years ago it was different. MMOs offered something in an environment that was new. We were gaming in a way we never had before. The approach was new and fairly costly all around. We were exploring gaming on an entirely new frontier. I didn't mind the cost of entry or maintenance at that time. Now times are different. The value has diminished for me.

    Exactly. I wrote this in most f2p threads as well... and not only the market changed, the playerbase changed too with the time, while "The value has diminished" for many veteran players, for the new ones there wasn't any mentioned value in the first place.

    For a kid who arrived into the genre 3-4 years ago (and is/will be the target audience for the following couple of years) the whole concept is dumb... there are dozens of games with more or less similar offering, for example two of them won't allow him to play without flashing the card and pay a subscription ahead - that two games are disappearing from the radar the very same moment to him.

    That's why I kept saying since years that f2p is not simply an eastern thing and it's inevitable here as well... if you want to predict the close future, check the lower end of your target group :)

     

    Edit: and I don't mean the kids of the veteran gamers of course, who are playing with their parents in W101 / P101 or LotRO, those have a nice headstart in the subject. But in our generation gaming was only a narrow, geeky thing, so the vast majority of the kids today don't have a gamer parent. For those, easy access is worth much more than some "quality issues" they don't even know about... With Richard's column starter phrase, if only I had a dollar for each time I heard "I know you still play, can you suggest a neat game for the kid? Something free."

  • MMOredfalconMMOredfalcon Mitchell, ONPosts: 132Member Uncommon
    Originally posted by OSF8759

    Allods Online recently launched a subscription server, so we can watch that with interest to see how the world's first f2p-to-p2p conversion performs. My prediction on that one is it will not be very successful and Allods will continue to be the irrelevant-to-the-industry game that it is. So irrelevant that it wasn't even mentioned in this article.

     Allods Online is not the first to do that. Tera and Rift also have F2P as well as a monthly subscription option. But Allods is having one specific server just for those who choose a sub model. So those who only want free will continue as usual. I think that idea is great. Let all the freebee players on their own, and give the subscribers their own server. 

     
  • AnirethAnireth Posts: 599Member Uncommon

    I agree with Tovaldr.

    The problem with P2P is, that no matter how much money you poured into it, the moment you stop, you lose it. Pay $15 per month for five years, box, expansions, cash shop (most if not all P2P games feature a cash shop, thats never was anything F2P exclusive)..so easily $1000. You stop paying, it's all gone. Well, not completely, they don't delete it, but as long as you don't pay, it doesn't really matter.

    Also, while $15 for a month is not much when compared to a visit to the cinema, where you shell out $15 for two hours, it is much when compared to to other games that cost at  $60, so four months. Many P2P MMOs still require you to buy it and only give you one or two months for free, if at all. And i don't know anyone who paid anything close to $200 in a F2P (there sure are, i just don't know anyone..).

    I also don't think you can notice whether someone prefers F2P, B2P or P2P when playing with him, meaning, servers with differenent payement model would only seperate the community. What if my friends prefers subscription based because he gets everything straight away, while i prefer to take it slowly, buying content packs, bank tabs or char slots etc. when i need them? We can't play together then or what?

    Another thing is, i don't see any actual quaility difference between F2P and P2P games. When i see someone playing WoW, it's exactly the same as every other game. Go there, accept quest, don't even read the description, go to next NPC, slay some arbitrary number of monsters that - what surprise - are found nearby, rinse and repeat. I played Tera, which was P2P for quite some time (two years in Korea, one and a half in Japan, a half each in US and EU). Did they remove all the cool stuff P2P games have when they turned it F2P? If they had so cool stuff, how come it didn't live up to it's expectations?

    SWTOR reportedly did cost around $200 million and was intended as P2P game. They had to turn F2P, and when i look at i know why. Unless they also hid the good stuff, but why did it fail when they had it then?

    This quality difference is a myth. Quality difference doesn't come from the payment model, it comes from the amount of money poured into development, and what the team was able to make with it. I guess that most people agree that it wasn't much in case of SWTOR. WoW did cost way less, something around a sixth, and yet it is believed to be the better game.

    Minecraft was developed without any budget whatsoever so to say, given the amount of time Notch worked on it it was probably something in the thenthousands or so, doesn't really matter, it was orders of magnitude lower then any AAA title. Still it became one of the most influential games of recent. The amount of money you put into is irrelevant, it depends what you make out of it. Unless you imply that developers actively developer a worse game (speaking about core features like visuals, gameplay etc., not how much backpack space you have..) because it's supposed to be F2P, there is no way there can even be a difference.

    And with games like Vindictus that look stunning even when based on the dated Source engine, and has (unmatched?) physics-based action combat, even that is proven wrong right away. Of course, Nexon doesn't exactly handle the game the way it deserved, but i have yet to see a P2P game that strays that far from the regular formula of having a holy trinity, hotkey pushing etc. Not even GW2, which at least reduced the trinity aspect, comes anywhere close.

    --

    Speaking of it, why is Guild Wars 2 not an MMO? I heard that about the first Guild Wars a lot too, and it was already stupid. All "you" care about is your precious endgame, with consists of raids, so instances. Guild Wars was all instanced, but that should have made "you" happy, as they skipped the pretense of open world and stuff.

