MMO subscription pricing: Why so obscure?

While doing research for my musings on the merits of a yearly MMO subscription, I was repeatedly stymied in a quite unexpected manner.

MMOs large and small make it anywhere from “a little difficult” to infuriatingly obtusely extraordinarily difficult to discover how much it will actually cost to play.

Go visit the World of Warcraft homepage (, and try to find any direct (or even indirect) mention of a subscription cost.

Go ahead, I’ll wait.

[img_big]center,8587,2012-03-20/Alliance_group_with_Chen_Stormstout_at_start_of_Stormstout_Brewery.jpg,World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria[/img_big]

Back again? Good.

What the hell, man. Right? I couldn’t even find a link that looked like it might lead to a page where it says you might want to subscribe, never mind how much subscribing might actually cost. Even the Beginner’s Guide completely neglects to mention it.

At first I thought this must just be an oversight on Blizzard‘s behalf, but as I visited more sites I noticed this was very much the norm, not the exception.

It’s easier to find the pricing for some than others. Rift has a link in a drop down menu, others have informative pages in logical places. Some I had to dig through the support information for possibly outdated numbers and still others wanted me to sign up to play the game before they’d let me see any monetary details.

And, as I said on Twitter at the time, I think that’s kind of appalling.

[img_big]center,7463,2012-04-12/rift_drak_battle_02.jpg,Full disclosure: RIFT[/img_big]

People already familiar with the specific games or MMOs in general do typically know what to expect and of course those that require a subscription are all around the same price per month. But that begs the question… Why are publishers hiding this information anyway?

It all feels more than a little shady. Here, see our wares, sample our goods, just a little taste… The first hit is free!

Even if you don’t ascribe to the “games are addictive” theory it’s hard not to see this tactic as an attempt to play on a similar footpath. People will have a look at an MMO, read up a bit on the classes you can play, the setting, maybe watch some gameplay clips and get all juiced up ready to play. Register an account, download the client and start playing.

It’s not until they’ve grown attached to the little dude on their screen, in many instances, that they realise they need to actually hand over some money if they ever want to get very far in the game.

Maybe an afternoon’s frustration has coloured my judgement on the matter, but I think MMOs could benefit from a little more transparency in that regard. Perhaps it’s simply a case of marketing and nobody wanting to put their hand up and be upfront about costing a bit per month.

I can see some sectors of the MMO market being a little scared of admitting as much, particularly when they don’t give a lot back to the community in return for their subscription. If all your company is doing is keeping the servers running but not looking to add any new content you probably don’t want to announce too loudly that you’re charging people $15 a month for $5 worth of service.

The “Free to Play” segment probably isn’t too keen to admit a lot of those games still require a subscription if you really want to get the most out of the experience, either.

[img_big]center,2356,2012-04-30/img_20120426-15-42-22.jpg,The payment-optional Free Realms[/img_big]

I’m not even qualified to be an armchair psychologist and I’m not sure games are capable of forming addictions… but this still feels wrong to me. It feels like the subscription is a dirty little secret, rather than just an accepted and expected cog in an MMO machine.

The more companies try and sweep this under the rug, the more suspicious I’m going to get of their motivation for doing so. The price of admission can’t be hidden forever, not if you expect people to pay it.

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