A topic that’s come up recently around the MMOBomb office water cooler – if we had an office or a water cooler – regards subscriptions in free-to-play games. After all, “free” is in the moniker, so does it make sense that you should feel obligated to pay to get a fuller experience?

Don’t get us wrong – we understand that even “free” games need to make money, and we’re not saying that everything should be free. But do subscriptions seem like just a holdover from the way online games used to be or are they a useful, or even necessary, aspect of the business model? Should they be offered in addition to the a la carte deals for content that every F2P game has in its cash shop?

Your typical monthly subscription fee in a F2P MMO offers you unlimited access to everything in the game: PvE, PvP, dungeons, raids, crafting, and higher (or no) limits on loot, bag/inventory space, and so on. Free players can usually purchase these kinds of services, in a piecemeal fashion, though it generally costs more to buy it all individually.

The point at which a sub becomes “worth it” is if you intend not only to take advantage of all that’s offered – thus making it cheaper than buying the individual parts – but also if you intend to take advantage of them in the time your subscription is active. If you want to do everything, but only have five hours a week to play, you’re probably better off without a subscription, since you probably can’t get it all done before your subscription expires and you have to buy another month.

Obviously, each game differs with what it offers in a sub. In the case of a game like Star Wars: The Old Republic, the differences are extreme, with subbed players having much more available than non-subbed players. In other games, such as World of Tanks, a subscription simply increases the rate of XP gain.

Does this mean that players are turned away from a game where a sub is deemed “necessary” or do are they more likely to sign up for a sub for that very reason? Similarly, if a sub is deemed highly optional, does that help to lure in free players who don’t like that you need to pay to have an advantage – even if it’s only in rate of advancement?

It’s a decision that every F2P developer has to make, and more and more of them seem to be adopting the “soft” subscription. It makes sense when you think that online games need to have as many players as possible to maintain critical mass, and that having X players with a Y% sub rate is better than having X/2 players with a 2*Y% sub rate. The number of subs are the same in each case, but the first game has more players overall, which is a fine selling point for press releases (“10 million players have tried our game!”), means there are more players to potentially buy items in the cash shop, does more to make the game seem more friendly to new players, and ensures against sudden losses in the player base.

That’s what my personal opinion boils down to: I think that, yes, it’s fine for a F2P game to have a subscription, but it shouldn’t be felt as a necessity to players as something that you must have. Not having a sub shouldn’t make you feel like a second-class citizen or separate you from your subscription-paying friends. It’s tougher to execute in a largely PvE game, like most MMORPGs, but even when you max out your level, you’re still trying to accumulate loot, tokens, reputation, etc. Letting a sub increase the gain rate on things like that, like PvP games generally do with overall XP, are one potential solution, and I’m surprised to see that it hasn’t been adopted in more games.

That’s why it’s nice to see BioWare going with this kind of model for its content in the Galactic Starfighter expansion for Star Wars: The Old Republic. As revealed in our interview last week, free players will have access to the new content, but will level up their starfighter 50% slower. It’s a lot better than the hard limit of five warzones per week that F2P PvP lovers get now, and if it proves popular – and, to be honest, profitable – maybe BioWare will make a similar switch with all its PvP, and even PvE, content.

(Edit: It’s going around that BioWare will be capping the amount of XP free players can earn daily or weekly from Starfighter PvP. We don’t have a firm source yet, but if true, it does put a damper on my optimism in the previous paragraph. Too much to ask for, I guess.)

But that’s just my opinion. What do you think about subscriptions in online games? Do you prefer to get good “bang for your buck” or would you rather they were “soft bonuses,” the kind of which are nice to have but don’t feel necessary?

the author

Jason Winter is a veteran gaming journalist, he brings a wide range of experience to MMOBomb, including two years with Beckett Media where he served as the editor of the leading gaming magazine Massive Online Gamer. He has also written professionally for several gaming websites.

