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A hybrid subscription/buy-to-play model

QuizzicalQuizzical Posts: 14,784Member Uncommon

One reason for the decline of the subscription model is that some people simply aren't willing to pay a subscription for a game.  People who want to buy a game don't like the idea that they're just renting it and will lose access after a while.  When you quit a subscription game and consider coming back later, having to pay before you can come back and look around is quite a hassle.

One solution to this is buy-to-play.  There isn't a subscription to end, so you don't get kicked out after a while if you stop paying.  But this has drawbacks of its own.  If you're going to make a game buy to play, you'd better make that one time purchase bring in a considerable amount of money or else you don't get much revenue for your game.  Alternatively, companies may tout the game as buy to play, but still try to supplement their income from an item mall and get a large fraction of their revenue that way.  For those who want to be free from pay-to-win item malls, that can be problematic.

From a player's perspective, you might think, well then, they can make more content and we can buy access to that, too.  But this creates two problems.  First is that it's hard to create large amounts of good content quickly.  Second is, what if a large fraction of your players decide that they don't need the new content and decline to buy it?  Companies try to combat this in expansions by making the new content offer far better loot than the old, but that just deprecates old content.

So I'd like to propose a solution.  For simplicity, I'll start with a model that has an obvious flaw, then come back to correct it later.

When games increase the level cap, they usually increase it by a lot all at once.  They often add a bunch of new content when they increase the cap, with the idea being that you play the new content to get to the new cap.  Then the level cap may stay as it is for a year or two before being increased again.  This also leaves some players bored while waiting for the next batch of new content.

What I would propose is that instead of this, you raise the level cap every month--but only by one level.  You create new content continuously, rather than releasing a bunch all at once in one big expansion.  You keep content available up to several levels above the cap.  If the cap is 60 and you want to go into a 65 zone, then have at it, but don't complain if you die in three hits.  Maybe the content for the higher level zones isn't entirely polished at first, but few players will go into it well above the cap, and they test it for you and help find bugs that you can fix before more than a handful of players can trickle in.

So what does this have to do with a subscription model?  When you pay for a subscription, you get access to everything in the game.  When your subscription expires, you still have access to everything, but your personal level cap is frozen at whatever the global cap was when your subscription expired.  If you want to increase your cap again, then you subscribe again.

For example, let's suppose that the cap is 30 at launch.  If you buy the game at launch but don't subsequently subscribe, then you can play the game forever, but never level past 30.  You can go into a level 40 or 50 zone once they're available, but if you get one-shotted, it's your own fault for being a level 30 in a 50 zone.  If you subscribe for a while and then quit, what you've previously paid for will never be taken away from you.

However, if you want to always have the maximum level, you'll need to subscribe every month.  Make it so that being a level lower than everyone else for level cap plus content is a considerable setback, so that anyone trying to do stuff at or near the cap will need to subscribe continuously.  In that way, it's like a subscription model, and a considerable fraction of your active players will likely maintain an active subscription.

This also handles the endgame problem.  The endgame is doing future content that is a few levels above the cap.  The bigger your group, the higher the level of open-world content you can go after--and the better loot (because it's higher level) you'll get for it.  Make any level requirements on gear such that if you're at the current global cap, you can use it, even if in the future the cap would be a few levels higher.  But unlike raids from previous expansions, the content never becomes deprecated, as it's the normal content for its level for people who come through a year later when it's no longer near the cap.

Now for the obvious flaw:  let's suppose without loss of generality that the cap is increased on the first of each month.  Any monthly subscription effectively lasts until the first of the next month and then expires, as in the middle of the month, it doesn't matter if you're subscribed at exactly that moment or not.  If it's near the end of the month and you subscribe, then had you waited a few days to start it, you could have effectively had your subscription end a full month later.  Telling customers, "Yes, we want you to subscribe--but not for a few days" is a bad idea.

The solution to this is to have many more levels.  Instead of increasing the cap by one per month, increase it by one per three days or so, so that the 30-day subscription nets you 10 levels.  But that doesn't mean that you need 10 times as much content; you subdivide each previous level into 10 parts, so one level only does you 1/10 as much good, and only takes 1/10 as long to gain.  Think of it as adding a decimal point to levels with one digit after the decimal point if you like.

