Subs and Me

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Free-to-play (F2P) versus subscriptions seems to be a perennial topic of discussion in the gaming blogosphere, generating a lot more heat than light usually. I’ve thought of writing about it before, and from many angles. Perhaps someday I’ll do a whole series on MMO pricing models, or do a piece trying to understand the psychology of how and why it gets the community so excited and makes it so divided. Given my posting frequency, perhaps most likely I won’t get round to either. Today, however, inspired by Braxwolf’s post No Time for Subs I’d like to talk about the topic from a purely personal point-of-view.

Subs aren’t for me

Subs aren’t for me, usually. The reasons why they’re not are to do with my own situation and my own personal quirks, and may or may not apply to anyone else. But thinking about those reasons might help us understand why some people love subs, some hate them, and both may have very valid reasons for feeling the way they do.

The future ain’t what it used to be

First thing to say is that I am talking about right now, not always. Right now, at this point in my life, I am rather cautious about subscribing to anything at all. Games, magazines, online services, club memberships… you name it, I’m not keen on subscribing to it! It was not ever thus, and maybe it won’t always be so.

One thing at play here is disposable income. I’ve had periods where I worked in large organizations, getting a large paycheck like clockwork every month, and having every expectation that nothing would change on that front in the foreseeable future. And my income was far in excess of my commitments and what paying for the necessities of life would entail, so basically $15 a month was almost nothing to me. Currently that’s not the case, money is a lot tighter, and the future is a good deal more unpredictable.

I am very bad at canceling

While the future might be less predictable, I’ve come to see that certain things about me are pretty predictable. For example I am very bad at canceling subscriptions to things that I no longer use. For a while I won’t cotton on to the fact that I no longer use that thing. And then I will tell myself I will use it more in future. And after a while of that I will realize I still don’t use it much, and decide maybe I should cancel the sub. Sometime after that I will get around to actually canceling. Maybe it’s just me and my foibles, but then again the same thing might apply to a lot of people. Behavioral Economics claims that people have a so-called Endowment Effect, which means they value stuff they own much more than they’d value it if they didn’t already own it. (It appears even to apply to some extreme cases like people with brain damage that can’t remember which of a set of Monet prints they were given, but still like the one they own now over one they preferred earlier but were not given.) Whatever the reason it is harder to let go of a sub to something that I don’t use any more and certainly would not sign up for now that it rationally should be. So I often end up paying for stuff for six months or more after I stopped getting any benefit from it.

… and my interests are changeable

Another thing that is predictable about me is that there is a good chance that I will lose interest in the thing that has aroused my current enthusiasm. I might be loving a game, imagining I will be playing it for years, and find that after three months of being really into it, my interest level drops off a cliff. Possible not to zero – that also is unlike me. But certainly to a level where paying $15 a month doesn’t make sense. (But, see preceding paragraph, with a high risk that if I had a $15 sub in place I’d end up down $90 or more before I got around to actually canceling.)

For all of the above reasons, I’m not inclined to sign up for any things that nibble bits out of my bank balance without my conscious and intentional say so. I will pay a bit extra to avoid those automatic monthly nibbles and retain control over payments.

My redeeming features

Meanwhile, I do have some redeeming qualities. While I may be terminally incapable of canceling subs promptly, I am strangely disciplined about not making impulse purchases. Sometimes you hear a fear that people have about cash shops and micro-transactions, that they’ll be nickel-and-dimed to death as all those small purchases add up to some monstrous total bill. They know themselves best, and for them that may be a big danger.

For me there is no such danger, and in fact MMO “cash” shops could not be better designed to prevent me from falling into that trap. Because they are not really cash shops at all. There is basically only one thing you can buy with actual real world money there, and that is the store currency, such as Turbine Points. There is nothing easier for me than to say “I am going to limit my cash shop spending to $X”, then wait for a sale on Turbine Points and buy $X worth, then use those points as my hard budget. Ideally I don’t even tell the MMO company my credit card info, but do one time Paypal transactions. Without the company having any billing authority it is extremely hard to impulsively run up bills.

Just me

Now all this is just me. It’s quite possible that someone could be the very opposite of me. They might have plenty of cash to spare, play all their games obsessively for long periods, be great at canceling subs they don’t need any more, and yet be lousy at controlling impulse buying. I can see why such a person might think subs are the only way to go, and regard cash shops as a devious trap designed to part them with all their money.

For me, I will consider a sub, but I will consider it very very carefully, and chances are high I will probably decide against it. Only if the thing is completely mind-blowing and way beyond any other alternative available to me am I likely to sub.

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5 thoughts on “Subs and Me

  1. This reminds me I should be cancelling my LOTRO sub that I never even meant to get after the 14 day free trial over Christmas…I have subbed for 6 months now!

    I don’t hate being so called ‘VIP’ but actually preferred my PREMIUM status…

    • Ah the perils of free trials! If I really want to take advantage of a freebie and really don’t want to end up subbing long-term, I have to schedule a task for myself to cancel it before the payments kick-in. At least Turbine makes it pretty easy to cancel.

      Now I feel that I’ve done a small public service with this post, saving people money by sharing my shortcomings!

  2. I was honestly surprised by how many people commented on my post stating that they preferred the subscription model. Perhaps I’m in the distinct minority of gamers who happens to be smack-dab in the middle of the busiest part of my life (mid-life, 16 years into a career, 4 kids in sports and activities, none whom are able to yet drive themselves around, a house in seemingly constant need of repairs and cleaning), but I just can’t justify spending a set amount of money on something that I may or may not be able to play more than once a week. I suspect that is actually the case. Most people in my situation probably simply drop gaming, altogether. I still maintain that choice is better, and that locking into a (insert model here)-ONLY business model will ultimately alienate segments of your potential player-base.

    • I find it strange how gamers feel so strongly about these things. It’s hard to imagine people getting so agitated that other people can buy single issues of a magazine if they want to instead of subscribing, or that you have the option to get pay-as-you-go phone plans as well as ones with monthly payments.

      I don’t know how much we can tell from the blogosphere what is representative opinion though, because just reading and commenting on blogs is probably a minority pursuit. There’s probably a ton of more causal players out there that prefer F2P, but maybe they aren’t such avid followers of online game conversations either.

      You and I may be unusual in being both enthusiastic enough that we blog and tweet, and follow conversations about games, and yet casual enough that subbing doesn’t make a lot of sense for us.

  3. Pingback: Bloggy Christmas: Unexpected Parties | Thinking Play

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