So, at long last we reach what many consider the most obvious negative of MMOs, the pricing scheme. Seriously, who wants to pay $15 a month for a game roughly on par with one I pay $60 for once, get a years worth of distributed entertainment out of, but am “limited” to playing as a single player? Yep, that about does it for this argument, at least if someone else were arguing, I on the other hand see this pricing scheme quite differently.
Here’s the drip, if MMO pricing schemes were simply “pay me $15 a month for my game” it really wouldn’t be such a big deal, the suckers could pay and I would live in my happy little single player world, end of story. Alas, this is not how things truly are. You see MMOs are not all priced in this simple and straight forward way, the actual methods of pricing vary quite handily, with almost as many pricing solutions as MMOs (or MMO producers anyway…), but they all have one simple thing in common: fractional, or partial, content delivery. “Oh pish” you say, “I am playing a free MMO right now.” It is here that I point to that little “Shop!” icon hidden in the left hand corner where they expect you to go pay them somewhere between $5 and $60 dollars a month, or a year or whatever, to make your character look cool, or to give you that weapon that stands a chance of beating that boss, or whatever else they can convince you you need to fully enjoy the game. See, you don’t get the whole thing unless you pay. Now before you WoW-heads all go “But my MMO doesn’t do that.” I point to little things like the Burning Crusade and the fact that if you quit paying for a month, you do not play until you start paying again. Tricksy that. See the point here is, all MMOs are about handing you fractional content, whether it is asking you to pay for the cool accessories, or having you pay to keep playing from month to month, the idea of only giving you part of a game is the whole point. Many of you must be thinking “So what?” right now, am I right? Here’s what, the single player people have been looking at MMOs going “Those sly dogs, why didn’t we think of that?” and I will probably never be able to buy a complete game ever again. That’s right, your dirty pricing schemes are getting all over my single player games, and its all because MMOs made actual tangible amounts of money by selling you half a game. If you do not believe me, take a look at what most of the stuff on the Xbox Live store thing are, or the number of new single player games that are “episodic”, or even the much anticipated Spore which recently released a version of their Creature Creator as a demo, which you have to pay $10 for if you want it to have all the content unlocked. In my opinion, this pricing scheme is a scourge, a curse of the worst caliber, and due to Joe Schmoes inability to understand or care we will almost certainly never be rid of it.
Here I should end, but honestly if I ever actually listened to the voice in my head that tells me what I should do, I would probably not even be writing this so lets keep going shall we? After all, MMO pricing schemes hardly stop at money. That’s right, these buggers steal your time as well. I know what your thinking, “Its no more than any other video game.” Well guess what, you are wrong. Let me do this as “scientifically” as possible. An average modern game is somewhere between 20 and 60 hours, depending on how you play and what kind of game you play that varies a bit, and I like older games which stretches that range somewhat, but that is a decent average range. I tend to play on the slow end, and also tend to give up early unless I like the game, which means my single play average is maybe 40 hours per game. If I like a game, I usually finish twice, or maybe three times, meaning approximately 120 hours spent on the one game. If I really like it, the game may get a fourth or even fifth trip, for an approximate total of say 160 hours, or maybe 240 for a really long game. So all told, if I really like a game and its a bit long, it gets approximately a week and a half of my life. Conversely, my friend, who I will admit was a bit obsessed (but then so are most MMO players), was telling me about 6 months after he started playing WoW, or maybe a little less, that he had over a month of in game time. That is somewhere in the neighbor hood of 720 hours. On one game. And he was not even level 60 yet (this was before Burning Crusade…). Seriously, I could play like 3 games in there, 4 times each. What the crap, how am I supposed to play other games, have a social life, work a job, and still fit an MMO addiction in on the side? Here’s the secret, you are not. The MMOs want all your time. That’s really wrong in my opinion.
To demonstrate why this is wrong, lets make a simple ascertation: games are meant to be a brief escape from reality, a temporary entertainment. Now, lets examine 720 hours of playing one game, assuming that said game had been played for around 6 months, that’s approximately 24 weeks of playing the game. Now lets see, 720 divide by 24 makes for 30 hours a week of gameplay, on one game. Now lets assume that my friend was employed full time (he was not, but he was a full time student.), that would mean he is working 40 hours a week. Take out the realistic figure of 6 hours a sleep a night, or 42 hours a week, add it all together and you get 112 hours a week. Considering that a given week can only have 168, and that meals are taking around 2.5 to 3 hours a day, a total of 35 hours are left for doing anything else.
That is anything else, which means laundry, showering, brushing teeth, hanging with friends, anything at all would eat into that 35 hours. Heck, most of it was probably spent reading up on what he should be doing while he is logged into his MMO drug of choice. You see my point yet? The game literally became his life, and that was for a relatively low 30 hours per week. He got a whole lot worse before getting better here too, which means he was eventually spending almost 60 hours a week in game. That was more than a full time job. That really is a total inversion of the initial assertion, the game stopped being a brief escape somewhere around 20 hours a week, by the time he hit 60 hours a week the game was no longer a distraction, life was.
That, in a nutshell, is where my biggest problems with MMOs lie. There is nothing wrong with wanting escape, and even wanting it with friends, but when the escape takes over, financially and temporally, there are big problems. What is more, the way MMOs treat their players, with fractional content and cold shoulders, is starting to bleed into the games I wish to play and might find enjoyable, if it were not for the fact they are now only half a game.