Ravious over at Kill Ten Rats points out today that subscription MMOs offer a service, and although he doesn’t say this explicitly, it’s clear that he’s referring to ‘service’ above and beyond the mere ability to play the game. And he’s right, of course, but one interesting aspect is how this is playing out in the competitive arena.
That’s so because most (all but a couple) subscription MMOs in the western market cost about the samne amount – $14.95 a month, give or take a nickel. On the surface, maybe we should be asking where the competition is, especially since new boxed titles also cost about the same, and all retail expansions also cost about the same. Given this almost lockstep uniformity, one might be forgiven in thinking that there isn’t any.
But there is, as Ravious sees, competition in the service provided. The big market leader, WoW, is widely regarded as complacent when it comes to offering updates and extras outside of paid expansions. I’m not sure that’s an entirely fair criticism, but there’s no question that there are other titles offering considerably more as part of their subscription package. LotRO just did a paid expansion, for example, but Turbine also adds a ton of additional content to their game on a regular basis, outside of what you had to pay for in Mines of Moria. EQ2 isn’t quite at that level, but even so, it’s added a ton in free game updates between yearly expansions, including new zones and races in recent memory. The expansions themselves are free in EVE Online, and part of the service also includes some web-based stuff and probably the most active official forums-based community in MMOs, probably a necessity in EVE’s case anyway, since everybody is on the same shard.
This is another area in which new titles, now matter how good they might be, are at a disadvantage. Something like Warhammer Online got off to a faltering start, and although Mythic appears thus far to be reacting in the right way, adding shedloads of new stuff and monthly live events, these other titles have years of history doing so. WAR is digging its way out of a hole, and everyone knows it – you can bet that Mark Jabobs knows it, and even if (as is the case with WAR, I think) it looks like they’ll dig out of it, they’re in a hole nonetheless.
So the question then becomes, given strong parity in pricing models and (let’s face it) gameplay, how can MMO service providers improve the service more? The answer to this question is going to become very important over the next few years, because this is where the competition is happening.