The Elder Game guys have an interesting new article up that I couldn’t help but sound off on. It’s probably better to follow the link over there to see, since it’s their conversation, but I welcome commentary here as well.
My answer is fairly predictable to any regular reader around here, distilling much of what we’ve hammered out in previous discussions.
Beyond that, though, perhaps the most pernicious thing about the sub model is that it drags game design around, bending it to the aim of hooking customers rather than getting attention through great gaming. To my mind, games that sell content, and who don’t monetize playtime, are far more honest about providing great games, rather than great ROI. They have to, or they don’t sell. Subscription games can scrape by with cheap design that scratches the addictive itches, and they bank on the treadmill inertia effect, rather than providing solid content.
That’s why we see innovation in Guild Wars, rather than in WoW wannabes. The business model dictates the game design. That’s fairly obvious, and MT models will affect game design too, but if the MMO genre is to get out of the DIKU rut, the subscription model must be seen for the millstone that it is, dragging us back into the mire.
This even touches on some of the “End of MMOs” rant from yesterday. Games that are built to keep people subbing will almost inevitably overstay their welcome, and compromise their game design. Games that are built on solid game design first and foremost may indeed have endings, but will be better games in the meantime because they have a focus other than keeping people subscribed. Call me a purist, but I think that solid product design is key to good business/customer relationships. Yes, the “Greedy Goblin” mantra driven by ROI and number monkeys makes money, but it does so in complete ignorance of the value of emotional equity. That’s what Ed Catmull was driving at; building a business out of goodwill (good products, not addictive marketing) may grow slower or post smaller percentages for investors (the cancer in any economy), but it will be healthier in the long run, and will ultimately make better products because that’s how they maintain profitability.
MMOs in particular, built on the back of people playing together, should understand those “soft” people skills and their vital importance.