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Comments

  • jalexbrownjalexbrown Indianapolis, INPosts: 120Member
    How would this be different than just selling a token for $15 every month that raised the level cap?
  • VorchVorch Somewhere, FLPosts: 800Member
    I'm sorry, but this is a very very bad idea.

    "As you read these words, a release is seven days or less away or has just happened within the last seven days— those are now the only two states you’ll find the world of Tyria."...Guild Wars 2

  • TheocritusTheocritus Gary, INPosts: 3,750Member Uncommon
    The subscription model just needs to go away period.
  • DamonVileDamonVile Vancouver, BCPosts: 4,818Member

    Any game that could put out meaningful content once a month wouldn't need a gimmicky sub model to keep people playing. They'd of already done something no other mmo has ever done and it's success would be more about quality of game play than people not wanting to pay for it.

    There's no shortage of people willing to pay $15 a month. There is a shortage of people willing to pay for the same crap each month though.

  • AxehiltAxehilt San Francisco, CAPosts: 8,743Member Uncommon

    It doesn't seem disasterously bad, but personally if I was creating an MMORPG I would certainly design it from the ground up to work as full-on F2P, with nice chunks of gameplay that feel right sell on their own (with the majority of the gameplay being completely open and free to players to enjoy, with no paid barrier to entry.)

    The other guy's suggestion of $15 per level token is a fair point.  And unless I missed a detail (quite possible: I skimmed) it also brings up the major exploit of your model: I can skip 3 months and subscribe and now I'm at the new level cap which is 3 months higher than it used to be.

    "Joe stated his case logically and passionately, but his perceived effeminate voice only drew big gales of stupid laughter..." -Idiocracy
    "There is only one good, knowledge, and one evil, ignorance." -Socrates

  • jalexbrownjalexbrown Indianapolis, INPosts: 120Member
    Originally posted by Axehilt

    The other guy's suggestion of $15 per level token is a fair point.  And unless I missed a detail (quite possible: I skimmed) it also brings up the major exploit of your model: I can skip 3 months and subscribe and now I'm at the new level cap which is 3 months higher than it used to be.

    The problem with the idea of seleing a level cap token for one level for $15 every month is that the power curve would have to be ridiculously high for players to be willing to spend $15 to have the level cap raised by one.

  • nariusseldonnariusseldon santa clara, CAPosts: 22,441Member
    Originally posted by Theocritus
    The subscription model just needs to go away period.

    It is going away. There are fewer and fewer games use it. And frankly there are enough F2P games that i will never pay a sub again.

    We are in a good place.

  • AeliousAelious Portland, ORPosts: 2,854Member Uncommon
    Subscriptions are holding a whole lot of "F2P" games up, they aren't going anywhere. What has happened and probably will continue to is that you have what's available for free and a sub model where all is available. This is the best balance between player freedom and developer stability.

    The OP is another way to give some of the game for free that is not the "whole game". It's an interesting idea for sure.
  • nariusseldonnariusseldon santa clara, CAPosts: 22,441Member
    Originally posted by Aelious
    Subscriptions are holding a whole lot of "F2P" games up, they aren't going anywhere. What has happened and probably will continue to is that you have what's available for free and a sub model where all is available. This is the best balance between player freedom and developer stability.

    The OP is another way to give some of the game for free that is not the "whole game". It's an interesting idea for sure.

    Pure sub games are going away. Hybrid .. sure .. there will be quite a few with the hybrid model.

  • laokokolaokoko TaipeiPosts: 2,003Member

    That is like a f2p games which content lock you unless you pay for the expansion you can't enter the zone.  And you don't even need to pay for the initial game.

    Why not just make it B2P and for new content you have to pay, it's the same thing. 

  • Lovely_LalyLovely_Laly genevaPosts: 734Member

    LotRO has similar model now, but they have full content already, so player not make beta tests on their costs. =D

    simply you can't have full access b4 you pay for extras.

    agree with many posts here too, with endless list of f2p, I can download a game, play for month or two free and move away instate to pay (just an example, can be different for different games).

    sub is for WoW and it die anyhow.

    best model beside f2p is hybrid but with box buying, IMO. not hidden half-free with hope for Item Shop, like GW2, but buy-to-play box + pay X for extra content (must be hot, like , for example, popular pvp battleground and/or high end dungeon/raids).

    sure Item Shop should be here to sell you better looking fashion or mount or pet (basic item MUST be available in game), but should never sell might.

    as we all became lazy and busy, game should not be slow to lvl or too challenging (or just at start so all great players can do it and sell gear to lazy noobs).

