That one month into GW2 "Sub Question"

While many bloggers are posting their one-month reviews and conclusions on GW2, there’s one particularly hot question being asked all over various forums, news and community websites: “If you bought GW2, would you have still done it if there had been a subscription?”

In the light of GW2’s successful start and over 2mio copies sold already, there is no bigger elephant in the room – of course everyone is wondering how well ANet would’ve done this exact moment in time, had GW2 come with a subscription! It’s an intriguing topic (at a first glance, anyway) and no doubt this MMO’s launch date was smartly set sometime ahead of its other, direct competitors expansions. Unlike with sub games many players will surrender to curiosity and consider “just a box price” tolerable while maybe waiting on other titles (or already paying subs for them).

So, how are GW2 players and visitors feeling about the sub question, one month into launch? I asked the same thing last night on twitter, on a very spontaneous note. Here’s the range of reactions I got:

    • “Maybe” (Rowan)
    • “Yup. I bought two sets of gems already.” (Pitrelli)
    • “Only while it held my interest” (MantleCraft)
    • “Yes. I enjoy the game. I have passed on other games that have a sub because I didn’t enjoy them enough to justify the cost.” (Jazz)
    • “I would have, though i would prob cancel my other subs to justify” (Psynster)
    • “Definitely. The game has been fun enough that I would pay a subscription to it without thinking twice.” (Rakuno)
    • “Yes, I would have bought the game & then paid a sub based on how much I like it” (Heather)
    • “No. I would not.” (Eivind Johansen)

Now, I don’t know how representative the quantitative outcome of the answers I received really is, as it’s mostly familiar bloggers who sent me a reply (I did ask in general GW2 channels though). Retrospective inquiries like that are also generally difficult to interpret because once you are enjoying the game a lot, hypothetical choice may be affected by your current, positive experiences. The same bias exists for negative experiences though – and to draw conclusions on success and potential sub failure, it’s the nay-sayers one must focus on. Of course, I followed up that “No. I would not” -reply with a second question: “Are you currently paying for any sub MMO?” The answer was “nope”.

Well, shoot. I did hope for a different answer, maybe related to how bad this person’s gameplay experiences were with GW2, potentially compared to other MMOs! While you could probably argue that GW2 didn’t fully convince this customer to pay a hypothetical sub, there are players who will simply never pay subs and only ever try B2P/F2P games. That’s that and convincing them otherwise isn’t a realistic undertaking.

Still, it’s the “noes” that make this question interesting. The above example shows how difficult or virtually impossible interpreting negative reactions to any MMO truly are without much further investigation. In fact, a person leaving a negative reply may represent any of the following rough, five groups:

    1. The Economist: currently paying for another MMO and never intending to pay for two. Will consider playing both though.
    2. The Bored & Curious: waiting on MoP / anything else, only bought GW2 because it was B2P and launched earlier. Will drop GW2 until the favored MMO becomes boring.
    3. The Penny-Pincher: never pays subs period, or doesn’t play often enough to justify them for himself.
    4. The Lucky: didn’t actually pay for GW2 but got it as a gift.
    5. The Disappointed: genuinely disappointed/frustrated by GW2 due to “insert reasons here”.

    Of all these potential nay-sayers, the only one that comes with genuine motivation and therefore also a more meaningful reaction and potentially productive feedback, is the last category. Somebody who was open to pay anything at the beginning but got utterly turned off by some aspect of the game while playing. All the other groups would distort any kind of simple poll ran on the sub question. The outcome would be hard to read for anyone looking for more concrete criticism and potential game improvements. Which must not mean that useful criticism is absent in the other groups – but if you’re presented with an audience that never meant to pay a sub in the first place, you might wanna prioritize feedback of those that would have done so readily.

    Once you get feedback from the disappointed players, things naturally don’t get easier. As a developer you can now try and sort all various issues into those you can change, those you cannot reasonably change and those you do not want to change. What all of this tells me is that dealing with customer feedback is an enormous challenge and that the big “GW2 sub question” really is senseless and dissatisfactory in the light of our vastly different contexts and backgrounds. ANet have launched GW2 in 2012 and must therefore deal with an MMO audience of 2012, including all baggage this brings. Right now all things considered, they’re dealing rather (!) successfully.

    My answer is YES – but not without concerns

    There is no question I would pay for a GW2 sub. This I base on my personal positive experiences with the game, the individual and subjective fun and enjoyment I’m finding in this fresh MMO – just like everybody else does. I’m generally not focused on payment models; whether I pay a sub or not is irrelevant when an MMO manages to inspire me. So, when I refer to “getting my money’s worth” there is a more figurative meaning for me than may be for players that truly (have to) look at costs and put a value on every feature on their pros&cons list. I would certainly question paying for two subs at the same time though, for time management reasons.

    I would pay a GW2 sub too because there’s long-term appeal in Tyria. Having only just hit level 60 with my Elementalist, there is so much more content ahead I haven’t even touched yet and more world and story depth surfacing by the day, as I am progressing through higher levels. All MMO worlds take their time in introducing you to aspects like lore; to me GW2 has only started to bloom in this regard. When I fought in the Battle of Claw Island today, I felt real excitement and sadness over the course of the story. I don’t remember the last time an MMO questchain has inspired that reaction in me, actually I only recall Skyrim more recently.

