Game Development Reference
In-Depth Information
money and you took your chances. This model continues to hold strong in tra-
ditional retail game markets today.
When MMOs appeared in something approaching their modern form,
they needed to offset server and maintenance costs, so they started charging
subscription fees. Early games such as Island of Kesmai for CompuServe
charged as much as $12 per hour to play. Neverwinter Nights for America
Online reduced this price to $6 an hour, an amount still prohibitively expen-
sive by today's standards. Joe Ybarra's Shadow of Yserbius followed, along
with Kesmai's Air Warrior and a handful of other titles with similar hourly
or monthly service fees. Bandwidth and server time were relatively expensive
then compared to what they cost now, and the number of total users was fairly
small, so companies were forced to charge higher prices because they lacked a
significant volume of customers.
As home PCs grew more powerful, and more people became connected to
the Internet, new games appeared that took advantage of better graphics and
online connectivity, and refined the pay-for-play business model. The first of
the modern wave of MMOs were games like Meridian 59 and Ultima Online .
These games cemented the practice of charging a monthly fee for unlimited
play time, a pricing model that provided a more regular income stream and
greater predictability for game operators. These—and other games like them—
attracted hundreds of thousands of new users to the space. Asheron's Call ,
EverQuest , Dark Age of Camelot , and eventually Blizzard's World of Warcraft
followed. They expanded the user base by an order of magnitude and cemented
the basic MMO pricing model, which involved a boxed purchase through retail,
followed by a monthly subscription fee for unlimited access. This model domi-
nated most paid online gaming in North America and Europe until almost 2009.
Users were enchanted by the interactivity with other players and by the abil-
ity to explore large virtual worlds and to assume roles as craftsmen and mer-
chants, as well as the more traditional fighters and wizards. Stories of online
relationships and marriages flourished. Sony Online Entertainment, Electronic
Arts, and other publishers became hooked on the high yield of games that
could monetize users every month and rushed to build more of them. Attracted
by the promise of riches and the exciting design challenges associated with
creating pervasive worlds for millions of users, development studios flocked
into the space, creating something of a gold rush. Unfortunately for every suc-
cess like World of Warcraft or EVE Online , there were a spate of failures, from
Anarchy Online to NCSoft's doomed Tabula Rasa . Development costs continued
to rise, and the quality bar set by the successes made it very difficult to pull
users away from whichever of these games they were already playing. These
products made fortunes—and some continue to do so—but the space also
generated a number of spectacularly expensive failures, which made investors
and developers gun-shy. This is a great type of game for us to understand,
because first of all, these games usually feature very advanced social features
but are not typically social networks unto themselves. Second, many of these
games were early leaders in user-behavior metrics gathering and analysis, and
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