    Guild Wars 2 now actually features raid bosses in an open world, and also instanced dungeons etc. The only thing different is that "there is no endgame" (which is only partially true, of course there is a difference between when you are levelling and once you got all skills, the best amor you can afford etc., the difference is just way smaller).

    So the first wasn't an MMO because it was all instanced (despite players doing instanced content in "real" MMOs all day), and the second one is not an MMO despite the fact that it got rid of all t hat? Huh? Make up your mind, will you?

     

     

    I'll wait to the day's end when the moon is high
    And then I'll rise with the tide with a lust for life, I'll
    Amass an army, and we'll harness a horde
    And then we'll limp across the land until we stand at the shore

  • mugobluemugoblue Ofallon, MOPosts: 3Member
    Why does sub based have to mean $15 per month? If you could get more than twice the sub base at $8/mo, aren't you better off? I just can't figure out why $15 is the magic number. Perhaps another lazy way of simply copying what WoW's been doing and not looking at other sub options?
  • FearumFearum Cinnaminson, NJPosts: 1,166Member Uncommon
    Originally posted by mugoblue
    Why does sub based have to mean $15 per month? If you could get more than twice the sub base at $8/mo, aren't you better off? I just can't figure out why $15 is the magic number. Perhaps another lazy way of simply copying what WoW's been doing and not looking at other sub options?

    If the price of the sub is too much for you to afford like $15/month, the players should really rethink their priorities in life before spending money they can't afford on a game they shouldn't be playing when they should be working/going to school to get a better job to be able to have an extra $15 a month to waste on entertainment.

    Its not about the price tag, its about the quality of the product when it comes to companies being able to pull off a sub model. I would pay $30 a month for a high quality game as long as I felt like the entertainment the game was providing was entertaining.

  • jbombardjbombard SapporoPosts: 531Member Uncommon
    Originally posted by Fearum
    Originally posted by mugoblue
    Why does sub based have to mean $15 per month? If you could get more than twice the sub base at $8/mo, aren't you better off? I just can't figure out why $15 is the magic number. Perhaps another lazy way of simply copying what WoW's been doing and not looking at other sub options?

    If the price of the sub is too much for you to afford like $15/month, the players should really rethink their priorities in life before spending money they can't afford on a game they shouldn't be playing when they should be working/going to school to get a better job to be able to have an extra $15 a month to waste on entertainment.

    Its not about the price tag, its about the quality of the product when it comes to companies being able to pull off a sub model. I would pay $30 a month for a high quality game as long as I felt like the entertainment the game was providing was entertaining.

    I think you hit on this but I would like to reiterate It isn't about the price.  It is about the value proposition.  The subscription price simply needs to provide enough value every month to subscribers every month to warrant the price of the sub.  That said most games struggle to provide $15 worth of value to their customers.  

     

    Now how people define value is subjective.  That said, DLC and F2P games have changed how people define value.  $15 worth of DLC is usually a good sized piece of DLC.  In the days of old people would pay just for the right to connect and play, F2P has changed how we perceive that.  The right to connect and play is a given, we expect more now for our money.

     

    If a company can provide $30 worth of content every month, I too would pay that for quality new content.  The things is $5-$10 is probably closer to the amount of value(IMHO) that most sub games provide every month. 

     

    It isn't about what you can afford, it is about how people perceive value and fairness.  Nobody likes to feel like they are being treated like a sucker.

  • thinktank001thinktank001 oasisPosts: 2,027Member Uncommon

    Microtransaction games that rely on supremacy goods are already on the decline in the western states.   Players simply don't want to play games where money is the easiest way to advance.    I don't see much future for microtransaction games that don't find a better solution for getting players to give them money.   Although I don't know if the investors will drop it as it is their  current " get rich quick " scheme.  

     

    I think we will see things change in the next year or so after EQ Next flops.

  • BMBenderBMBender Nowhere, NCPosts: 568Member Uncommon
    Originally posted by thinktank001

    Microtransaction games that rely on supremacy goods are already on the decline in the western states.   Players simply don't want to play games where money is the easiest way to advance.    I don't see much future for microtransaction games that don't find a better solution for getting players to give them money.   Although I don't know if the investors will drop it as it is their  current " get rich quick " scheme.  

     

    I think we will see things change in the next year or so after EQ Next flops.

    Hmm I think the opposite is going to happen;  I'm guessing we are going to see more and more slash and burn models ala PWE titles.  quick return on investment little no development overhead.  After that market gets tapped out and stops being profitable then maybe subs will have a future in 5-10 yrs or so

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  • TorvalTorval Oregon CountryPosts: 7,221Member Uncommon
    Originally posted by thinktank001

    Microtransaction games that rely on supremacy goods are already on the decline in the western states.   Players simply don't want to play games where money is the easiest way to advance.    I don't see much future for microtransaction games that don't find a better solution for getting players to give them money.   Although I don't know if the investors will drop it as it is their  current " get rich quick " scheme.  

