SOE and the All-you-can-eat MMO Buffet. Are we afraid yet?

It’s almost old news now, SOE and their single-subscription plans for all players. You can head over to Wilhelm’s for a roundup of what that means and why they’re doing it and check the other, related blogger links there. I am of course with Bhagpuss when it comes to feeling rather outraged about the whole Pro7Sat-deal for European players. If you’ve sorta grown up with those TV channels, it fills you with all kinds of dread thinking of them as MMO publishers, all other issues of this arrangement aside. I’ve been bewildered about this for a while now. First time I heard about it, I thought they were pulling my leg.

Syp explained today how the single-sub is really a “big win-win situation for both the studio and its customers” and a move towards rewarding brand loyalty. I can see how cross-financing more and less struggling products makes sense and why friends of SOE games might feel this way. After all, what’s cooler than getting more games for a single subscription, right?

For now. I just can’t help but puzzle over all the included implications for this genre that’s made for longterm, dedicated play. A genre that’s not the most suitable for switching games constantly – a thing that gets incentivized by the way sub bonuses will affect all of SOE’s involved products at the same time.

Don’t get me wrong; this is essentially not much different from free-to-play MMO gaming. You could say that you’re paying a sub for one game and get the rest for free. A single-sub MMO buffet doesn’t “destroy” player commitment any more than free-to-play does, any more than any payment model can. I have never believed in subs being great or in fact genuine tools of facilitating player commitment. I don’t believe they decide over how, when and why MMO players leave a title. Great games keep players. Great games create great communities that keep players. It’s all connected in one direction for me.

soes

Another thing this frontrunner of all-access MMO deals is doing, is inspiring wild industry speculations on what we can expect from here. It’s a no-brainer that other companies will follow suit; certainly other giants such as Blizzard or NCSoft have their own, big enough game palettes to offer. There will be a point in time where business analysts with a very large clip-board will have proven beyond doubt that, in these times of plentiful micro transactions, the pros of single-sub buffets outweigh the cons (such as losing multi-subbers) by far. Once you have access to more games and are actively encouraged to play them in combination, that opens up all types of new avenues of getting hooked and spending money with that one sub payed on top of everything else. As Tesh rightly pointed out on Twitter, it’s opening the floodgates to MMO meta-gaming and cross-overs, too – and we haven’t even properly begun to explore those. Frankly, I am scared to explore them. I do not appreciate those Steam trading cards at all.

But one can almost feel it now: a ripple in the fabric of the MMO market as we knew it. I can’t shake the gloomy feeling that SOE has just rung the bell for an entirely new era of MMO development – or opened a particularly disgusting cans of worms, depending on your viewpoint. One sub to rule them all and in the darkness bind them?

At this time and considering existing games, there may be clear upsides to this model. However, what it may cause in the long run and what types of new games it might inspire to be developed….especially for the traditionalists among us…..

I am afraid to even consider.

12 comments

  1. Pingback: SOE All Access Changes… yet again… And the Future | The Ancient Gaming Noob
  2. Tesh

    Two idle tangential thoughts:

    One, this reminds me a bit of cable companies, where bundles of channels rule the roost, rather than letting consumers get singleton channels. I am pretty sure that Netflix owes its success partially to this practice. Not sure how that bodes for MMOs, though.

    Two, it makes me wonder if someone would then take that new “all in one” pass and break it up. As in going with a Blizzard frame of reference, offer the pass for $20, but Titan alone is $15 and WoW gets bumped to $10 or $5. Not that I think Blizzard would do that, but such a tack would be a new way to split up the demand curve again and capture some more outliers.

    • Syl

      There is definitely much room for different bundles like that; I think it’s safe to assume they will happen. as far as getting more people to play your games is concerned, aka lowering barriers of entry (even if it’s more psychological trickery than anything, hellou xmas sales!), MMO buffets make a lot of sense.

      And I was reminded of cinema multiplexes myself when writing this. I guess in the US they’re pretty normal but where I live, 95% of all cinemas are still standalones. They have started to struggle bigtime though in the past 10 years.