34 Readers Commented

Join discussion
  1. ASD on August 25, 2016

    I personally am against subscription games but they seem more reasonable then free 2 play games in my opinion because with free 2 play games they just seem to push cash shops and costume shops and level boosts for irl money which seems stupid. The level boosts seem stupid in my opinion I think everyone should level legitly and not be able to buy their way to a higher level. But the costume shops and cash shops are fine I guess if they aren’t pushed on the playerbase aggressively it would personally drive me away since I don’t wanna spend all of my cash on those things. In my opinion If any game found a good balance for a business model I think World of warcraft did. They don’t aggressively push stuff on you and they offer a free 2 play option even though it’s limited I hate it’s a sub game but they offer an option to earn sub time for free if you earn a certain amount of gold luckily. If MMOs can build onto WoW’s legacy or even make a fantasy MMO even better then WoW without getting greedy I’m sure the MMO genre wouldn’t this bad like it is right now.

  2. HellcatM on November 22, 2013

    I’m one of those people who wouldn’t get his money’s worth from a sub game. I love playing games, but I play spurratically. Now if they had a sub that you pay for a month and you get 30 days of play even if that 30 days of play (at least 4-5 hours a day or more…or whatever would be a good number).

    Or they have two sets of servers, one F2P and one subscription. The more subs they get the more they can afford to give to the F2P people….in content not through the shop. Then the shop can be more skins, cloths and maybe XP bumps. Subs will get no shop and faster XP than the F2P and that would make both parties happy. I always hear people who love sub games, that if such and such was a sub they’d play it and visa versa.

    The first idea I think would work the second I’m not sure.

  3. anip on November 21, 2013

    A lot of F2P games already have Sub in their games…

    It’s called ” VIP ” or any type of buffs that last for a long duration of time (IE: 30 days, etc)

  4. lalalldflddoo on November 21, 2013

    $15 a month is to much when most games you’re down the content by time free month is over. Most MMO should cut it in half to like $8 a month instead imo.

  5. chefmadness on November 21, 2013

    another thing I would like to add, Who the hell came up with the $15.99 a month thing? I think for a script price 5 or 10 bucks a month would get more players to play since we are in the worst rescission EVER! & gaming companies would be loved by their fans for doing so since every one is on a budget these days & also they would gain 15 X’s the players as long as all content was available to the gamers!

  6. chefmadness on November 21, 2013

    I think all games should be buy to play! That is the best option for a company & gamers alike. The game company makes money & players are happy. GW2 & The Secret World are good examples. I would pay 100 bucks for an awesome game if all content was free for ever & never drop another dime to play all of it’s content! & yes F2P games should have a cash shop for players that want to enjoy a game a bit better & a subscription as well for the hard core gamers. But the cash shop should not put over powerful items & gear in the shop every player should be able to gain that stuff one way or another in game. DDO is a good example of this I love the game but I never feel I would enjoy the full effect of the game as a F2P player. As far as STO totally awesome game as a F2P player & a P2P player! One of the best games out to date as far as I am concerned. DCU you really need a script to get the full effects of the game but the F2P aspect can be fun up to a point. Same for DDO.

    • RenTheRose on November 21, 2013

      I can see were this is coming from but think about torrents and game hacking that is out their now buy to play is dyeing as we speak I can go get skyrim for free in 1h of downloading all B2P games are easy to rip and give away for free unless its on steam or uses a similar system witch cost a lot of money to make so it jest cant rely happen

      • chefmadness on November 21, 2013

        Hey sweetie this topic isn’t about console games for PC like Dead Space 3 or Skyrim. It’s about AAA PC mmorpg’s like Star Trek online, DC universe online, Dungeons & Dragons online & such. But I do love my torrents nosteam rules so dose reloaded the best game torrents on the market look them up on pirate bay nosteam is the best one!!!!

        • RyuZwei on December 2, 2013

          She was replying to your comment “sweetie”… and “AAA” F2P MMORPGs dun exist. Your comment was referring to retail games and as she said, retail games are currently dying. F2P Model has been proven successful in some cases but the problem is it’s a hard market to break into thus the reason Major Developers have no taken to it so far. As she said, B2P Games are extremely ez to crack and play for free and that’s why so many businesses have been searching for other ways to monetize there games. Your whole post was more or less referring to “AAA Titles” and not anything that concerned F2P much at all, the only points you hit on that related to this topic at all were your albeit biased opinions on Subs and Cash Shops and how they should be in F2P games, next time get an idea of what you yourself are talking about before you demean another persons response saying they’re off topic when they’re not if it’s in relation to what you had said.

