The debate on whether or not new MMORPGs can launch with a subscription model has been on-going since the turn of the decade. All the evidence so far points to the answer being no – it’s going to be hard to justify. Not many games still can charge players a monthly fee and remain stable. World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn are the exception here. The former is a Juggernaut. It’s dominance in the early 2000s has garnered it millions of subscribers a month and they can pretty much do whatever they want. The latter is a monopoly of both IP and company. It knows there is a demand for a Final Fantasy MMO, and it too can charge whatever it want, despite what critics think.
As for newer titles? Not much luck there. Other IPs such as Elder Scrolls Online, Wildstar and Star Wars have tried and failed. A combination of launch issues, lackluster gameplay and other player feedback is no doubt the cause, but the bigger question remains. Can newly launched MMORPGs justify a subscription model? Here are a couple of discussion points.
Can It Deliver Timely And Quality Content?
When players pay a monthly fee in 2021, the consumer privilege takes over. That means players expect better customer service, better maintenance and better content that comes at a steady pace. Free to play MMORPGs always struggle to juggle content. It can be a mixed bag, and major expansions take a long time to make due to the lack of funds off the bat. Additionally, players have to deal with shady monetization practices in the form of Pay To Win lootboxes and more that generally, they have no problems avoiding with a subscription fee.
If newer MMORPG games use a subscription model, the studio have to absolutely ensure that they cover all bases. Content and the quality of said content will be incredibly vital to its success. Game play will also have to be stellar, or players will just move on to the next or return to whatever game they came from. The first month after launch is always the best barometer to gauge how successful your launch is. Adding new content ASAP is a good strategy, and to do that quickly, you need that funding injection that can only come from subscribers who pay that monthly fee.
Does It Have An X-Factor?
Content aside, the other factor is the X Factor. What’s so special about your MMO that you think it deserves a monthly sub? WoW can justify this by being a sort of pioneer of the Theme Park in an age where competitors were way behind. They perfected the quest-hub crawl, narrative driven dungeons and more. Final Fantasy can claim that “if you want an MMO, you gotta pay or else you won’t get to experience a FF MMORPG anywhere else”. The story-telling content is also incredibly authentic to what you find in single player Final Fantasy games. Both are justified. Therefore anything newer will have to have a surreal amount of hype and wanting.
The middle ground is of course, going with the buy to play model that has worked for several games like Elder Scrolls Online, Guild Wars 2 and Black Desert Online. While a subscription fee is optional (ESO, BDO), these games generally do decent in terms of player numbers and content releases.
In short, there’s nothing wrong about launching an MMORPG with a subscription model, under one caveat. You have to absolutely earn it in your first month as an MMORPG. Can you deliver what you promise, and pump out quality content quickly to retain your playerbase? If games think they can, then there should be no reason why it can’t join the likes of World of Warcraft in the choice of payment model it of