Wednesday, July 28, 2010

How much does playing a MMORPG cost?

Playing a typical monthly-subscription MMORPG costs around $200 per year, including the cost of the game and expansions. If you played World of Warcraft for 5 years, you probably paid pretty much exactly $1,000 to Blizzard. But that is the easiest case of cost calculation, and it only represents the direct costs. Saying how much a Free2Play game costs is much more difficult, because the cost is variable, depending of what exactly you want to get out of the game. The more you pay, the more you get, obviously, although that still astonishes or even outrages some of the more naive players. And more and more games come out as Free2Play, or switch from monthly subscription to Free2Play, like Everquest 2 this week. Different Free2Play games have different payment options and plans, and figuring out how much you'll end up paying is about as impossible as figuring out your mobile phone payment plan. With iron discipline you can play for absolutely free, but if you don't watch yourself you might easily spend more for a "free" game than for a subscription game.

And then there are the indirect costs. How much did you pay over the last 5 years for computers and your internet connection? Probably more than the $1,000 I mentioned for 5 years of playing WoW. In most places the internet connection alone already costs more than the $15 per month of a monthly subscription MMORPG. But then of course playing a MMORPG is probably not the only thing you need your computer and internet connection for, and your monthly payment for the internet might be a "triple play" plan including telephone and digital TV. MMORPGs also usually don't require a lot of data transfer, so you don't really need high-speed internet to play a MMORPG, it only comes in handy on patch day. So many people chose not to count the cost of their computer and internet connection as "MMORPG cost".

That can change if a new game *requires* you to buy a new computer. The announced system requirements for Final Fantasy XIV for example are definitively on the high side, requiring at least an i7 CPU, 4 GB of memory (which, if completely true would mean you can't run FFXIV on a 32-bit operating system, because you need a 64-bit operating system to access more than 3 GB of memory), and a GeForce 460 GTX or better. The new computer I bought a year-and-a-half ago barely fulfils these requirements, so it'll probably require the next computer I'll probably buy next year before I can play FFXIV in high resolution.

I have to question the wisdom of Square Enix on this. Most MMORPG players don't mind paying those $200 per year for a good game, but might balk at spending an additional $1,000+ for a computer to run it, or at least several hundred dollars for upgrading their existing one. So not only will the overall price tag prevent some potential customers from actually buying the game, even worse, customer who *do* buy the game give most of their money to the computer shop and hardware companies, and not to the game developer.

In summary, how much playing a MMORPG costs is similar to the question of how much a car costs, in that there isn't really one true answer. You can pay between nothing at all (if you consider your computer and internet being "free") to hundreds or even thousands of dollars, if you attribute all the indirect costs to the game. The good news is that if you take the average cost of $200 per year, and the average amount people play of around 1,000 hours per year, the cost per hour of entertainment is pretty low.

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