Since Anno Domini 1997 I have been paying a monthly subscription to a Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game. Every. Single. Month.
It started then with a game that is still very near and dear to my heart, Ultima Online. My best friend and I began playing within a few months of it’s release, and I played UO until 2000 or 2001.
At this point I began playing Dark Age of Camelot, though I only used DAoC as a bridge gap while waiting for the launch of Shadowbane.
Shadowbane was the game that brought together the guild which I am still a member of, The Sundered Guard, a guild that I was one of their first elected hierarchy of leaders, and a guild that just celebrated it’s 10 years anniversary. For those that have never heard of SB, that was that game that essentially defined open world Seige Warfare, Base-driven, City-Building, free-for-all combat PVP based MMO’s. You simply do not know what large-scale PVP is unless you played Shadowbane, and I mean that whole-heartedly. It was the norm for our guild to be calling in other guilds to help reinforce our lines during battles of hundreds on hundreds of players that could very well have lead to the loss of our capitol city, the accumulation of hundreds of hours of work put in by the guild members.
And you thought Ice Crown Citadel was laggy?!
Also, add to that list my brief time played in EverQuest, the 6 months or so I played Final Fantasy XI and the year or so I played Guild Wars in tandem with World of Warcraft, which I have played since launch in November of 2004.
Tally all that information up and that equals a withdrawal from my checking account of anywhere from $10 to $15 every single month since November 1997.
I do not, in any way, regret a single dollar spent in the past 15 years. I have met some of my closest friends in these games, people I have never actually stood next to yet I know their life story, their wives/husbands/children’s names and birthdays, and likes, and dislikes. Only a few have I had the pleasure of meeting face to face so far, something I do hope to remedy (Blast you Blizzard for not having Blizzcon 2012!) . So I cannot stress enough that having that monthly payment, every month, for 15 years, has been a tremendous force in shaping my life for the better.
Recently I have been investing more time in non-MMO games than I have since the Autumn of 1997. One of the above mentioned friends I’ve met via gaming, Nevik (a constant annoyance really, but a true and great friend indeed ~ ^) bought me Diablo 2 for Christmas last year. It was the first time I had ever played the game, and really found myself enjoying that style of play. It felt a bit like Ultima Online, with the click-to-move functionality and the top down, 3/4 view. In large part because of that Christmas gift I signed up for the WoW Annual Pass, and now have Diablo 3. Another game I am thoroughly enjoying.
If you follow me on twitter you’ll know I just bought Starcraft 2, a game I have been dying to play (outside of the free trial version – which I loved) for ages. I got into the Torchlight 2 beta as well and was having a blast in that game, enjoying the meld of the Diablo gameplay and the graphical quality I have come to love in World of Warcraft.
I could add to this point that I have been playing a number of games on Steam as well, in large part due to the Humble Indie Bundle - games like Bastion, Trine, Terraria, Braid, etc.
In playing and investing time, energy, and money into these non-MMO games I have seen that there can be so much in gaming in the way of community and mechanics, and over-arching themes that can be done outside of the subscription-based model. Playing MMO’s for me has always been about the community aspect as much as it was the game itself. And up until recently, in large part, you could not have that multiplayer community aspect to your games outside of the subscription based MMO’s. But now is a new age, where free-to-play is becoming the norm, and that is a truly great thing!
I would love to try out Star Wars: The Old Republic. However, I cannot justify another monthly subscription, and the community is not there like we have in World of Warcraft. The same point can be made for Rift, another game I would love to play, but will not.
Guild Wars 2 is a game I am SO excited to play, why? Free-to-play, and can very easily be played solo if need be. Well, and of course the fact that it’s drop-dead-gorgeous, has amazing game mechanics, and a weapon-based skill management system that is MIND BLOWING! Naturally. And I will absolutely purchase and play GW2 because I will not be committing myself to another monthly payment.
By and large the industry itself is shifting to this model, and I could not possibly be happier.
I will likely be playing WoW until they shut off the servers, I love this game, so for as long as I’m paying my monthly subscription to Blizzard, I will not have another subscription. If the rumored Titan Project turns out to be a subscription based game, I will have to think long and hard about whether I’ll be playing it. If the entire WoW community that I have grown with, that I know and love, was to move over to Titan, and the same monthly payment I’m making to Blizzard already will cover both that and WoW… then, and only then, will I commit to it.
Rumors have been circulating that SW:ToR will be going free-to-play soon. And, here’s the thing, I will very likely play it when that happens. Lord of the Rings Online, I never played it when it was subscription based, now I need only the time and money for the initial box purchase and I will be playing it, because it’s free-to-play.
I am, of course, not arguing the merits of free-to-play versus subscription, making the claim that one is inherently better than the other, that is a topic for another day.
My point, to close, is that for me, the type of gaming I can do now in this stage of my life with consideration to my schedule, disposable income, and preferences for the community and social aspects of the game – free-to-play is simply the best option. The environment that Steam has created, Xbox Live, Play Station Network, Battle.net, etc. has cultivated, the technology that has been implemented to connect gamers like never before, and the way that non-subscription-based MMO’s have shown that they are not only commercially viable but also more profitable once they go that route – all of these avenues lead to a future where games can be made, sustained, improved upon, patched and expanded, without the need for a monthly subscription. As a now 30-something gamer with a mortgage, a child, a car-payment, and all the added expenses that go into that – I could not be happier than to think that my favorite MMO’s in the coming years will not require me to pay monthly just to play them, but rather will allow me to pay here and there for some added bonuses, or content, which will financially free my wallet such that I can try my hand at other games… something I have not had the ability to do for so many years.