New MMOs need time to shine, or Why Warhammer should have raised their price $10 and included 90 days of free play

October 18th, 2008.

That date marked the end of the free month of gameplay that came with Warhammer Online.

It also marked the time when a lot of Warhammer players decided to quit, including several prominent bloggers who had been posting regularly about their experiences.

“Too many bugs.” “Not exciting enough.”  Whatever the reason, when renewal time came up, they voted with their feet — and their pens keyboards. 

That they came to their decision pretty much exactly a month after the game was released should be no suprise to anyone. 

Mythic also saw the end of free play as a big milestone in the minds of their players.  The day before, on the 17th, Mark Jacobs wrote a long “State of the Game” post highlighting their ongoing work to improve the game and offering a look at significant changes right around the corner.  It was essentially (and very appropriately) a carefully timed sales pitch to keep playing.

But still as soon as that 30 day buzzer went off, players were faced with a big psychological decision to either commit to the game or walk away.

And quite a few looked at what they were doing right then and decided to walk.

Personally, I think that’s a shame.

30 days is simply not enough time for a new MMO to settle in and for players to really get a sense of the game’s long term worth.

Even when a lauch goes well, you can depend on the game going through a lot of changes over the next  several weeks.  The underlying technology — the servers and clients — finally get tested under real-world loads and need to be tweaked.  There will be bugs in the gameplay that have to be fixed and adjustments to players’ abilities made. Servers will be up and down a lot. Fundamental things about the game are going to change.

And then there’s the actual game content and how well you can understand and appreciate it in 30 days. 

After my first month in WOW — pretty much considered the most popular MMO of all time — I think I was somewhere in Stranglethorn Vale, probably killing tigers or running away from pesky apes. I hadn’t seen half the zones in the game, done much with my tradeskills, wasn’t in a guild, and had only been in one instance. It is fair to say I had a limited sense of what the entire game was like. As it was, I decided to keep playing and have been happy with that decision. But I could as easily have been annoyed with where I was in the game at the time or with issues with the WOW servers (it’s easy to forget now but there were some serious issues back then) and quit.

Again, I just don’t see how it serves game companies’ interests to give players of a new MMO only 30 days to fall in love with their game.

Especially when they already know that those 30 days are going to be the least stable, least polished ones their game ever has.

When I purchased my copy of Warhammer, I also purchased a 60-day time card.  (Yeah, there’s probably a psychological message in there somewhere about committment…)

Now I don’t feel any need to rush to judgement about Warhammer and am looking forward to a lot of changes coming soon.

I firmly believe companies like Mythic rolling out a new MMO would be better off raising the price of their product by $10 and throwing in 90 days of free play. 

The revenue lost in monthly subscriptions would be offset by the higher initial cost of the product and I think by higher long term player retention.  It would give the company more time to improve their product and let players make their first subscription decision at a time when the game was more solid and polished. I’d also expect that the more time players invested in their characters, the harder the decision to abandon them.

(The only time this wouldn’t be a good idea is if a game company knows their product is rubbish and just wants to cash in as quickly as possible before their customers start raising a stink.)

3 Responses to “New MMOs need time to shine, or Why Warhammer should have raised their price $10 and included 90 days of free play”

  1. 1 Chris F October 22, 2008 at 11:30 am

    Good thoughts. I am going to sub for one more month to let it ride a bit. I have already abandoned WoW for the grindfest mechanics I hate (and yes, replaced it with a new shiny grind, but it is still new! Give me that!) and have no other game on my horizon for now. I also don’t have time to play two.

    The sub model you suggest is interesting for sure – I agree the model needs to change to work better for the consumer – especially when you are the new kid on the block. Mostly for the connection to character reasons you state, but also, because it gives us the time as consumers to see how “quickly” they respond to issues and changes.

    I understand companies need the box sales for a quick profit injection, but as a consumer I would be more likely to support (and give much more leeway on quality and bugs) if the model was even more drastic. IE: $10 for the box, free first month, then regular sub fee afterwards. The $50 price tag is a barrier for many, especially who are playing other MMO’s (and are happy) to “try” a game. A much cheaper model such as the one I suggest would open up the game to much higher numbers, giving the company to show, then win over, gamers. Even if you have a low retention rate a 30% retention rate on 2 million boxes is much better than a 40% retention rate on 750K. Even if the $10 buy is only digital distribution, thats cool.

    With the way MMO’s have been released over the last 5 years I don’t think I would pay an extra $10 on a $50 box for three months. Been bitten too many times. I do think a new type of sales model would help startup MMO’s and think that is a great point your brought up. What exactly that model is I am not quite sure yet =)

  2. 2 Pete S October 22, 2008 at 12:52 pm

    Interesting idea. For veteran MMO gamers it might set a bad precedent though. If they look at the price of Game X and see its $10 more than Game Y but comes with 90 days instead of 30, they’ll immediately value a month of play = $5. Then the 90 days run out and they start getting charged $15, they’ll be fretting.

    And the extra $10 could scare people away. Already I think a lot of people wait on new MMOs knowing there’ll be a free trial or that they can get the box out of the bargain bin for $10 if they wait a bit.

    But I do agree that some scheme to get people to play a little longer is a good idea. Maybe a “launch special rate” or something? Still get a month free, but then your first two paid months are only $5 each? But of course that has the same problem I just mentioned… suddenly $15/month sounds like a lot.

    Maybe they just need to bite the bullet and give you 2 months free time with purchase of the box?

  1. 1 Upping the 30-day free trial to 90-days? | The Greenskin - Warhammer Online Blog, Videos, Guides, Webcomic & Podcast Trackback on October 22, 2008 at 12:40 pm

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