Free for All: Justifying the subscriptions I maintain

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Free for All: Justifying the subscriptions I maintain
Wakfu screenshot
Subscriptions are a funny thing. For as long as I can remember, they've represented a level of quality to many gamers. To those players, only those funny Eastern MMOs didn't have a sub. Granted, I loved a lot of those funny Eastern games and didn't care how a game monetized itself. Watching Western players spin on a dime about subscriptions has been a pretty weird experience. The Western developers have changed as well, providing tiered services and other models that would have been seen as suspicious only years ago.

I've been known as a free-to-play guy for a while. Heck, I was originally hired here at Massively to cover free-to-play games. Now that there are more free games than not, this column has spread out a bit, covering multiple topics. Payment models do still come up, as they did this week. I thought it'd be cool to examine the subs I do maintain and why -- not press accounts or accounts from long before I began working at Massively, but accounts that I choose to pay for with my own money.

Die2Nite screenshot
Die2Nite can be described as a pseudo-MMO. In it, players are stuck in towns of 40 people or so, fighting together for survival against hordes of zombies. Every day at 5:00 p.m. EST, the website is literally shut down as the zombies "attack" for 10 minutes. After the attack is over, players log in to see whether the town or individual players survived. It's literally one of my favorite games from any genre. I love its simplicity and the fact that it is an easy-to-run browser game that has a way of sticking in your imagination while you're away from the game.

Die2Nite also has an unconventional subscription option. Basically, a player can pay for the advantage of having a "job." These classes offer different basic abilities that might help the player survive longer. A Scout, for example, has the ability to hide even while surrounded by zombies. A Tamer has a three-legged dog that acts as additional storage and can be sent back to town when needed. The pricing is pretty typical, around $13 for 31 days, but that's a month of in-game time. That means if I am not actively participating in a town because my character was recently killed and I haven't yet chosen a new town to play in, my subscription time does not tick down. If I play in a town and survive for six days, I lose six days of sub time. With the subscription comes hero abilities that slowly unlock as I continue to play. The abilities range from useful (messaging everyone in town privately) to very useful (donating hero days to other players). When a player unlocks the Mayor perk, he or she can host a private town for invited players to play in! There are other perks involved with a sub, as well.

Total cost per month: It varies based on play time, but it's roughly a few dollars to $13 per month.

RuneScape screenshot
RuneScape's member benefits are so obvious that I just had to subscribe. Normally I am not a fan of games that block free players from almost everything. My favorite payment model is a free game with a cash shop tacked on top. This model was made popular by many of those crazy Eastern imports I mentioned earlier and still remains my favorite model. But RuneScape's model is so cheap that it's easier just to spend the $5 to $7 dollars a month to not only gain access to everything the game offers but also build up loyalty points. I can spend these loyalty points on costumes, special auras, and emotes, and I accrue more points every month. There are plenty of other sub advantages as well, such as ad-removal, fullscreen mode, the ability build a house, members-only content, and a larger game world.

I like to buy RuneScape cards about every three months to top off my subscription. These cards can sometimes come with a special item, but generally the best advantage is that Jagex will run a special that offers extra experience or other bonuses when using these cards. Despite offering almost precisely my least favorite type of subscription, RuneScape is just so good and so cheap that there's no question about it in my mind. I will also occasionally spend money on points to use for in-game customization.

Total per month: It varies on my virtual purchases, but generally I would estimate it at $5 to $10.

Glitch screenshot
Ah, poor Glitch. I will fully agree with a reader who recently said that Glitch suffered from a confusing series of events that left players wondering whether the game was open or not, possibly hurting subscription and cash-shop sales. I was confused myself, and I did play the game quite a bit. Not only is it one of my most favorite games ever in the whole entire world -- ever and forever -- but the subscription cost was low enough to justify an ongoing sub. It also helped convince me to donate when I saw just how much freedom a free player has. There are no limits on customer service or chat, and there are plenty of options for customization and building without spending a dime. I subbed to Glitch mainly to support the game, but the extra cash-shop points I got every month weren't too shabby a side-effect. Generally I let my cash-shop dollars accumulate and waited for a good sale or unique item to buy. As I write this, I still have almost 3,000 credits that will likely sit there until the game closes.

I want to stress again that this sub falls mostly under the "I want to support this unique game" category. I didn't really need to sub, but I wanted any extra cash of mine to go to support unique or wonderful games. Obviously my contribution couldn't prevent the sunset of the title, but I will promise that it's very possible the game had enough money to maintain itself... just not enough to grow.

Total per month: $8.99 per month for a Copper subscription

Wakfu screenshot
I only recently subbed to Wakfu, mainly because I was playing it enough to make me feel as though I finally should. I've noticed that a lot of younger players tend to question whether anything should cost anything on the internet. I know dozens of readers, relatives, and friends under the age of 25 who grew up online and truly believe that if it can be digitally distributed for free, it should be free. In my opinion this will only lead to more regulation and much more security in the end. Big money is behind the internet now, and big money always wins.

But if I play a game and really enjoy it, I tend to think that the developers of the game deserve some money for their effort, at least. While I prefer to compensate developers by purchasing cool cash-shop items, subscribing is a perfectly fine way to do it as well. My Wakfu quarterly sub comes with some free goodies like a neat pet and some random items that are mostly fluff, but I also throw in the occasional few dollars for extra cash-shop spending. I recently bought a nice weapon and a pair of costumes for around $10.

I should note that free players are limited in Wakfu, just as in RuneScape. Wakfu is more extreme in its limitations, though, even going so far as to bar free players from forming a guild. While I can understand harsh criticism of this system, the better way to think about Wakfu is as a subscription-based title with a limited free option, instead of a hampered free title.

Total per month: Depending on cash-shop spending, I spend between $6 and $10.

My total spending per month: Roughly $22 to $40. On a good month, though, I blow extra on cash-shop goodies.

So what about you? How do you justify the subscriptions you maintain?

Each week, Free for All brings you ideas, news, and reviews from the world of free-to-play, indie, and import games -- a world that is often overlooked by gamers. Leave it to Beau Hindman to talk about the games you didn't know you wanted! Have an idea for a subject or a killer new game that no one has heard of? Send it to!
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