MMOs! Give them your monays!

Let me set the scene for this blog. You want to buy a game. Where do you go . . . to the shops. You browse for a while and after much deliberation you choose a game. You go to the counter and the employee says “That would be £39.99 please”. You pay the guy and are about to turn around and leave and enjoy your game when the employee says “That would be another £8.99 please”. You seem a little miffed but you pay the guy and for the second time attempt to leave the shop. However, you here the employee shout “That would be another £8.99 please”. At this point you are getting a little frustrated. You give the guy the money and quickly stomp your way out the shop. You never get out the shop though. The employee asks you again “That would be another £8.99 please”. This scenario sounds like something no sane individual would even contemplate of doing! Who would want to keep on paying for the same game over and over again!

Over 10 million people, that’s who!
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That’s right. Over 10 million people are playing the game World of Warcraft. All of you have probably heard of this game. World of Warcraft (WoW) is a type of game known as a MMO (Mass Multiplayer Online) game. If you play WoW you are required to purchase the game and then pay £8.99 a month to play the game! The aim of this blog is to find out why people pay to play these games!

Yee (2006) suggests that the reason for this is because of the emotional investment players have with the characters in the game. For example, in WoW you can alter your characters appearance to suit your liking. You can choose your character’s abilities and the way it interacts with the game. Yee states that this flexibility in character development encourages the investment of emotion towards your character and the game.

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Another angle to look at is the technique of a free trial. With games like WoW you can get a 14 day free trial. You can get a feel for the game and create your character for 14 days then if you want to carry on you pay £8.99 a month. Bawa and Shoemaker (2004) found that free samples of a product can create a significant long term effect on sales. Thus, the game companies know that with a free trial available more people are likely to carry on playing. Furthermore, when people play the free trial they establish an emotional link with their character. As Yee (2006) suggested an emotional investment will cause players to subscribe to the game. So a free trial of a game can cause a player to become invested in the game. Once you have created a character you want to carry on playing with that character. Therefore, when the free trial ends you buy a subscription. As you want to carry on your character’s development.  So the player pays the subscription to invest into their character.

download (1)So, if people are willing to pay to play what effect does this have on the game? Wang et al. (2005) discovered that participant’s willingness to pay for a monthly subscription was positively correlated to the perceived quality of the product. Thus, the more people are willing to pay for a game the more they will perceive the game as having high quality. Dick and Lord (1998) also found that customer’s loyalty to the brand was influenced if the customer was a member of the brand. Customers who were a member were more loyal to the brand.

What are the take home points of this blog. The utilization of free trials enables the player to create and play with their video game character. This then establishes an emotional involvement between the player and their game characters. This emotional involvement then motivates the player to subscribe to a monthly payment to play the game. Moreover, monthly subscriptions have a significant impacts on the way players view games.

The question is would you pay monthly for one game that never significantly changes?

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5 thoughts on “MMOs! Give them your monays!

  1. Really interesting blog. I certainly wouldn’t play a game with a subscription! I can’t imagine how much money some people will have spent on that game.

    Another interesting gaming area is the exact opposite of WOW, play4free games. These involve the player having to play absolutely nothing at all to play these (actually pretty good) games. However, as described in your blog, they use the FREE element much to their advantage. However, players can upgrade their avatar/character/skills by paying for weapons/clothes etc with real money, which where the companies get their revenue. In order to encourage gamers to purchase extra content, they will offer the ability to ‘rent’ virtual content for 30days or more. I’ve also seen it where the game will offer a ‘daily draw’, essentially a lucky dip of items, to again encourage people to log in on a daily basis, play the game with their newly won items. and hopefully purchase something from them.

  2. Wow that’s unbelievable, I knew it was a popular game but I had no idea that people had to subscribe monthly to be able to play it! My first thought was that it must be a *really* good game then, which sort of demonstrates the research you mentioned by Wang et al. (2005). Quite a few companies make use of emotional investment companies in characters to expand their products as well. The Sims in particular sticks out in my mind. After spending £40 on the initial game, you are then required to fork out an additional £20 on expansion packs so your sims can go on holiday or have pets. Games such as World of Warcraft and The Sims where the to a large extent player dictates the make-up and behaviour of their character create situations where the character is almost seen as an extension of the self (Pearce, 2004) making it more likely that consumers will want to spend money either continuing to play or buying additional features that will enhance their playing experience.

  3. I think it is a clever way of selling more of your product to those that you can get addicted to these games. There are many addicted individuals around the world that play games for others that dont have time for the simple reason of gaining “extra’s” these may simply be weapons, or things like in the expansion packs described above. I feel for those that do not know these tactics and find out after purchasing these games it is rather unfair. I have never in particular been too much into games as I feel it wastes time, but never knew that games like SIMS are making money in these ways also.

  4. I’ve only just found your blog but I’ve really enjoyed reading your video game themed entries!

    After reading your blog I started looking into pay to play online MMORPG’s. It seems to me that world of warcraft has lost its way a bit with its pricing strategy.
    Not only do you have to pay a monthly fee, you also have to buy the game and then invest extra in the expansion packs. That means that even if you’re paying a monthly fee, if you don’t buy the expansion packs you’ll have limited access to the game. I always thought that was a bit of a dodgy strategy, and not the right way to build a good relationship with your users.

    I think they’ve started paying for this questionable pricing strategy. Two years ago, WoW has 12m players. Now, they’re down to 9.1m, the lowest levels since 2007.

    There are a few different theories why this has happened. Too many free alternatives. Other, newer alternatives. Some think that by trying to appeal too much to casual gamers, hardcore gamers have been put off. Perhaps in their relentless quest for expansion, they’ve actually ruined the game for their core fanbase.

    They’ve now released a free version, called WoW starter edition, that gives new users a taste of the gameplay, but with severely limited functionality. Personally, I think it’s a mistake. They’re just going to alienate core users further in my opinion.

    Coincidentally, I was having a chat with someone in a games shop today about Eve Online, an MMORPG space game. It’s been going since 2003, and has a much smaller user base than WoW, and currently has around 400,000 monthly subscribers, who pay around £9.99 per month each. It’s been going since 2003, and in contrast to WoW, it’s showing yearly growth. Crucially in my opinion, users don’t pay for expansion packs – access to expansions is included in the price. Overall, I think that makes for a better and more sustainable gaming experience. No one is left lagging behind because they haven’t bought an expansion.

    Because they aren’t messing their customers around, I think that in the long term, Eve online might well fare better than WoW. Time will tell though, but if I had to guess, I’d say that WoW’s user base is just going to keep falling.

    However, I think both games serve as interesting case studies of different pricing strategies in what is still a relatively new (but growing) market.

  5. Cool Blog man, I for one am familiar with this game only because a lot of people in my halls started playing WoW. The sheer amount of time these people played the game for was astonishing, in some cases it took over peoples lives in a way. I think the aspect of a free trial is a good idea, the game is meant to be very addictive (one reason i did not play it) so offering this free trial to people will undoubtedly get them hooked and a good feel for the game. I cant quite understand the reasoning behind having to pay monthly subscriptions for a game you have already payed £40 for, however since there are 10 million people playing the game is must offer a very good service and fill the needs of consumers, and this is the main point I suppose, people will be more willing to pay for something that offers a high quality service. So in a way if the game does offer high quality service then it is no surprise that there are 10 million people playing it.

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