    I'm not sure about storage, but prefer to find this in game or be able to earn IS tokens.

    try before buy, even if it's a game to avoid bad surprises.
    Worst surprises for me: Aion, GW2

  • QuizzicalQuizzical Posts: 14,784Member Uncommon

    A lot of people seem to take the approach of "the best model is whatever gives me the most stuff for the least money".  From a player's perspective, seeking that out is reasonable enough.  From the perspective of a game developer who is hoping to make a living, that doesn't work.

    You basically have two choices:  get a modest amount of money from a lot of people, or get a ton of money from a handful of people.  The former almost invariably means a subscription model, often with a fairly restricted free trial of some sort.  The latter option generally means a pay-to-win item mall.

    The hope of this model is that most of the players who would have been willing to pay a subscription in a pure subscription game still would.  You could, as one person said, only pay once every third month--but then you'd be at a major disadvantage in 2/3 of the months if you had a max level character.  $15/month to avoid that isn't outlandish, and people who aren't willing to pay $15/month usually wouldn't be willing to pay to play a subscription game at all.

    Meanwhile, it would try to supplement that by making the bulk of the game available as "buy to play" to try to get some additional revenue from people who object to subscriptions on principle.  It's plausible but far from certain that this could bring in substantially more revenue than a straight subscription model or a subscription model with a very limited free trial such as some subscription games' version of "free to play".  If it can do that, then it would eliminate the need for a pay-to-win item mall, which is the real goal here.

    I also had some hopes of manufacturing an endgame that isn't completely terrible, as the endgame would change some every few days with a slight level cap increase.  Leave for a month and come back and the endgame will be meaningfully different from what it was before.  That would sure beat the "grind exactly the same content for a year until we release the next expansion" that usually passes for endgames these days.

  • isslingissling San Francisco, CAPosts: 157Member Uncommon

    Thanks Quizz for trying to think up a payment model that everybody could work with. But I think it just shows the great divide between mmo gamers at the moment. We can't agree on the same game mechanics let alone a payment model:(

     

  • maplestonemaplestone Ottawa, ONPosts: 3,099Member

    Too many words.  If you cannot explain your business model to me in a tweet, I'm not going to trust it.

    (How does this idea compare the dungeon packs in DDO?  If you ignore the rest of the cash shop in DDO, wouldn't buying packs of dungeons be essentially the same model?)

  • WizardryWizardry Ontario, CanadaPosts: 8,451Member Uncommon

    It is NEVER about the pay model,it is ALWAYS about value.

    if a game has the value to charge a sub fee,it should and will.The problem is that developers have tried to pit us against the ones that do not meet their pay plan.

    The ONLY thing that can determine VALUE is an educated gamer.If you know absolutely notrhing about the effort that goes into a particular game,you most likely using some shallow reason for playing.Example"it is f2p" "My friends are playing it" "it is highest rated or most hyped game" "I am bored" "trusted developer"ect ect.

    Even if two gamers both have an extensive knowledge of game design,they will have totally different ideas on what is aceptable value.

    So really it doesn't matter if a game charges 15 or 50 bucks a month,there is a market for everyone.

    Developers do NOT listen to you the gamer,they sit down and decide with their investors and Board on what kind of return they can get for the money they invest.They also factor in risk,so if they feel their game might fail,they invest very little into the game.

    There lies the reason for all this fuss over pay plans.it is becuase no matter what type of investment or effort a developer puts into a game,they willl tell you THEIR pay plan is the one that matters because they are giving you  the greatest thing since Penicillin.


    Samoan Diamond

  • maplestonemaplestone Ottawa, ONPosts: 3,099Member
    Originally posted by Wizardry

    The ONLY thing that can determine VALUE is an educated gamer.If you know absolutely notrhing about the effort that goes into a particular game,you most likely using some shallow reason for playing.Example"it is f2p" "My friends are playing it" "it is highest rated or most hyped game" "I am bored" "trusted developer"ect ect.

    Small quibble: I may be a loner myself, but I don't think "because my friends are playing it" is a shallow reason to choose one game ove another.
  • RhinotonesRhinotones BenowaPosts: 238Member Uncommon

    I thoroughly enjoy reading posts like this where the OP shows original thinking and balls to share their concepts.

