Making the most revenue out of an MMO

I read two blog posts this morning which talk about MMO revenue models but go on wildly different tangents. These were:

Why Subscription-Based MMOs Make Sense over at Double Buffered, where Ben Zeigler points out that there is no publicly known cases of wildly profitable MMOs that use the free to play, pay for stuff model, versus many games that make a lot of profit, which use subscriptions.

Bruce Everiss, on the other hand, argues that the western games industry is losing $1 billion in revenue due to only offering subscriptions, which I wholeheartedly agree with. As a WoW player with limited amount of time on my hands, I’m considering ending my subscription since I can’t compete in the game with teens who have endless supply of time. I’d have no trouble dropping down some cash to get gold if Blizzard offered the option, which would allow me to get on fair level with the players who have more time.

If I was to design a new product, I’d aim to implement both models. One way to do this could be:

  • Allow people to play for free, but implement some artificial strict restriction like not earning XP past some early level, unless you subscribe. This is essentially the current try-before-you-buy system, except I wouldn’t enforce any 10 day limit and I’d let people keep they accounts in some dormant mode even after ending the subscription. I’m fully aware this can be argued to lose some revenue, but I believe enforcing subscription to keep data is akin to blackmail.
  • Implement a dual-currency model, where one currency is earned, and one bought. It should be possible to play without ever using the bought currency, but for most fun one would spend both. Users would be able to trade the currency with no pre-defined rate. The bought currency would be used for primarily vanity items, which incidentally is exactly what Blizzard is doing with their collectible WoW cards.
  • Allow users to pay the subscription either by paying, say, $10 a month for just the sub, or $20 a month for both the sub and $20 worth in the currency.
  • Allow a user to also pay for the monthly sub by spending $10 worth of the paid currency.

Doing something like this might enable getting the subscription revenues, as well as be close enough to “free play” that you’d get the large player base. The reason for allowing users to pay for subs using the paid currency is simple – I don’t care who’s paying the sub for someone else and what for, as long as the money keeps flowing in. The $20 option means you’d be giving out three subs for the price of two, but I bet most of the money would actually go towards spending it in something else. And of course, it would allow people who grind to grind, and the people who want to purchase the results of the grinding pay for the grinding, in a manner where the money goes through the publisher.

Dunno if that’d work. Feel free to criticize! :)

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