  7. Reavston on November 20, 2013

    Well adding subscription would totally destroy the whole F2P concept…

  8. capoe on November 20, 2013

    i DUNNO,i rather drop 15bucks a month or less and just have whats in the game..f2p imo mosty has a list of failed suck games so far anyway.And the whole MMOrpg thing is a tad boring cause so far 99.9% are like the same concept..orcs elfs and midgets..yawn the other 3 or 4 shooter mmos just flat out suck imo clucky combat and just way to repeat mode.

  9. RAWRAWRAWRARAWRAWR on November 20, 2013

    Only if these F2P games offer a SUB only server with NO CASH SHOP on it and leave the rest of the servers for cash shop free users.

  10. Bunny on November 20, 2013

    I think if you drop 15 bucks on a game that most people play freely, you deserve special treatment, you deserve all the little rewards for doing so. I think that F2P games should revise the entire Cash Shop idea, From What I’ve heard with the upcoming 40k MMO, “Eternal Crusade”, If you play free, you’ll start with only one race and one class, but from there, You’ll be able to purchase the other races(and their associated classes) from there at your discretion, It becomes a weird, but oddly effective, mixture of Buy-to-play and Free-to-play aspects.

  11. Nope on November 20, 2013

    Nope.

    It would separate the community. I like the Aion (EU) f2p model, that’s acceptable for me. But doing p2p, like what Allods Online did, with two separate servers, one for f2p, other for p2p, it just produced 2 separate servers, both with low population.

  12. legend 1 on November 20, 2013

    lol omg wtf why was my other comment awaited moderation wtf is that? someone explain?

    • RenTheRose on November 21, 2013

      you weren’t adding to the topic I am amazed it was not taken down

  13. legend 1 on November 20, 2013

    ..

  14. Jellopy on November 20, 2013

    Also they can do this without having separate servers for payed users buy restricting the cash items to a selection based on the amount payed to the sub when you let it expire, say add credits to the cash shop reflecting the amount accumulated in monthly fees to permanently unlock favored items if you can’t pay the sub one month. If the devs put forth the effort they stand to make more money without turning players off of the game by restricting content.

  15. Jellopy on November 20, 2013

    this is a good topic, i think there should be the option for a paid version with cash items integrated in the game for those who hate doing micro transactions but want those items available. dual models are great if they don’t limit the free model like a lot of the aaa conversions have done in the past. it gives the best of both worlds and can really give the devs funding boosts to bring in better quality content without starving to death in the process. I mentioned this on the headline about allods adding a sub server.

  16. KainDarkfire on November 20, 2013

    This topic. And no mention of Runescape. I need to find a palm tree to faceplant into.

    • RenTheRose on November 21, 2013

      Runescape is a anomaly that hit a jack pot but is no longer considered a great game bye veteran players so no one that has played it and moved on talks about it much and lets face it most of us has played Runescape ( lvl 118 here sadly) we jest don’t like talking about it.

      • Jellopy on November 22, 2013

        I never played much of Runescape but I heard it was pretty good until recently. The upgraded engine and reworked content did more harm than good. If they are going to modernize it they need to make a full blown sequel with a free model that doesn’t suck and use unity engine or something to get better visuals and still be able to feature it web side. I can’t see it competing much unless the restore the old game features with better animations and graphics. City of Steam was one of the best looking browser games and it still didn’t do well. They needed more regular updates and more features. Doesn’t help it much that it’s almost entirely instanced but they are reworking it. Maybe browser mmos simply can’t succeed anymore since they can’t even compete with tablet mmos. They can’t stream really good graphics or a truckload of content fast enough to not play like crap on a standard internet connection either.

      • Anon on November 24, 2013

        The problem with runescape is the nostalgia-fags that keep whining about the game. I started playing in mid 2007 and I’ve recently started playing again and purchased membership via bonds which is a nifty little addition that is benefiting the game regardless of what the nay sayers may tell you. I’ll be the first to tell you that Jagex has the right idea with modernizing it’s gameplay (EoC).

        You have to realize the rs is a game that has been around for 10+ years, they have to innovate and change some things in order to keep up with the completion, do you think that they’ll keep old and aging features to cater to some nostalgia glasses wearing fanboys while denying themselves new customers and in the long run burn out?