  3. Wilhelm Arcturus

    SOE All Access, which used to be Station Access, is coming up on its 10th birthday this year, so I am not sure that the bell hasn’t been rung for some time now. I made the parallel to XBox Live, which came later, in my own post.

    What the latest move does is consolidate different options… and SOE had a several, including single game subscriptions, paying for subscription via their Krono currency, paying for a subscription via a store bought game card, and All Access… which used to be treated differently into a single subscription type.

    Previously you didn’t get the 500 SC stipend if you paid for your Gold subscription with a game card. You could get it by using Krono, but only if you were extending an already existing recurring subscription. And Krono would extend both a single game sub or an All Access sub, so All Access was already the price of a single game sub under the right set of circumstances. Oh, and the cash price of Krono from SOE was less than the price of All Access, but still more than a single sub, if you bought in bulk.

    SOE has now declared that there will be a single type of subscription, All Access, and that it will be the same no matter how you pay for it. In the end I think that is better for the SOE customers.

    Unless you live in Europe, in which case you are justified in posting that cartoon showing SOE selling you to a pedophile in a dirty old van.

    • Syl

      Haha oh my god….I guess we will see what happens with pro7sat. A part of me is still hoping it’s not gonna go ahead, due to technical issues or maybe a meteor hitting their main location.

      Thanks for the clarifications on the sub model. Seems the main difference is really simplification of the one sub now, without the novelty factor that lies at the center of my own worries. I still wonder what the streamlined sub, combined with the new upcoming MMO will influence on the market, depending on how popular EQN will become. SOE is special in the way that they’ve already had these different products on offer for a long time but others have caught up by now and will surely consider their options (especially Blizzard will do at some point with waning WoW subs?).

  4. bhagpuss

    Just to clarify, I think that having a linked portfolio of titles is a fantastic idea, a great development and 100% the direction I would love to see MMO developers take. My only objection comes from a fear of being left on the outside looking in at everyone else enjoying the party.

    I am and always have been a huge believer in brand loyalty. I see it as directly comparable to supporting a sports team. In exactly the same way that you do not, or should not, get to choose the team you support you don’t or should not get to choose the brands to which you feel an affinity. It happens through serendipity and happenstance. You grow up in a town and that town’s team is your team, or, as a small child, you support the team your mum or dad supports and that becomes your team. Once it happens, you’re stuck with it and you stick with it through thick or thin, good times and bad.

    I feel exactly like that about SOE in general and the Everquest franchise in particular. The PSS1 farrago definitely falls into the “bad times” category but I have faith that it will all come right in the end. It bloody well better do!

    And as a super-hero comics fan (DC!) of over fifty years’ standing just the thought of MMO crossovers has me drooling. Can you imagine meeting Firiona Vie on Telon? Or even going through a portal in EQ1 and emerging, as the same character, in EQNext? There was much talk of that when EQ2 was on the drawing boards and I could never see why it couldn’t be done. I’d be more than happy to re-start at level one if I could just go through that portal!

    Er, I seem to have gone a bit off-topic. I’ll get me coat…

    • Syl

      I don’t know how I feel about brand loyalty; to me it signifies lack of objectivity. It’s too close to politics and always voting for the same side, no matter how bad their decisions. I don’t vote like that either – I read all programs and always decide for who makes most sense to me in that particular situation. I call this supporting causes rather than people.

      Brand loyalty seems similar at its core although it isn’t as seriously a topic of course. ;) I understand why people want to support a developer that has brought them some of their favorite games, of course – or vice versa, why devs would want to reward faithful players. That’s okay in my book, even if I’m not personally too fussed with it. If there’s ever a time where SOE, Blizzard, NCSoft etc. all offer their all-access passes each, I will prioritize the one that includes the most interesting games for me.

      • Syl

        I guess since I never played any SOE games much, I remain on the reluctantly side for now. It does worry me a bit that nobody seems to care for long-term repercussions much (?) but maybe I am overreacting. We’ll see. ;)

      • rowan

        That ship may have sailed for this generation, to be honest. Few people seem really interested in putting down roots, given all the options in the current MMO landscape.

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