You Are What You Sell

It seems these days that you can learn a lot about a game by examining what exactly it is in the business of selling.  MMO Studios are by their own admission still working out the kinks of non-subscription models.  One of these questions is what exactly the developer should be adding when they're making money off of what sells, where the more traditional subscription model would have been more concerned with what has an overall effect on the game experience.
  • As I mentioned yesterday, STO expanded its duty officer system in a way that expands the need for new types of officers that weren't previously in the game.  This sells more duty officer slot unlocks, possibly more inventory unlocks, and potentially the random duty officer packs in the cash shop.
  • After not having any new high level content in the November paid expansion box, the EQ2 team is rolling out a new zone with an increase in level cap in April's content patch.  A higher cap presumably means a complete gear reset, which means more gear unlock tokens for the non-subscriber. 
  • Part of DDO's expansion pre-order rollout is a new tome that persists through true resurrection and offers a hefty experience boost - a tome that's also available in the DDO store for a whopping 1595 Turbine Points.  (Regular tomes that boost stats have also been changed to persist through true reincarnation.)  The presale packs also include existing content.  It appears that Turbine sees the sale of content - and additional trips through that content on new characters (including the new class) - as one of the big draws of their game.  (In fairness, the wide-open class system does make this a selling point.)
  • When I look at something like Aion's free to play rollout with funny acronyms and nebulous details, I'm puzzled about what exactly it is they are selling (and why anyone would buy it). 
At the risk of picking on SOE (who seem to have an unfortunate habit of running into major issues that can't reasonably be blamed on the actual developers, such as their parent corporation selling the rights to the European service to a random German company or last year's hacking debacle), the catch is more with what does not get done.  Yes, EQ2's new patch has a fair amount of stuff in it, but the game is also now down to three scheduled updates this year - barely above Blizzard's notorious slow pace, but Blizzard's base releases have way more content to start with. 

The issue is that it is very hard to show any short term return on the marginal investment of putting more effort towards content patches.  By contrast, it's very easy to show increased revenue from adding some new microtransaction or whatnot.  You can eventually do enough damage to your brand name to affect player retention - Eve did this in a very short span last year, while I'd suggest the state of EQ2 has been more of a slow drain that is much harder to note on a budget spreadsheet. 

By contrast, we do still have the last subscription titles standing - WoW, Rift and SWTOR primarily - that are sticking to the model of selling game time and nothing else that affects gameplay.  Item shop purchases remain largely optional, while game boxes only go down in price over time - the fee is the one constant in this world, for better or worse. None of which is to say that this model is more democratic - it's hard to show a specific reason for a marginal drop in subscriber numbers in the same way that it's hard to "vote against" a cash store purchase that people other than yourself are buying. 

What exactly is your game of choice selling?  Is it something that you are happy purchasing, or, if not, do you feel that the game may be going in a direction you don't like because you are not the source of its income?