    I think this idea has potential though I do see floors as well. I'm going to think about this for a little while, absorbing what you have written and respond when I believe my reasonings are sound and thought out rather than a quick response. This post deserves no less.

    image
  • DraucantDraucant Johnston, RIPosts: 34Member
    Why not just have subscriptions based off time played? The max amount payed will be the standard 14.99. So if your someone that just plays the weekends you might only play about 20hrs a month. Now the maxed payment is timed at say, 80hrs month, anything after that time is still 14.99. Now the person that plays only 20hrs a month only pays 3.75. These are just random numbers but you can get the general idea.
  • AxehiltAxehilt San Francisco, CAPosts: 8,743Member Uncommon
    Originally posted by jalexbrown

    The problem with the idea of seleing a level cap token for one level for $15 every month is that the power curve would have to be ridiculously high for players to be willing to spend $15 to have the level cap raised by one.

    Hmm, yeah I'd agree with that.

    And at that point it would kinda make the whole system feel a little gougy and bad.  Maybe the OP's version is better after all.

    "Joe stated his case logically and passionately, but his perceived effeminate voice only drew big gales of stupid laughter..." -Idiocracy
    "There is only one good, knowledge, and one evil, ignorance." -Socrates

  • YaevinduskYaevindusk Ul''dah, CAPosts: 1,537Member Uncommon

     

    Personally I like the premise, but the execution would need obvious changes.  In addition, it is likely that not very many would show support for this model as it is too new, and they will focus on the negatives.  In a realistic light it helps developers further assure solid income.  To some it may seem like nickle and diming.  To PvPers the suggested gap being a huge setback may be less than acceptable.  To the Role Player or social gamer it might be good simply because you don't have to rent the game to play it.

    It may also come to mind that you still have to pay for aesthetics and the ability to become powerful.  I'm unsure of how the community will evolve in that playground, but it's interesting to think about.  The elitists will likely be subscribers, and there will be cutting edge raiding guilds requiring subscribers as well.  But I'm sure there will be guilds for now subscribers and it would be up to the community to set things up for them.

    In essence it could still be seen as paying for aesthetics since you need to be subscribed to get the new items; some may claim even pay to win.  It's hard to say that myself as it still takes work, but it also depends on how the gap is in terms of power and a single level.  This model would probably suit WoW a great deal to be honest.  I'm not sure about other games, as it would depend on their PR and marketing.

     

    I wouldn't mind something like having three different servers depending on the payment type:

    F2P Servers -- Great amount of cash shop items

    B2P Servers -- Bought the game, aesthetics in cash shop (able to transfer/guest on F2P servers and back at will to play with friends)

    P2P Servers -- Bought the game and paying monthly fee, no cash shops (able to transfer/guest on B2P and F2P servers and back at will to play with their friends)

     

    It helps solve the thing where friends may be separated all the while providing their own culture.  If they play on other servers then they will just have to accept whatever occurs there until they go back to their specific server.  This will help satisfy most crowds, from those who don't want to rent to those who just want monthly payments for their own reasons.

    It will also require thought as well, mainly because you wouldn't want someone who subscribes suddenly stop subscribing and going to other servers to buy cash shop items and then resubbing.  So what it's created on will likely need to be stuck on that type as a compromise, just as P2P needs to pay to access their characters now.  Then the potential to transfer F2P -> B2P servers might pose a problem for the same reason (for those wanting to buy the game in full after playing it).  Maybe either the same restriction or a warning that certain bought items will be deleted and only stuff that exists on the B2P server will be transferred (which could also be applied to B2P -> P2P and vice versa if done this way).

    When faced with strife or discontent, the true nature of a man is brought forth. It is then when we see the character of the individual. It is then we are able to tell if he is mature enough to grin and bare it, or subject his fellow man to his complaints and woes.

  • dgarbinidgarbini San Jose, CAPosts: 185Member
    I like the idea of continued contend development but I think its very unlikely we will see a team do it well.  I'll be straight forward with the develpers here your solution is to make a good game.  A good game will be a hit regarless of the payment model and will make you all rich.  How many games that are amazing do we see fail because of being b2p, f2p, sub?  Instead its about making crap games and seeing different ways to trick us to get more money from us.  I will be the first to say I hate subscriptions, in games and everything else, but lets be honest if it was an amazing game, just fantastic, most of us, probably including me would pay for it.  The problem of the MMO industry is not the payment model, it is the continued development of crap (or mediocre) games.
  • RhinotonesRhinotones BenowaPosts: 238Member Uncommon

    Before I reply I need to clarify some points so I better understand your thinking.

