[Before anyone asks, yes; this applies to SW:TOR and any other subscription-based MMO.]
Recently, like many a person in the current economic climate, I’ve been looking at where I can save cash. It’s actually a fairly simple process. You go through your bank statement and list of debits/credits and you decide on what you have to pay, what you can pay less of, and how you can increase what comes in. Mobile phone contracts, broadband providers or services you don’t need or want; you’d be amazed at how much you can save when you think about it.
It was my dear ol’ mum who was assisting me with this and, as mums often do, she asked an awkward question:
“Why are you paying a tenner a month to play a stupid game?”
An “um” and an “ah” later, I gave her the stock answer of server cost and development time. You know, new stuff is added all the time and that’s what you pay the subscription for. The thing is, following my financial repositioning, I’m struggling to justify to myself why I’m paying this money and (as communal as I get, I promise) why anyone is.
World of Warcraft has the much vaunted number of 10 million monthly subscribers. Whether they play or not doesn’t matter, they’re paying for the privilege and that puts their cash on the pile. Forgiving my admittedly crap arithmetic and the fact these numbers can never be exact, it’s absolutely startling how much money Blizzard generates from this.
Here’s the simplest presentation I can do for 10 million players.
£9 a month (£108 a year): £90 million a month (£1080 million a year).
On top of this, we have to also remember that the Cataclysm box was worth £30 and that it launched to a record of 12 million players. What that means is that at least 12 million players MUST have purchased the Cataclysm box, which amounts to another £360 million pounds straight off the bat. TL, DR?
Cataclysm (an EXPANSION) has made Blizzard at least £1440 million since it launched.
Now, the reason I say “at least” is because we’re almost at February which gives us 13 months rather than 12, and not everyone pays monthly; there are discounts for buying 3/6 month packages. I’ve also not counted the cash they make from micro-transactions such as cross realms, faction changes, mounts or pets. Lastly, new players have to cough up for the previous boxes before they can even start on the newest iteration of the game.
The question from the wide point of view is where the hell does this money go? A video I watched recently regarding Guild Wars 2 was talking about this same subject, and the most common answers to the question are server upkeep, bug fixes and development time. The problem is that none of these come anywhere near close to the total sum of £468 million. The cost of running the servers (yes, all of them) is negligible these days, and I’m damned if I’m going to pay EXTRA for bug fixes that should come with my purchase of the box.
No, it seems that the vast majority of my subscription fee is going toward development time and, frankly, it’s hard to see any justification for this at all. What “development time” really means is resources, the wages paid to employees who develop the game and what they need to do so.
Take a look at the content creation by Trion Worlds, as an aside, and compare it to Blizzard. A box costing a tenner is accompanied by a tenth of the subscription fees coming in monthly (a guess). If we bump that up to the year of Cataclysm, remembering it’s only an expansion, here are the numbers (again, “ish”):
£10 box, £108 subscription for a million players: £118 million.
Now obviously it’s more than that as the box used to be more expensive and I’m not counting the previously higher subscription numbers or micro-transactions, but we’re looking at around 25% of the revenue generated.
Now consider the amount of content Trion is pushing out compared to Blizzard. It’s significantly higher and, to be blunt, of a lot higher quality. What we’re being expected to believe is that the money Blizzard generates is required to pay their staff and their rent, roughly. But consider the fact that this £468 million would pay almost 5000 employees £100,000 a year. Blizzard don’t employ anywhere near that many, and they certainly don’t pay them all anywhere near that amount of cash. Yes, some will be earning more but the vast majority will be earning a truckload less.
But that’s big stuff, with numbers involved that are almost impossible to really discuss without knowing them intimately. What, on a practical level, does this mean to me?
It means that over the course of Cataclysm, I’ve paid £108 in subscription fees and gotten the grand total of two raid instances, five dungeons (two reskinned), an LFR tool, transmogrification and a set of daily quests.
That’s it. If you’re a raider of any capability at all, you’ve gotten fifteen bosses worth of meaningful content for the price of nigh-on four expansion boxes. Now also consider that, at this point in time, one £9 subscription would easily be enough to see the entire canon of Cataclysm’s content with time to spare (obviously including the box).
EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US IS BEING RIPPED OFF.
This has nothing to do with how good or bad the game is, or whether or not Ghostcrawler devours the bones of infant capuchin monkeys while sipping Starbucks. It’s entirely to do with the fact that we are being fleeced obscene amounts of money for a product that is nowhere near worth what we pay for it.
This has got to stop.
It’s nothing to do with making money, really, it’s to do with making better games that we want to play. At the moment, because you’re paying a subscription, you simply cough up and make do with whatever rubbish is tossed your way. A major patch with two rehashed dungeons, and a final patch with re-skinned bosses and environments, painfully teaches us that. The thing is, this is just a keep-net level of content that is “just enough, just in time” and is purely designed to keep us paying monthly at the minimum possible level of output from the company. In other words, World of Warcraft is no longer being designed to be the best game possible, it’s being designed to make it the most profitable game possible.
The two are not the same thing.
What rams this point home is that Trion and BioWare have both chosen to take this route as well, making the issue self-perpetuating and keeping us in this rut of paying through the nose for AAA MMORPG’s that aren’t worth the money we pay for them. Let’s face it, ever since Blizzard admitted that Ulduar was never going to happen again because it was too costly and time-consuming, we’ve placidly accepted that quality is a secondary consideration to cash.
This isn’t a call to arms, it’s really not. What would be the point? People would still argue that £108 a year is what makes the game good, what keeps gold sellers out, and guarantees you content regardless. People will still pay it because, over the course of a year, £108 isn’t an expensive hobby. What I’m trying to do is make you ask yourself if what you’re getting is worth your hard-earned money when you consider the fact that your £30 box could have been Skyrim, leaving you £108 to buy another three games that you can log on and play whenever you like without having to worry about paying a subscription.
We really need to wise up and switch on to this. Games made BY gamers, FOR gamers, are a pipe dream while we keep making fat cat businesspeople obscenely rich.
It’s up to you.