Money is Time

Most MMOs have a monthly fee. Since Ultima Online, it has pretty much been the rule. Sure, you get the occasional one like Guild Wars that is free or some of the newer ones where you can start for free but the game has a velvet rope you cannot cross without paying (or in the case of Puzzle Pirates, making trades with people who paid). The current threshold for monthly fees is $15.

Tobold asks “How much would you pay per hour of WoW?

It is a valid question, and one I’ve been thinking about recently. See, I just canceled my WoW account. Over the last couple of months, I have played very little. too much work, going to see movies, playing on the 360 and the Wii… it all adds up to not enough time to play WoW. But the problem isn’t just not being able to play WoW, it is that I was also maintaining accounts for City of Heroes/Villains and Lord of the Rings Online, and while paying $15 a month to not play WoW wouldn’t bother me horribly, paying $40 a month to not play 3 games begins to be a bit silly.

The way I see to fix that would be to switch to hourly charges. It would be nice if I didn’t have to pay to not play but could still keep my account active. And that comes from a purely lazy point of view. With my WoW account canceled, if the wife and I feel the urge to log in, we will first have to go reactivate accounts, and the time it takes to go to the web page, verify or enter credit card information, and then get back to the game… if we aren’t playing now because of a lack of interest, jumping through hoops to play isn’t going to help.

I would love to be able to maintain accounts in all the games out there, paying for only the time I play them and not having to actually cancel and reinstate my account every time I lose interest. Without a guaranteed monthly fee I probably would have bought Vanguard after I upgraded my PC. Without a guaranteed monthly fee, I probably would have bought EQ2. Many games have and probably will lose my box sale because I just can’t afford another monthly fee.

Now… on the other side of the coin… I understand why developers like that monthly fee. It is much easier to budget. “X” subscribed players times “Y” monthly fee equals “Z” incoming cash minus “A” service providing costs equals “P” profits, which can either be taken to the bank, or reinvested into the game, or into another game. If they had an hourly charge, you might have “X” players, but only 30% of them might play more than 50 hours a month, and another 30% might play less than 5. The player numbers and revenue wouldn’t be a nice smooth pretty graph, it would be covered in spikes for revenue and it would be a never ending climb to the stars for player accounts. (Hint: the “total residents” in that link does not equal “paying subscriber”.)

I think I would even be willing to settle for a minimal account management fee, of about $1 or $2 per game, with an hourly fee above that for the time that I play. But how much is too much per hour? Without any kind of fixed fee, I think Tobold is pretty close to dead on with 25 cents per hour. If they tacked on a small fixed fee for the account, 10 or 15 cents an hour would be more appropriate.

Either way, I would love to have more active games and more options to play, if only I could afford to keep them all.

One comment

  1. Neil says:

    I think the hourly fee model would work–but from the business-side I can see why they wouldn’t want to offer that to just anyone. Perhaps it should be an option for long-time players only. Like gym memberships, you’d have to pay the normal $15 monthly fee for your first year. After that, you can opt for either an hourly or a monthly billing plan. Of course, if your hourly-rate playtime ends up going over $15 in a given month you should be billed the $15 max fee.

    As I wrote that, I realize that perhaps a tiered system might work too: $5 for up to x hours of play, $10 for the next tier, then $15 as the highest level–then you’d get a bill like a cell phone listing your minutes and log-ins and log-outs. At least then the company can justify maintaining their databases and the game for a bunch of non-players.

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