When PSN+ was announced at E3 2010, no one was really shocked by any of the details given, early beta access, early beta invitations, possibly some cross-game chat, discounts, pretty expectable stuff. However, I was not disappointed at the lack of shock value in this announcement. My own personal disappointment lies in a business decision by SONY and Sony Online Entertainment with regards to MMO pricing. The PS3 is the perfect platform for MMOs, but if there are multiple MMOs and they’re charging for all of them, it kind of defeats the purpose of marketing to the same group. I proposed an idea a while back that I sincerely felt SONY could have thought of alone, but it appears that this iceberg is heading towards the PS3 and the MMO demographic is about to smash into it.
First of all, there is a big problem with charging fees for every MMO game on PS3 at once and expecting them all to be successful. Obviously third parties will do whatever they want. Regardless of offers for free2play servers from SONY many such as Square Enix have decided to run their own servers and they have that right. But because SOE has so many strong MMO titles themselves like DC Universe and The Agency, I see a huge missed opportunity with splitting the demographic up for these games by charging individual fees for each one. I believe there are a few major reasons why this is a bad idea and I also have a solution to propose. Hear me out; this concerns gamers of all types because live action MMOs are re-inventing the category of games that provides such a vast number of online players a way to play together.
Live action Massive Multi-player Online games change dramatically the aspect of MMO in which players mainly have been treated to turn-based play which heavily consists of clicking commands and watching animations. Games like The Agency and DC Universe bring the action you know and love from live-action video games like Batman: Arkham Asylum and Call of Duty and bring them into the massively multi-player world. The direct control of a player over its character will add hugely to the MMO experience, allowing for a high immersion factor, and the familiar game-play styles will attract more than just traditional MMO fans or online gaming enthusiasts.
Each of these games releasing with their own separate online bill is a mistake. The main major problem that I see with this type of pricing is this; the economy is having hard times. Gamers definitely should know this as we recently had one of our worst months in history as an industry. These games will be appealing to an all-time high amount of customers while at the same time having huge entry barriers that many people will not buy into on impulse. Pick up a game for around $60, subscribe to a monthly fee for around $15 a month, sure it will happen with these games. But SOE is releasing a multitude of titles in this format. How many times is a player going to pick up an already expensive game AND pay a monthly fee for it? Most likely gamers are going to be overlooking a lot of MMOs with monthly fees basically because they do not wish to or cannot afford more than one monthly fee at a time.
The next issue is competition. Once you realize that you do not want to pay more than one (or perhaps two at most) monthly fees at a time for MMO games, you realize that some decisions have to be made as to which are worth your time. With Final Fantasy XIV on the horizon as well as many free2play MMO games I think it is safe to say that SOE has their work cut out for them if they are to sell subscriptions to a multitude of live action MMO offerings.
So what can SONY do about this issue that will benefit the gamer and help them make profitable success stories out of all of their massive multi-player projects? Simple, include MMO access in PSN+. This should have been thought of from the beginning, but I have the feeling it has not been due to the lack of announcement for the feature at E3 2010. An increased fee for some higher form of PSN+ (say $100 a year) would be a great way to offer affordable access to ALL of SOE’s MMOs and this would dramatically decrease the entry barrier to playing all of these games. For gamers that plan on upgrading to PSN+ MMO fees will seem like more of a luxury than ever because now you have PSN+ fees to worry about. An all-in-one solution is needed otherwise I believe many people are going to pass on games like DC Universe and The Agency simply because of the pricing plan which they may consider reasonable overall but not for each particular game.
At the very least, a package pricing deal, with flexibility for the player, would be nice. Even if it isn’t included in the PSN+ price SONY could say, “Pick three of these MMOs and you pay XX amount of money for them per month” and make that price cheaper than paying for each individually. This would give a great incentive for users to pick up more of these unproven MMO titles as well as subscribe to PSN+ (if it were bundled with the service). It would be simpler to just give universal SOE access once they find out how much they need for that, but I also support giving people a choice as long as they benefit from going with one of the more advanced packages.
All of these financial questions and comparisons spell headaches for the consumer, and an all-in-one PSN+ service that took care of this would be easy to forget about, easy to pay for, and ease a lot of people’s minds who would ideally love to buy many MMO games on the PlayStation 3 not just one or two.