A Need For New Words

A post over at Beau Turkey’s place as well as comments made here has crystallized my opinion that some of the terminology we MMO commentators use is out of date, misleading or flatly inaccurate. In particular, the very term “MMORPG” has become very murky over the last few years. At one time, in the glory days of UO, EQ and DAoC, we all knew what you meant if you used that term. Everything used the same money model, had roughly similar gameplay and virtual spaces, and was set in the same genre. I know that many differences existed between these games, as well as others that existed at the time, but in a broad sense they were similar games. Nothing else existed close to that particular place in the market.

Now we have an array of games with vastly different gameplay and money models all using the “MMO” moniker. All are multiplayer at least after a fashion, but a number are anything but massive. More importantly, some feature heavily truncated virtual worlds, and a few lack this feature almost entirely. The term has become diluted by games which only marginally fit into the category occupied by EQ and UO, if they even do at all. It’s almost as if the marketing people for some titles think that their game only needs to be seen as an MMO in order to make money… and I suspect that this was actually extant at least for a while. Ultimately, we need a new name for the family of games that includes EQ, WoW, EVE and others.

Another annoyance is the term Beau talks about: “free to play”. No game yet has been free to play. The publisher needs to make money somehow, even if it’s via in-game advertising or subscription fees. This isn’t a bad thing – I expect to have to spend money to engage in any hobby, but FtP as it commonly gets thrown around by developers, publishers and commentators is pretty deceptive.

What they really mean, of course, is Free to Try. They expect that many (maybe not most) players will end up spending money at some point, and the models are set up to encourage that, often (in the current wave of western examples,) with content gated in some way. You’ll eventually run out of stuff to do, and if you’ve been enjoying the game up to that point, why not drop a few bucks to keep playing? The idea is twofold: first, by lowering the barrier to entry, you keep folks coming in and populations propped up, which is good for any game of this type, and second, you potentially get some money out of people who would otherwise not have given any to you at all, because they’re not willing to buy boxes or pay subscriptions or whatever. Not all of those free players will spend money, but we’re already seeing examples of this being touted of the new(ish) model working as intended.

Don’t get me wrong; I am a supporter of the newish money model as led by Turbine, followed by SOE and now by Cryptic and Flying Labs. It’s the terminology I’m objecting to. We’re going to see more games moving in this direction, and more variations on this theme as time goes by. And slowly we’ll start to see the emergence of an Asian-style online game market, hopefully without the Asian games to go along with them. The curtain is about to fall on the old model where one buys a box at retail and then pays monthly for the privilege of playing.

8 responses to “A Need For New Words

  1. “The curtain is about to fall on the old model where one buys a box at retail and then pays monthly for the privilege of playing.”

    I really think so too. The current batch of sub based MMOs that are in development are likely to be among the last. Some of the lesser known ones will also likely switch to FtP/ FtT/ NCC…or whatever you prefer either during development or within a few months of launch.

  2. Interested in how next year will play out. We have multiple pay fee MMO’s coming (Rifts, Tera) and then the game to overrule the trend…Guild Wars 2.
    The only questionable payment plan is for SWToR. I would hope they go Fee…thus we could see which model could really win.
    Would more people finally go to GW2 thanks to the no “cover charge” (thanks Winged Nazgul), or is IP enough to sell subs?
    2011 could be interesting in this final battle.

    • Let me say right now that I am not the creator of the NCC term, merely its humble flagbearer. I remember someone coining the phrase probably in a blog post or comment. Unfortunately, old age prevents me from remembering who it was so I can give them due credit and linkage.

  3. The death of the “box + sub” model is long overdue. It was an aberration to start with in the game industry. To be sure, there’s an audience for it, but it’s unsustainable as a business as competition continues to mount.

    I’m not sure that “No Cover Charge” works for the GW model, though. Maybe for something like Runes of Magic it’s accurate, but GW is actually *all* cover charge, no recurring fee. Huge difference.

    If I had to get pundity about it, I’d call it “Content Charge” online gaming (at least, running with the NCC meme). You buy content and play it when and for as long as you like. That works for GW, DDO and W101… and it’s closest to how games have worked for a long time. Buy and play, it’s as simple as that. We didn’t need a term for it a decade ago, it was just how games were sold and played.

  4. I really hope that we soon get to the point where the payment model isn’t even worth discussing. It really has to be about the least interesting aspect of any game. The future is probably going to be a mixed model for almost all games, which is a good thing.

    I’d be surprised, though, if in five years there aren’t still some games that are charging a subscription. There clearly is a vociferous body of potential customers who are actively demanding it, so why be churlish and turn down their money?

    • Agreed. I have no use for subs, but there’s no reason to ignore those customers who love them. …a philosophy that applies to any potential customer, really.

  5. “The curtain is about to fall on the old model where one buys a box at retail and then pays monthly for the privilege of playing.”

    The irony is that while the MMO market is realizing this curtain is falling, this is exactly the sort of thing that some of the current “cloud” initiatives in the business world are drifting towards…..where you may “buy” a box of software but pay a periodic fee for access to use it in the cloud.

    Another interesting point is that this new MMO model somewhat parallels the model that’s growing for FPS games. Initially FPS games always had public servers that were free to play on, truly free, for anyone who bought the box. Now it’s drifting towards the idea that you buy the box and can use the initial game, but that much of the content will be released as DLC with a microtransaction format.