You can't name a triple-A MMO that's launched with a sub in the last few years that stayed sub-only for long (with the single exception of sub-based Final Fantasy XI's sequel, Final Fantasy XIV, which originally launched to such widespread disdain that it didn't charge its subs for months and then closed the game entirely for a do-over). They all convert. Some convert because they're struggling. Some convert because F2P means more money. All convert to screams of "fail" no matter how well they were doing or do. That sucks.
Even World of Warcraft, the game commenters love to cite as proof that subscriptions are superior to all other models, has introduced a formal in-game cash shop with intimations that it will sell high-level characters come the next expansion. It's also got a F2P option up to level 20, and it's also bleeding its subs by the millions, most of them, if you believe the rumors, US subscriptions following the traditional model. Well, not the traditional model -- a double-dipping model that isn't traditional at all and is arguably just as irritating as F2P models themselves. Heck, some subs are just as exploitative as F2P models: Witness Allods Online, lauded in the West for its new sub option, a sub option that in practice employs an irritating conversion currency to charge you an extra $7 on top of your first-month's sub if you don't resub, as our own Mike Foster recently discovered to his deep dismay.
I do think there are several kinds of subscription models that can work in the current industry, other than the one used by ancient games like Ultima Online, EVE Online, and the rest. One is a traditional model for a serious "WoW Killer" with serious staying power. (Whether a WoW Killer is a thing that will ever exist is another debate.) The second is a hybrid model, the kind with optional subscriptions and some sort of eternal free trial or F2P mode, the kind most sub-or-die folks would dismiss as F2P. The third is a sub model for smallish, indie games aimed squarely at old-school players who don't want to dicker with anything that sounds like a pricing scheme; Camelot Unchained springs to mind.
The industry could also shift. It does that sometimes. But right now, and most likely this coming spring when these games start launching, the market isn't willing to pay subscriptions long-term for new, unproven games, and WildStar and The Elder Scrolls Online face extra barriers to pulling off the model. WildStar has been widely criticized as being a "WoW clone," and its devs are angling for the WoW crowd. Will WoW fans and ex-players choose WildStar over Warlords of Draenor -- the new sci-fi romp over nostalgia and a decade of content? Will they pay two subs to play two similar games? You needn't guess blindly. Just look at WoW-inspired RIFT and Star Wars: The Old Republic, which both went F2P after launching with the box/sub plan and then suffering large population drop-offs.
And The Elder Scrolls Online has already been lambasted for slapping a sub fee on a largely single-player leveling experience. Poke around in threads on game sites devoted to non-MMOs; you'll see that the console fiends despise subscription models. I'm always shocked when I read comment after comment from people who didn't grow up on subs as I did and who think subs are grossly exploitative. Do you think the console folks are going to sub past the first month, especially once they realize that ESO is far more limited than the Skyrim multiplayer they envisioned and that endgame consists of RvR PvP? And do you think the same MMORPG fans who bored so quickly of SWTOR's single-player story will put up with the same in ESO?
I'd love to see one or both of them pull it off just to see the market settle out and keep all of these potential models alive and available to new games. But as it stands, I don't think these two games are going to pull it off long-term. They are taking advantage of early-adopters who shell out for a box and months of a sub, and they will reinforce MMO geeks' suspicions that they should skip launches and wait for the F2P conversion, which wounds the entire industry, convinces people not to make MMOs, provokes the whole "fail game" post-conversion hate cycle, and frankly annoys me with its moneygrabby duplicitousness. In other words, most of the same things that piss me off about F2P MMOs piss me off about modern sub MMOs too because they're just not as different as the studios who use them as marketing tools want you to think they are. Please stop being fooled!
And that's what we were voting for. But that didn't exactly fit on our graphic.
chestnut.bowl wrote, "Why is the Best MMO of the Year award for new MMOs sold this year and not open for all MMOs? MMOs are different than other games; they develop over time and are a persistent service."
It's because Star Wars Galaxies would win every year, even dead. Seriously, it would just be a popularity contest with everyone voting for his favorite game ever, and probably the same games would come out on top every vote. Older MMOs have lots of opportunities to win with Most Improved and Best Update, etc. Or Biggest Blunder, if they really want!
Several posters wondered, "How can Defiance be a runner-up for MMO of the Year and also a nominee for Biggest Disappointment?"
The same way Guild Wars 2 won Best MMO of 2012 and also took home the Biggest Disappointment award last year: The staff was simply divided. Even some individuals were divided. I myself voted GW2's Super Adventure Box for Best Update/Expansion this year, but I named GW2's Living Story my big disappointment. No game is perfect; if it's big enough, it'll do some stuff right and some stuff wrong, sometimes dramatically so.
SallyBowls wrote, "The "and beyond" [on the Most Anticipated award] was a blatant excuse to talk EQN. Unfortunately we'll be lucky to see a beta in 14."
Nope, we did "and beyond" last year too, which is how WildStar won it in 2012 even though it didn't launch in 2013 as expected. In fact, WildStar won it in 2011 too even though it didn't launch in 2012! Games don't launch when they say they will, so that's basically why we do it this way. If we didn't, games that announce their date the same year they launch would never be in the running, and games that announce a target month and then delay would be eligible more often than they deserve. Besides, even if we had disqualified post-2014 games, most of the EQN votes would have likely gone over to Landmark, which would have won (and scored plenty of votes on its own, for that matter). I think EQN just appeals to a broader spectrum of staff and players than the average themepark or sandbox because of the way it's combining its themepark IP with builder-friendly sandboxiness.
Michael18 wrote, "For the coming years, you should consider an additional category: Best or Most anticipated Indie MMO."
Stay tuned for Beau's Frindie awards, which are returning for their third annual edition on January 1st.
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