On the cost of MMOs

Tobold argues today that MMOs are too inexpensive on the grounds that the average US consumer spends $58 per month on hobbies.

I noted on following that link that what it actually says is:

The average monthly cost of Hobbies in the U.S. is $58.

The median monthly expense, which is sometimes a better indicator of typical spending behavior, of Hobbies in the U.S. is $23.

Median. What that means is that most hobbies are not actually as expensive as $58 per month (which is probably closer to what you might intuitively expect.)

The other issue I have with this argument is that many MMO players probably see their hobby as gaming/ computer gaming rather than just one specific MMO. So their monthly hobby spend is split between the MMO and whatever other new games they are buying, probably spread across multiple platforms (eg. mobile phone apps, console, PC, etc).

The other huge argument is that a virtual world environment becomes less pure as a simulation the more people can bring real world funds to bear. There’s a concept of ‘the magic circle’ in games/ simulation which affects how good the simulation is and how easily people can become immersed in the game world.

So really, to me, if MMO devs want more of the monthly hobby budget without weakening the games, they should be looking harder at bringing more aspects of the game offline. This means the spin-off cardgames, the conventions (hi blizzcon), the t-shirts, the community stuff, the branded phone apps, etc. Which is I think where people are going — virtual shops can only go so far, after all and only appeal to certain types of player.

And still, the average (median) hobbyist in the US spends $23 per month on their hobby, which is not a million miles away from the average subscription when all’s said and done. I think game devs get their pound of flesh.

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15 thoughts on “On the cost of MMOs

  1. If gaming is their primary use of the computer, then add in the cost of the computer and high speed internet. It could very easily exceed $58/month.

  2. How I feel about Tobold’s post is “well honestly, don’t ASK them to gouge us, there’s enough greedy execs in games already.”

    Whose side is he on?

    • I think he’s right to note that subs haven’t increased in years (at least WoW hasn’t and other games seem to follow their lead), and people would probably keep paying if they did. I don’t like the cash shop model much though.

  3. Well MMOs are cheap if you look at it from a “within Gaming as a hobby” angle. Gamers who live on Console and Single Player PC games , trust me you will be spending at TON more to play as much as you do in an MMO.

    i.e. if you played games 4 hours a day , 5 times a week. How many non-MMOs will you need a month? At least one a week i’d say. If you play an MMO you can easily spend that amount of time for 2 months…. That’s $30 + $50 [assuming you had to buy the box] vs. 4x$50 .

    • I think the answer is “it depends” because I’m sure that there are gamers who primarily play COD or SC2 and don’t need to buy 4 games a month.

      • Both COD and SC2 will have you paying $15 quite regularly for “map packs” and “expansions” . So i won’t be surprised if those that -only- play COD or SC2 are spending alot more on a single game than one might think.

    • I get a LOT of mileage out of Microprose classics, sandbox games and used to get a lot out of shooters (PvP) when I played them. $15 goes a long way if you spend it right. (Specifically, the X-Com collection on Steam. Even better if you get it on sale.)

    • “How many non-MMOs will you need a month? At least one a week i’d say.”

      Here’s someone who doesn’t play GTA or Civ or… ;^) And even when I pay to play WoW, I’m not playing 20 hours a week.

      (… or angband!)

      “What that means is that most hobbies are not actually as expensive as $58 per month..”

      Way off Spinks. The numbers tell you that most hobbies require large outlays instead of monthly bills. Your average spender is spending $120 on running shoes twice a year, or $80 on fancy needles for knitting, or $300 for a rifle, or $80 for bread bans, spoon, and wooden mixing bowl… Then they pay a few bucks in between to sustain the practice for road races, thread, ammo & range fees, wheat & yeast, whatever.

      Most months, the hobbies cost much less ($23), but for the year, factoring in big expenditures, it’s still $58/mth. Each month it’s $23, they’ve got $35 saved up to splurge later.

      “At the extremes, the 10th percentile (low spenders) spent $5 on Hobbies in the U.S. and the 90th percentile (high spenders) spent $130 on Hobbies in the U.S.”

      Remember how much more disposable income gamers have. If people with 1.) A relatively fast box 2.) broadband and 3.) enough cash to consider a monthly subscription aren’t on the high side of the average, I’d be surprised. Their average is well above the median any way you slice it.

      • Okay, I think I did some strange reinterpretation of mode with the weekly bit, which should teach me to post when I’m shot, but the rest stands. If the median is $23 and the average is $58, sheesh, some folk are doing crazy spending. Some of those people are in the privileged category we call MMORPG addicts. Some play golf or, worse, polo! ;^)

        For each month someone else spends $23, we’ve got $35 worth of spending to make up for.

      • Interesting analysis. I’d just add that I’m not sure if these figures are for total hobby spend (ie. if people have several hobbies, do they spend this much on each or does the total get split between them). So while I agree that computer gamers mostly do fall in the young male bracket which has more disposable income, I suspect most also have multiple hobbies.

        But yeah, certainly people at the top end have extremely expensive hobbies.

      • “And still, the average (median) hobbyist in the US spends $23 per month[, close to] the average subscription… I think game devs get their pound of flesh.”

        That’s the only part of your conclusion the analysis influences a good bit… It’s not like Blizzard is looking at a market of people with only $23 a month to spend. What it means is that those in Blizzard’s market have (metaphorically speaking) $58+$35 a month to spend on hobbies, as in MMORPG players are making up for one or more of those whose hobbies are in the $23 range. Now a $15 subscription ain’t much at all. Lots of room for growth, and lots more pounds of flesh to marketize.

        See the Plants vs. Zombies experiment, trying to see how popular an in-game game might be? And how long before battleground realms are pay to play? Marketize the edges to pull more from those who can pay and are paying to play LOTRO, etc. at the same time as WoW.

        I wonder how long before WoW, at least, goes to a subscription *plus* Team Fortress 2 virtual shop model, where your purchases may not intentionally increase your success in game, but they do directly affect gameplay.

        But for now, excuse me, I’m going to the polo pitch. Ur, I mean running in my 6 month old shoes. About time to buy another pair, I think.

  4. It goes to show that many MMORPG fans are basically begging some game company to take their money (and lots of it), if only they provide the type of gameplay that they want. Which is the trick — since that passionate niche are in the minority and therefore not as financially appealing as the mass market.

  5. I don’t read Tobold because I don’t find him to be a beacon of light, as with this post, sometimes he just really misses the mark and I sit and wonder if he was being ironic all the time.

    You mention Huizingas Magic Circle, but I also came to think of the Just World Fallacy, an ideal I see us chasing in game worlds, where money would ruin the fact that sub MMO’s right now only refer to themselves, they are closed systems, not a display of actual buying power.

    And what Stabs said!

  6. The spin-off product I think would have most mileage would be books – they offer a dedicated fan of the game world a way of being in it and getting a deeper understanding of lore when they can’t actually be playing. And with e-book readers becoming more prevalent, the fight for shelf space is less of a problem – the company could sell the e-books directly from their website.

    So while there already are some Warcraft novels and I think one or two EVE books floating around, the time seems right for a lot more novels set in game worlds.

  7. Pingback: Why CoD Elite is great for gamers « Welcome to Spinksville!

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