I recently had a conversation with a friend about picking up Tera, an MMO from En Masse that was making its way to the States. Tera’s big sell is a combat revamp from the typical MMO. Gone are the days of tab-targetting. Tera requires that you actually be facing your target in order to land your skills. It’s a nice concept, and it plays fairly well, but I still can’t justify buying the game. In a world of free-to-play, microtransaction games, the box cost just doesn’t play anymore.
Gaming is a zero-sum hobby at this point. If I want to pick up a game like Tera, it means subbing one of the games I’m currently enjoying out of rotation. Strangely enough, it hasn’t always been this way. Ten years ago, there just weren’t as many high quality games. With the proliferation of quality indie titles and the accessibility of those free-to-play games, though, I have plenty of titles to play. So why pick up a game like Tera?
This may seem a little clinical, but it’s the best system I’ve been able to devise. When I’m considering a new game, I basically break down the game’s entry cost. It’s not just the monetary cost. I also consider the amount of time I need to invest learning the game before I can really enjoy it (for some games this is a fair amount of time). For Tera, it looks a little something like this:
$50 box cost
$15 monthly fee
5+ intro hours
Is that really worth it? When I consider it against another game I’ve been playing lately, it becomes pretty clear. For Tribes Ascend, the cost looks more like this:
1 intro hours
And even that is a little aggressive. I was having fun with Tribes in the first 30 minutes, but if you haven’t played any of the previous titles you might take a little more time. Now granted, Tribes and Tera aren’t exactly analogous titles, but the list of top quality games with low entry costs continues to grow. And that says nothing of the changing face of the MMO. Players aren’t as dedicated to single titles, so does it really make sense to charge a box cost and a sub? Not to me.
I realize publishers want to recoup some of their investment with an initial return, but the box cost is actually keeping me from buying the game at all. I’d gladly throw $15 at the first month of a game, but $50 on top? I don’t think so.
As more games embrace MMO-style play without MMO subscriptions, the box + sub model just won’t be sustainable. Take a look at Diablo 3 – Blizzard could easily ask a sub for that game, but it’s box cost only. They aren’t even working in a microtransaction model (granted, they’re looking to get a cut of the real money auction house). It’s not just top-tier publishers; even the alpha-funding model upstages Tera-style pricing. I can pay as little as $10 to fund the development of an indie title and receive the full thing on release.
As the quality of games continues to improve, publishers are going to have to consider more flexible pricing structures. Like I said, gaming is a zero-sum hobby. I only have so much time to dedicate to games. When the low-cost games are outperforming the high-cost, you can guess what I’ll be playing.