It seems like the subscription vs Free-to-Play debate has been discussed ad nauseam on gaming blogs and press sites across the Internet. In many cases, serious and longtime gamers prefer the subscription MMO in order to bypass annoying in-game promotions and sales, as well as to set some kind of minimal barrier to entry in order to cut down on in-game harassment. Free-to-Play games open the floodgates to allow players of all means to experience the game on their own terms but tend to bombard the player with up-sale opportunities in order to create revenue so that the game can continue to exist.
I’ve played one subscription-only game, The Elder Scrolls Online, and I can say that I did thoroughly enjoy the experience. It was nice to not be distracted by “buy now” buttons and to know that I had full access to all content. Unfortunately, I had to cancel my ESO sub, which made me ponder the nature of subs all over again.
I find it curious that subscription games are aimed at the young adult/adult gamers, and yet this is a demographic that has less and less time to spend playing games at all. Most subs require a credit card, which in the US you must be at least 18 years old to acquire. In the case of ESO, the ESRB rating is M, which suggests that the content is suitable for those 17 years of age and older. Subscriptions cost about $15/mo, or $180/year, which although not a fortune, would typically require some form of income to satisfy. All of this evidence leads me to believe that the target age group of MMO’s is mid-20s to mid-30s, a time period where many are marrying, having children, settling into jobs, and procuring houses or apartments. Competition for a person’s time is at a maximum during this period of their lives. Thus, while the target demographic may have the means to pay a game subscription, more and more often they do not have the time required to make a subscription worthwhile.
I’m lead to wonder what affects this paradox will have on the subscription model going forward. Are game companies actually planning on utilizing the subscription model for long-term financial stability? Or do they also see the gap in the plan, and are only launching with subs in order to take advantage of the “early adopter tax” with the long-term plan to maintain a larger player-base through a F2P conversion?
Whatever the plan is, I know that justifying a subscription at this stage of my life is fairly difficult. There is such a thing as having more money than time, but it does no good to spend one if I don’t have the other.
Featured image by Jason Tucker on Flickr Creative Commons