    I think we will see things change in the next year or so after EQ Next flops.

    Nearly every game uses some form of micro-transaction. Box fee - microtransaction. It's just a DLC fee, but we've slowly been conditioned to accept that because it's on a different scale than a single digital item purchase. If a company charges an additional fee for something other than your recurring subscription fee, it's a form of microtransaction. Those digital perks you get for pre-ordering or paying $25 more for the CE - microtransactions.

    You may want your post to be true, but saying so doesn't make it real.

    If you think microtransactions are unpopular or going away, well one word: Steam.

     

  • TorvalTorval Oregon CountryPosts: 7,221Member Uncommon
    Originally posted by BMBender
    Originally posted by thinktank001

    Microtransaction games that rely on supremacy goods are already on the decline in the western states.   Players simply don't want to play games where money is the easiest way to advance.    I don't see much future for microtransaction games that don't find a better solution for getting players to give them money.   Although I don't know if the investors will drop it as it is their  current " get rich quick " scheme.  

     

    I think we will see things change in the next year or so after EQ Next flops.

    Hmm I think the opposite is going to happen;  I'm guessing we are going to see more and more slash and burn models ala PWE titles.  quick return on investment little no development overhead.  After that market gets tapped out and stops being profitable then maybe subs will have a future in 5-10 yrs or so

    Price points will change and the models will evolve. What we think of as P2P today is nothing like P2P when I played Lineage, you know where my $15 got everything, absolutely everything. Now we have PLEX, box fees, xpac fees, and traditional digital item purchases along with that sub. What is it even covering?

    And you have it all backwards. It's titles like TESO and Wildstar that are the cash grabs. The sub in addition to the box fees is where they're trying to squeeze the player. When the market gets tapped out on double and triple dipping with mandatory subs+microtransactions then maybe we'll see a more reasonable sub offering ala Tera/EME or Rift/Trion.

    Just as there is more than one sub model, there is more than one way to market a cash shop. You might be surprised to find out that not every F2P publisher charges like PWE/Cryptic does. So using one expensive model to describe all models is disingenuous at best. That's like saying since a Lexus is $50k then all cars are $50k. Competition and market demand will shape prices unless consumers are happy with the price point on what is being delivered. They obviously haven't been with subscriptions else they wouldn't be withering.

  • BMBenderBMBender Nowhere, NCPosts: 568Member Uncommon
    Originally posted by Torvaldr
    Originally posted by BMBender
    Originally posted by thinktank001

    Microtransaction games that rely on supremacy goods are already on the decline in the western states.   Players simply don't want to play games where money is the easiest way to advance.    I don't see much future for microtransaction games that don't find a better solution for getting players to give them money.   Although I don't know if the investors will drop it as it is their  current " get rich quick " scheme.  

     

    I think we will see things change in the next year or so after EQ Next flops.

    Hmm I think the opposite is going to happen;  I'm guessing we are going to see more and more slash and burn models ala PWE titles.  quick return on investment little no development overhead.  After that market gets tapped out and stops being profitable then maybe subs will have a future in 5-10 yrs or so

    Price points will change and the models will evolve. What we think of as P2P today is nothing like P2P when I played Lineage, you know where my $15 got everything, absolutely everything. Now we have PLEX, box fees, xpac fees, and traditional digital item purchases along with that sub. What is it even covering?

    And you have it all backwards. It's titles like TESO and Wildstar that are the cash grabs. The sub in addition to the box fees is where they're trying to squeeze the player. When the market gets tapped out on double and triple dipping with mandatory subs+microtransactions then maybe we'll see a more reasonable sub offering ala Tera/EME or Rift/Trion.

    Just as there is more than one sub model, there is more than one way to market a cash shop. You might be surprised to find out that not every F2P publisher charges like PWE/Cryptic does. So using one expensive model to describe all models is disingenuous at best. That's like saying since a Lexus is $50k then all cars are $50k. Competition and market demand will shape prices unless consumers are happy with the price point on what is being delivered. They obviously haven't been with subscriptions else they wouldn't be withering.

    I said that that's the trend I predict will happen.  PWE's model is the quickest return on investment with the lowest overhead.  Until that market dries up you can bet pubs are gonna start chasing it.  As far as your LEXUS argument, what competition?  Everyone is chasing the same demographic with the same systems at the same price point.  They are NOT looking for risk they are looking for low overhead and starting to look for quicker returns. Your or my enjoyment is irrelevant as long as there are enough suckers and whales in the market to support it.

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  • BeowulfsamBeowulfsam Velike LašcePosts: 128Member Uncommon

    I very much doubt the calculation used: 50.000 users=9 million/year. And with 30% contribution margin that means you have 6 million of costs per year per 50.000 users? Da fuq? With what exactly? Server maintenance, webz, support, ppl developing expansions, cost of capital, marketing...idk, still seems a bit much.  Can I use the 6 million for shit activities...sure, but that doesn't mean the game needs that much.

    Hell, if you milk it and hope you get an average 50k users in the first year and u stop all the above mentioned activites u get 9 mil, close the game after 1,5 yrs and still make profit.

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