    1. With the increase of level cap and releasing new content every month is this by introducing a new area/zone instances, higher level world creatures, gear  etc each month?

    2. With your suggested level cap of 30 at launch, how long do you propose it would take a player to reach level 30? Would it be better for your model to have it capped at level 1 for launch?

    3. "But unlike raids from previous expansions, the content never becomes deprecated, as it's the normal content for its level for people who come through a year later when it's no longer near the cap."

    Wouldn't all these lower level areas become dead areas as the game ages and there are less and less people levelling lower charaters instead focusing on new monthly contect? This seems the same to WoW's standard zone model for example.

    4. Do you feel that to players this would just feel like an endless levelling grind with the constant monthly increase of level cap?  What would make it not feel like a constant grind?

    5. What are your thoughts on Expansions and do you feel they add hype and anticipation to keep a communities interest. How would this system keep people equally excited?

    Cheers,

    Rhino.

    image
  • nariusseldonnariusseldon santa clara, CAPosts: 22,441Member
    Originally posted by Quizzical

    A lot of people seem to take the approach of "the best model is whatever gives me the most stuff for the least money".  From a player's perspective, seeking that out is reasonable enough.  From the perspective of a game developer who is hoping to make a living, that doesn't work.

    That is how supply & demand works. if devs can't make it work in this environment, they can leave. There are so many F2P games now that there is really no need for any loyalty, on the players' part.

     

    Meanwhile, it would try to supplement that by making the bulk of the game available as "buy to play" to try to get some additional revenue from people who object to subscriptions on principle.  It's plausible but far from certain that this could bring in substantially more revenue than a straight subscription model or a subscription model with a very limited free trial such as some subscription games' version of "free to play".  If it can do that, then it would eliminate the need for a pay-to-win item mall, which is the real goal here.

    As a dev, you always want to have some items in cash shop not available for F2p and sub options. A dev will never be able to bring in enough money without the whales, who pays a lot. So you do NOT want to restrict how much they can spend (i.e. no sub option that gives them everything .. otherwise, you can get at most $15 a month).

     

  • QuizzicalQuizzical Posts: 14,784Member Uncommon
    Originally posted by maplestone

    Too many words.  If you cannot explain your business model to me in a tweet, I'm not going to trust it.

    (How does this idea compare the dungeon packs in DDO?  If you ignore the rest of the cash shop in DDO, wouldn't buying packs of dungeons be essentially the same model?)

    One problem with the pay per content model is that if you want access to everything, it can get really expensive.  On another thread, someone recently calculated that to buy permanent access to everything in Wizard 101 would cost about $300 or so.  Especially for games that have several years of content available, you don't want to tell people up front, you're going to have to pay $300 to get access to everything, even if you play through it all in two months and then quit.  This allows a player who comes in a few years after launch to pay a modest amount to have the opportunity to catch up to the current max level players.  It's kind of like how when I was looking at EverQuest II a while ago, it offered that if you buy the latest expansion, you get all other expansions included for free.

    That leaves the possibility of giving players a choice between a subscription and a pay for access to content model, which is what Wizard 101 does.  But someone who chooses the subscription option faces losing all access to everything when the subscription ends.  That's one of the big player objections to subscriptions, and exactly what I want to avoid.

  • QuizzicalQuizzical Posts: 14,784Member Uncommon
    Originally posted by Draucant
    Why not just have subscriptions based off time played? The max amount payed will be the standard 14.99. So if your someone that just plays the weekends you might only play about 20hrs a month. Now the maxed payment is timed at say, 80hrs month, anything after that time is still 14.99. Now the person that plays only 20hrs a month only pays 3.75. These are just random numbers but you can get the general idea.

    That basically constitutes a way to modify a subscription model to get less money from it.  It should be obvious why game developers wouldn't be terribly keen on that.  The only reason to go with a model like this is if you expect that you'd get a lot of people to subscribe for smaller amounts who wouldn't pay the normal subscription price.  I expect that a game that tried it would get very few additional subscriptions that way.  People who object to subscriptions usually object to the principle, not the amount.

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