Blizzard made an interesting move with World of Warcraft, as of late. The company decided to shake things up and make it so when someone subscribes, they not only have access to the base game, but also all expansions other than the Battle of Azeroth. It is a big move, but it brings up an interesting question. Should companies that make MMOs be charging people an extra fee to access these expansions? Or should companies be using the monthly fees they take from users, not to mention any microtransactions made, to find the development of these updates?
MMOs are big money games. Some of the biggest ones have either required or “premium” subscription fees, asking people to kick in around $15 per month to play. World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XIV are each $14.99 per month or $155.88 per year if someone chooses the membership option that has them committing to six month subscriptions at a time. Being a The Elder Scrolls Online Plus member, which is the only way to experience DLC packs, is also $14.99 for one month or $155.88 per year with six month packages. In 2017, Square Enix noted it had 10 million cumulative players for FFXIV. That same year, Bethesda noted it had about 2.5 million active ESO players and 10 million cumulative. Blizzard has stopped reporting on WOW numbers. Still, all told, the numbers are pretty high.
Now, factor in how much these expansions end up costing people each time they come out. Battle of Azeroth, WOW’s latest, is $49.99. Square Enix was charging FFXIV players $39.99 for the honor of getting into Stormblood. When it comes to ESO DLC, you first need to take your cash and convert it into “Crowns,” at a rate of about 750 Crowns per 750. (Though, you can get 21,000 Crowns for only $149.99.) Then, you can spend them on things like the 3,000 Crown/$24.99 Orsinium add-on. While FFXIV is following a similar approach to WOW and has rolled Heavensward into Stormblood purchases, we still see companies expecting a lot of money from players who are already paying a monthly fee.
I’m not suggesting the subscriptions be entirely abolished. Games like WOW, FFXIV, and ESO are expensive. A lot of work goes into keeping them running smoothly and ensuring servers are operating as they should. But, it seems that we have reached a point where companies should not be asking people to pay what is essentially the price for an entirely new game so they can access some new content in a game they already paid for at launch and continue to pay to play every month. Given that these extras are developed by a company to keep people invested, you would think they should be treating them more like events or other free updates.
Especially since so many other games are developing MMO-like characteristics and offering the sorts of content you might expect to eventually be folded into a MMO expansion for free or without a subscription. Let’s use Monster Hunter: World as an example. Capcom has been offering up new monsters to hunt on a fairly regular basis for free. These can result in earning new sorts of armors sets and weapons, if you beat them enough times for their materials. It also has had themed cross-over events with games like Street Fighter, Devil May Cry, Horizon: Zero Dawn, and FFXIV. Destiny 2 is basically an MMO, minus the subscription fees, and offers up access to all of its expansions via an expansion pass.
MMOs with subscriptions are already getting to be a dated beast. Most MMOs appearing today are entirely free, only asking people to pay for premium memberships for bonuses or extra add-ons. Could expecting people to pay for the base MMO, then pay monthly subscriptions, and on top of that buy full price expansions be too much? It may be time for companies to adapt and start offering all expansions for free as an incentive to keep people rolling in and that secure the more steady subscription flow.