Everyone and their little sisters are advertising to “just pay what you actually use” these days. Whether we are talking about cell phone plans, plane trips, or MMORPGs – micropayments are more and more the way to go. There’s another debate on the topic of free-to-play games around the blogosphere these days, spearheaded by the ubiquitous Nils and argued against by Brian “Psychochild” Green. There are many good arguments either way, but frankly, I just hate being nickel-and-dimed.
I would probably save money with a pay-per-use cell phone plan compared to the flat rates I prefer, but I don’t want to make a cost/value analysis each time I wish to make a call or send a text message. The ability to simply call whoever I want as long as I want far outweighs the additional bit of money I might be paying for that freedom. Along the same lines, I feel cheated when airlines offer me a $5 snack and a $4 drink to go with my $50 fare but am fine with a $90 ticket that includes food and drink. Games work the same way.
I probably would have paid an additional €20 for Dragon Age: Origins if it had been that expensive, but I’m quite opposed to buying any of the downloadable content. By forcing me to make purchasing decisions over and over again, game companies drive me towards analyzing the intrinsic value of each piece of content I could acquire. Not only does that make me unhappy, (because I really just want to play, damnit) it also greatly increases the likelihood of me finding the offered content lacking and not buying the product in the end.
Free-to-play games are far worse in that regard. If I had to choose between a World of Warcraft subscription for $15/month and a free-to-play pay-per-use kind of model which would average $10 a month in actual costs, I would choose the subscription plan every time. Not because this is logical (it is not) but because of the uninterrupted and carefree entertainment value it provides. In the same vein, I would probably pay for a Magic: the Gathering Online subscription if there was such a thing, but am rarely willing to spend actual money on the (pseudo-f2p) model they have.
I am quite aware that all companies will try to make money off of me the best way they can and trick me into spending more if they think it feasible, but my enjoyment is much higher if I don’t get reminded of that part of reality every time I play.
I’m aware that there is an opposite psychological effect that drives people towards f2p, but I feel that my demographic is often overlooked in the process. It doesn’t really matter to my finances whether I pay $5, $15, or $50 for an MMO that I enjoy but it matters a lot that I actually enjoy it. Obviously subscriptions don’t guarantee that (or I would still be playing WoW), but they take an important step towards that point.