A View From the Road: The Subscription Equation

John Funk | 7 Sep 2009 21:00
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We're all about tightening our belts and pinching pennies this week here at The Escapist - how to game on the cheap in today's crap-tacular economy. If you browse the comments on almost any major gaming news site when it posts a story about almost any major MMOG, there's always at least on person who brings up the same old tired argument: "Sorry, but I'm never going to play a game with a monthly subscription." Though I've previously examined the virtues of some alternate pay models, this mindset has never made sense to me, because if you look at the actual numbers? MMOGs - even subscription-based games - are the cheapest form of entertainment on the market, hands down.

Let's look at the numbers, shall we? The standard monthly fee for an MMOG is $15, and while some offer cheaper options, let's go with that for the time being. Now, on its own, $15 isn't all that much - that's what, three morning coffees? A dinner at a moderately-priced restaurant? - but let's compare that $15 to other forms of entertainment.

Without any snacks or refreshments, let's say that an average movie ticket costs $8 for - being charitable - two hours worth of cinematic entertainment. So that comes down to $4 an hour, which in an MMOG would mean about four hours' worth of gameplay. If you spend one hour every weekend in any given month playing online, you've equaled your cost-to-time ratio for going to the movies.

Now, the standard game price these days is $60 - yes, you can always buy used games or wait until they drop in price, but for consistency's sake, let's just go with this for now. Do you buy more than three games in a year? If so, then you're already paying more for your gaming than someone with an MMOG subscription, but let's look at this the same way as before.

I'll be extremely charitable here, and say that every game has 30 hours' worth of gameplay in it, which means that it costs you $2 per hour to play this game in question - eight hours of your MMOG. All that means is two hours a week (or one particularly game-heavy weekend), and you've gotten more time for your dollar in an MMOG than you have in your other game.

Still don't believe these numbers? That's okay - these are all hypotheticals, after all. So, let's look at something exact. After a year-long break from WoW, I renewed my subscription in January 2008, and started a new character (the Night Elf Druid referred to here), and have been playing that character ever since. How much money have I dropped on WoW since then? Well, buying WoW and Burning Crusade set me back a combined total of $90, with last November's Wrath of the Lich King driving that up to $130, before you count subscription fees.

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