Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

3 August, 2015

The games I play and their business models
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 6:03 AM

Blaugust, day 3

Let’s get the big topic out of the way first: let’s talk about MMO business models. Specifically the models that FFXIV and DDO use and how they impact me as a player.

As I’ve written previously I like the free-to-play model as a developer. But, I’m talking about the games I play here; which do I prefer as a player?

The Subscription Option

FFXIV is pretty unabashedly a subscription game. When asked about business model, the current producer explained why it won’t be going free-to-play, mostly by quipping that WoW isn’t free-to-play. (There’s some foreshadowing there, as it seems that FFXIV is cleaving pretty closely to the WoW playbook. I’ll discuss that later this week.) So, you have no option but to subscribe after you buy the box.

But, the subscription options are… interesting. Not sure if it’s Square Enix creativity or perhaps something echoing other parts of the Japanese market, but you can pay $12.99 per month for an “entry” account, or $14.99 for a “standard” account (with the usual discounts for multi-month, unlike the entry level). The main difference is characters per server and total characters allowed. Since you can do everything with one character, and because I’m a cheap bastard, I’ve opted for the cheaper subscription.

But wait, there’s more! If you want additional retainers (which are simultaneously bank space, auction slots, and very minor gameplay elements), you can get more for $2/month per retainer. As with most games, if you want to save stuff you’ll always be short on bank slots. But, I’ve resisted the siren’s call of more space by paying more money per month.

The problem with the game is the same I’ve found with most subscription games. If I’m not playing as often as I can, it feels like a waste. There are the requisite daily quests tasks in the game, and missing those feels like a waste as well. Given that my friend and I are on different ends of the continent, and thus 3 time zones apart, the times I have to play don’t always line up with his play times. And, if I ever decide to stop paying for the game, I will lose access to my characters.


It’s no secret that I’ve been a fan of DDO’s business model. Over the five years I’ve been playing the game, I’ve put about US$400 into the game outside of expansion purchases. That might seem like a lot, until you start considering the costs of $15/month subscription: 5 years X 12 months/year X $15/month = $900. So, I’ve not really paid a lot into the game considering the enjoyment I get out of it.

One thing that helps is my mindset. If I want something that isn’t content, I’ll figure out a way to acquire it in-game. I won’t buy consumables just to have them, but if I want them I’ll figure out a way to efficiently acquire them. That might be playing the AH, or farming money to buy them from a vendor, or whatever. I rarely go to the store just to buy something.

The nice thing about not paying a subscription is that I’m fine playing the game casually. I play once per week with two different static groups, and that’s just fine. I don’t feel like I’m “wasting” a subscription. (Although my significant other does subscriber, but only plays in one of those groups. Just she’s a super-casual carebear. Er, I mean… a super-awesome main tank.)

The other nice thing is I don’t have to pay any more if I don’t want to or cannot, and I’ll still have access to the characters and content I’ve already bought and earned. Compared to FFXIV, where if I stop playing they’ll essentially hold my characters hostage. But, DDO is motivated to add more content because that motivates me to buy it (or stay subscribed to get access to it, if I chose to do that.)

Even after many years of playing, I’m still a fan of the business model. Not to say that it doesn’t have its warts or can’t be done poorly (as I think LotRO did), but as a player I still think this model is a better deal for my money and more fair to me as a player.

Going forward

Even with DDO being an older game, I think I can see myself playing it longer than I’ll likely stick with FFXIV barring some event beyond my control. However, I suspect that FFXIV is in better financial health overall.

So, I guess not even the passage of years will settle the subscription vs. free-to-play debate as I had once hoped.


  1. One side comment about the DDO business model.

    There is one big point of frustration, and that’s the 32 point character option. (Points are used to assign attributes like Strength or Wisdom at character creation.) In the subscription days, you used to start with 28 point character. You could then “earn” 32 point characters by running enough quests and getting enough “favor”. Now you can buy the option right away, but it is one of the more expensive options. So, there will be this lingering feeling that your characters are “gimped” until you buy that. In reality, the difference is pretty minor between a 28 and a 32 point character, but emotionally it feels different. Of course, you can buy an item to “reincarnate” your character to get the additional points after you earn or buy the 32 point option, but that doesn’t make it feel any better, really.

    As I said, it’s something that was held over from the original subscription-based version of the game, but it can generate some frustration for people. If I were in charge, that would probably be one of the thing I’d eliminate.

    Comment by Psychochild — 4 August, 2015 @ 6:36 AM

  2. I’ll unlurk to comment here today.

    As someone who played WoW from beta through Burning Crusade, in retrospect I am not entirely sure if I played as often because I truly enjoyed the game or if it was out of a sense of obligation. “I payed for it so I might as well use it” sort of mentality. I think it would be harder for some to truly set something aside that they have already payed for, and that makes them more invested in the game than they would normally be.

    I beta tested for ESO as well, and felt that it truly replicated the same old WoW formula. Now that it is Free to play, (and I got it at a steep discount) I am starting to play that now. Life happens, and as I begin my mid life crisis it’s easier to casually play something that I’ve paid for once, and is free to play, as opposed to subscription.

    There is one other game with an unusual model I think deserves mention. Path of Exile is a free to play, and free to download game. (Think Diablo 2 on steriods) It is supported by microtransactions. Now I know……Zynga and their ilk have fairly well poisoned that well for damn near everyone but I think they have struck a nice niche. Anything you purchase with real money is cosmetic. Town Portal animations, skill animations, character slots (although I have yet to fill mine up), inventory tabs for your stash, pets and the like. No skill boots, XP boots, equipment or anything like that. GGG (the developer) seems to be good about not making anything in the game pay to win. I think that is the only game I’ve ever purchased microtransactions from. Not because I needed them per se, but because I liked how they did business.

    Comment by Eric Kastengren — 6 August, 2015 @ 6:59 AM

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