        Sure it’s inevitable that some content becomes outdated or obsolete. I agree that the addition of EoC also killed off minigames and are in need of a major rework. But looking at the big picture, if runescape were to revert to 2007 it’d pretty much be dead in a matter of months.

        • RyuZwei on December 2, 2013

          Bro… you’re retarded. Runescape lost well over 500k active members atleast if you go by how many people are on daily now, in 2007 it was over the 1m at times and at lowest around 500k, now-a-days I hardly ever see it over 200k. The game is dieing because of the shitty “innovations” they made. Shit the main player base STILL comes from the RS Classic versions of the game and those are where I still see the funnest game play coming from, the game would have been just fine and probably had a LARGER player base than it has now if they didn’t try changing EVERYTHING, either way RS wasn’t gonna make it in the long run anyhow without updating that Subscription Model as it limits F2P players wayyyy to much to give them a reason to continue on playing for a long period of time.

  17. litthkul on November 19, 2013

    Wizard 101 is a prime example of a game, that has a cash shop, subscription base, and pay as you go, it seems to work out rather well, they are a highly rated company, and they don’t always say you have to pay them for every little thing. In wizard 101, subscription does not affect the xp gain I believe, what it allows is free acess to the rated pvp, otherwise you have to pay a very small price, acess to all zones without having to buy them and a few other things. The way I play, is pay as you go, which means I buy the areas once and never have to pay for them again, however, their are items I can buy in the cash shop, helpers I can summon into battle through the cash shop if I have no friends online. The system is very user friendly, they have sales all the time on crowns(their money system) and I have never felt that someone paying for a sub is kicking my butt hands down cause of it. Now, this means the game isn’t entirely free to play, since I have to buy zones, but honestly, would you rather have to buy zones/areas or constantly splurge for that xp booster or whatever else.

    • RyuZwei on December 2, 2013

      No… and this is coming from someone who played Wizard 101 for a longer time than I would like to admit. Wizard 101 is more or less a prime example of P2P, it’s like 2 zones if I remember correctly unless it was changed that you get by playing for free. Everything else can either be purchased with “Crowns” or accessed for however long your Membership lasts, this is not a good idea for any F2P game as it limits the player to mere hours of play and makes it seem more like you’re playing a demo rather than a F2P game, my biggest gripe with Wizard 101 was the fact that it always felt like I couldn’t do shit without coughing up some money to access an area or something like that, bad business model if we’re looking for the future of F2P games, that’s just backwards.

  18. Arieswar on November 19, 2013

    Well Subscription is one thing and i think they should just seperate the two, either make a game totally free or add subscription the duo dont mix well..

    Looking at cryptic’s neverwinter for example they have a free to play model that works even with cash shop since you can earn the zen, However looking at its older brother the Star trek online who claims to be free to play but makes its almost impossible to earn the zen to buy the ships that basically kills anyone without coins to spend ergo totally pay to win..

    My biggest question atm will Wow actully make it back after pandaria with the new expansion and will the reputation grind still be there, that killed the game in the first place because be honest those damn pandas where cute.

    and yet again Bann the word comming soon.. far to many mmo’s today use this retarded word and think its the same as saying comming in 3 years…

    • Golgo28 on November 20, 2013

      first,let’s be clear the ships that can be bought with zen are complete crap.Every time I’ve seen one in pvp it gets repeatedly crushed by the ships you earn in game for free.As for earning zen you don’t really.You are just buying it from players with in game currency.Really it’s just publisher sanctioned rmt activity.But since it for cash shop points they can say technically it’s not.

      oh btw coming soon is a very vague descriptor of time.So it’s far from being retarded.And it’s actually two words not one.Just in case you don’t own a dictionary retarded means hindered and to be hindered.It’s a past tense form of retard which means to hinder. But I’m guessing you played STO for all of 5 minutes if at all.And are just assuming that the ships in the cash shop are all powerful.And you spelled ban wrong.it’s only one n in the word.

      • capoe on November 20, 2013

        Attack of the fan boy!

      • RyuZwei on December 2, 2013

        Ever heard of a putting a space between sentences? I mean you have the space between words thing down but is it that hard to put a space between sentences so I can tell half the shit you’re saying? Honestly that was hard to read, I thought it was just a run on at first and was trying to figure out where one of your points started and the other ended ._.

  19. Deroni76 on November 19, 2013

    Should I say mounted?

HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY?