View From the Road

View From the Road
A View From The Road: The Perfect Subscription

John Funk | 19 Apr 2010 21:00
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Like many other people, my first reaction when I learned that Blizzard would be experimenting with a subscription model for StarCraft II in Russia was along the lines of, "Wait, what the hell?" The more I look at it, though, the more that reaction turns to, "You know, this is brilliant. I can't wait for Blizzard to bring it over here."

It's true that - as someone who likes MMOGs - I'm completely down with the subscription model for games, but I also understand why some people don't like them. StarCraft II's "subscription" (if you can even call it that) really is the best of both worlds, however, and something that most gamers might actually love once they get that dreaded "s-word" out of their mind.

Here's how it works: Russian gamers will be able to buy a version of StarCraft II at 999 rubles ($34.36, £22.38 or €25.41 - roughly half the full price of the European version), or a jewel-case bargain-bin version at 499 rubles ($17.16, £11.13 or €12.63). Both versions are complete copies of the game - they have the campaign mode, the challenge maps, and the full multiplayer - but they can only be played on a special Russia-only Battle.net, and the multiplayer has a timer attached.

After four months of play for the 499-ruble version, or a year for the 999-ruble version, the game will shift to a subscription model, where the gamer must pay 100 rubles ($3.44, £2.23, €2.53) a month to access Battle.net. At any time, however - even right after getting the game - the player can "upgrade" to the full version for ~1200 rubles, letting them access the full European Battle.net servers and play until the end of time without ever seeing a single subscription payment.

Even if you're the world's most fervent opponent of the subscription model for games, for the sake of argument, put that word as far from your mind as possible right now. The subscription isn't the point.

With this price model, Blizzard is offering a lower bar of entry for consumers to test the waters - so to speak. Unlike the similarly-principled "paid demos" rumored to be in the works at EA, this gives prospective buyers a taste of the full game at a much lower buy-in cost. More importantly, it gives consumers options.

If you know that you'll be spending years playing StarCraft II (like the decade-old competitive scene for StarCraft), you upgrade to the full version right off the bat. If you're confident that you'll put quite a bit of time into the game but don't know if it'll hold your interest for more than a year, get the 999-ruble version and don't subscribe.

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