Yesterday, in a rather lengthy post, I compared the monthly-subscription business model with the free-to-play business model in MMORPGs. One of the points I mentioned was that developers of f2p games have an incentive to take unfair advantage of their players. Several commenters have pointed out that this also applies to the subscription model.
So, I decided to make two posts about those unfair practices. Let's start with a post about the subscription model.
They want you to forget your sub!
Since developer have an interest in you being subscribed, independently of playing, they try to make it easy for you to forget to cancel the subscription. All sub-based games I know have automatically recurring subscriptions. However, you can usually unsubscribe a second after you resubscribed, and that's what I always do. But most players probably don't.
They bet against you - and win.
The company offers you a discount if you subscribe for more than one month. The reason this makes sense is that players often over-estimate the amount of time they will spend in the game. They are typically enthusiastic when they subscribe and the company tries to take advantage of that.
Currently, a one-month sub with WoW costs 12.99€ (=$18.31) in Germany. Three months cost 38.97€ which is exactly 3x times as much. But a 6-month sub costs only 65.94€. Thus, you save exactly 12€ if you play for 6 months. (Isn't it nice to get a round number?), Anyway, what does this tell us?
Firstly, it tells us that Blizzard doesn't really care about the 3-month sub. It's just there to make you feel smart about discovering that it's useless. Making people feel smart and confident is important if you want to sell them something. Secondly, it makes it easier for you to see that the 6-months sub is rather good. Multiplying something with two is easier than to multiply it with six and 38.97€ times two is obviously more than 70€. Thirdly, by comparing something that makes some sense with something doesn't make any sense at all, that which makes some sense seems to make even more sense.
Finally, it makes the 6-month sub appear less extreme, because you compare it with a three month sub, instead of a one-month sub.
The 6-month sub seems really good. Let's assume 30 days per month. If you go with the 30-day sub you pay 0.433€ per day. At that price, 65.94€ buy you 152 days of access to World of Warcraft. The 6-months sub, however, will buy you 180 days of access to World of Warcraft. You gain 28 days of "free" access. Almost an entire month!
Now, before you celebrate and go for the 6-month sub, let's have a look at it from the company's point of view: Blizzard isn't stupid. If all players who select the 6-month sub actually were willing to resubscribe after 152 days (about 5 months), they would not offer it for a discount! The 6-month sub is a bet: Blizzard bets that you would not be willing to resubscribe after 5 months. If you select this option, you bet that you will.
Just like any insurance company, Blizzard has an advantage here: They have massive amounts of data. On average they profit from the 6-month sub - otherwise they wouldn't offer it!
Of course, you also have a specific advantage: You know yourself better than Blizzard does. So, if you are absolutely certain that you would be willing to resubscribe in about 5 months (152 days), go for the 6-month sub! But then .. how can you be certain? Remember, on average, Blizzard profits from this offer. And do you really know what patches will have come out in 5 months?
Also, consider that your one-month sub might end at a weekday when you have no time to play, anyway. Even if you like to be subscribed continuously, you can save many days by not being subscribed in between the one-month intervalls. Maybe you are on vacation when a one-month sub runs out? That could save you many, many days.
The option to subscribe for six months instead of one, also tells us that a substantial amount of players who select the 6-month option lose the bet and play WoW in chunks of less than 5 months, because for every player that Blizzard loses the bet on, they need one where they win the bet! Otherwise the option weren't profitable.
And, finally, we learn that there really aren't all that many players nowadays that subscribe for 2-4 months in a row. Otherwise, they would try the same trick with the three-month option! This, actually, underlines that WoW nowadays is played by to extremes of players: Those that always have a running sub, and thus choose the 6-month option. And those that just have a look and typically do not play longer than one month in a row!
They get money for you being subscribed, not for you having fun!
In a perfect world, you would pay an equivalent of fun to the company. So, if you had twice as much fun, you'd pay twice as much. Unfortunately, and the companies probably seriously regret it, no such payment model has been developed yet.
The monthly sub model encourages the developers to not maximize your fun at any certain day, but to stretch it. That means that rather than you having a hell of a lot of fun today and not so much tomorrow, they'd rather have you have just enough fun to not unsubscribe for as long as possible. Of course, it is hard to calculate with 'fun'. It is not a zero-sum thing and a single really fun evening with your guild might very well keep you subscribed for weeks and months; it might even make you spread the word of mouth! So, in practice the developers just try to maximize your fun, while also always offering something to do. This is where grinds come in. Honestly, in WoW classical grinds have mostly been removed. The only thing that is left are achievement grinds.
But there are a lot of mechanisms in the game to keep you continuously engaged even if you couldn't care less for achievements. Character power progression is especially good for that. Once you reach maxlvl in WoW, you first need to go to normal dungeons and at the same time grind reputation with daily quests to access important items, then you go to heroic dungeons, then you go raiding normal modes. And if you are crazy you go grind heroic mode raids. I know nobody who does or did that, actually.
Now, some players might argue that WoW would be more fun, if you could progress faster. But, actually, I think, this pressure on the company to stretch the fun is good. It's exactly what is missing in single player games. I'd love to play The Witcher longer, having to explore huge dungeons for many nights - even if they are repetitive. But the game is made in a way that I can and must play it through in 40 hours or less.
Also, Blizzard is really quite crazy when it comes to content. For some reason, they like to make you progress much faster than they can offer content. Watch TotalBiscuit's rage-quit video in the last post to get a taste of that.
The best explanation I can come up with is that the developers are under a constant pressure to keep the sub number rising and, thus, constantly sacrifice the long-term success for the short-term success of the game.
Of course, interpreting a company's actions only goes so far. They aren't completely rational in the end.
Any more evil incentives?
Feel free to comment!