    That said, my one-month GW2 recap comes not without concerns. While ANet did deliver on my biggest selling points, there are several more pressing and serious concerns I’m sharing with other GW2 players out there:

    • Bad/random dungeon/chest loot and the token grind; there is a particularly scary calculation on exotic sets currently found over at Hunter’s Insight. If ANet don’t look into this matter fairly soon, they can certainly never again claim that GW2 presents no grind of any sort!
    • Izari from Talk Tyria is majorly disappointed by ANet’s shift of stance concerning endgame gear and prestige armor, away from GW’s old philosophy that gear differences should be cosmetic rather than in stats. I was saddened to read this as I’ve greatly looked forward to GW2 taking some of the stats obsession away that I’ve come to loathe in WoW, due to all its technical and social backlash.
    • Now that I’m playing in more high-level zones, I detect a slight two-fold change about leveling up and questing: there are a lot more bugged events – and – as the Brave Elementalist points out leveling speed in low pop areas decreases significantly. That isn’t necessarily a horrible thing given the overall fast leveling experience in GW2, but bugged events need fixing and some of the less well-paced areas need looking into, especially in regard to heart quests (in absence of people to do events with).
    • Like so many others, I agree the WvW queues need fixing a.s.a.p. on individual and group level. While I fondly think back to a time where Alterac Valley queues took half a day, it should come as no surprise to ANet that this prized feature is a big focus, with many players queuing up already at lower levels. While I’m personally not affected too much by the queues yet, this should be one of their top priorities.

    I’m keeping my fingers crossed that all of these graver issues will be reviewed and addressed swiftly – for everyone out there currently waiting on WvW and also on behalf of GW2’s dungeon appeal and the very significant long-term motivator that is gear/collection in MMOs!

    P.S. I’d still like FP view and market place preview!

    22 comments

    1. My flippant-appearing “maybe” is based on the fact that I am subscribed already to TSW, a better game on several fronts, in my opinion. On the other hand, my love and gaming partner, Sctrz, prefers the cheerier atmosphere of GW2, so we’d conceivably sub to both.

      1. Hehe, I didn’t think it was flippant at all, but I was certainly wondering what you meant exactly – and hoping you’d elaborate at some point. :)

    2. I would certainly have subscribed. I am currently subbed to all SOE games under the Access pass, even though I’m not actively playing any of them and I could play them under the F2P model in any case. I just like having the subscription. I was happy to sub to TSW in addition to that for the short time I played and I will re-sub to Rift when the expansion launches and I have time to play it.

      Obviously if a company doesn’t want to take my money and would rather entertain me at their own expense, which ArenaNet apparently want to do “because that’s what good MMO companies do” then I’m willing to indulge their insanity. The cost of a subscription would never in itself put me off playing any MMO I wanted to play but not having enough time to do justice to the game itself would.

      I work in a bookshop. Every hour of every day people hand me more than the cost of a month’s MMO sub for paperback books that they will take at most a few days to read. I had lunch out last Saturday – it lasted 90 minutes and I could have subbed to two, maybe three MMOs for a month for what it cost. Etc etc.

      Not wanting to pay a subscription is a good excuse to avoid playing an MMO you didn’t really want to play in the first place but I can’t imagine how anyone who can afford to own and maintain a computer powerful enough to run the MMO in the first place could possibly find the cost of the actual subscription prohibitive. I’d guess that the real reason for not subscribing is rarely a genuine financial one.

      1. I don’t think it’s a question of affordability so much as value. I can afford to pay $15 a month for a game, but is any one game *really* worth it? $180 a year? It’s affordable, but significantly higher priced that basically every other game genre. So you have to consider opportunity cost. That’s three big-budget AAA games a year, which is nothing to sneeze at.

      2. Or it’s 30p a day (in English money). My bus fare into work is eight times that. A cup of coffee at Costa Coffee costs almost £2.00 and apparently the average U.K. coffee-drinker spends over £450 a year on coffee (that’s getting on for $750).

        What would be really interesting would be if MMO companies offered daily or even hourly access on something close to a like-for-like basis. At 50p for 24 hours I’d jump in for a session in all kinds of MMOs – there are plenty that I’d like to play just once or twice or a month and I’d happily pay 50p a time to do so.

      3. @Bhagpuss
        I agree fully; I’ve written on subs vs. F2P models a while ago, calling BS on those calling out subs or cash shops for being somehow less affordable or ‘less social’ (this was usually claimed against cash shop games). we’re all wealthy enough to spend time at PCs and buy videogames – the only question is therefore what we are willing to pay for and indeed what we deem good value.
        personally, caring a lot for good games, I would pay a much higher sub than 12$ even for an MMO that is simply amazing (to me).

    3. Even though i love the game,and is having lots of fun at the moment, i’m pretty sure i wouldn’t have bought it if it had had a subscription, due to a combination of #3, and simply having too many other things to play as well.

      Opposite of Bhagpuss i just can’t justify spending 15$ a month on a single game, when for the same price i can buy 3-4 Indie bundles with at least a couple interesting games in each. Heck, with all the bundles i’ve bought by now, i’ve got games enough for the rest of the year :P

      1. I completely agree that if I was a gamer and played a whole range of games MMOs would be poor value compared to paying once and having a game forever, and not even needing an internet connection to play it, but many failed attempts to play other types of games over the last decade have finally convinced me that MMOs are now the only type of video games I really enjoy.

        I think that might be different if I was single or had a partner who didn’t play MMOs.

      2. @Jondare
        I’m not sure I can compare an MMO to other games or good value indie bundles on Steam personally – I just don’t get the same type of entertainment or enjoyment out of these genres. I love indie games, but they’re always short lived for me.
        That said, I fully understand that if you feel you’re more than “busy enough” with other games, you wouldn’t also wanna pay for a sub MMO. it’s really about individual priorities.

    4. I don’t think the question of whether or not you’d subscribe to GW2 is entirely fair. GW2 is a game that has been designed from the ground up to be a B2P MMO without a subscription. That means that they haven’t had to include design hooks that all subscription MMO developers intentionally include in order to keep people playing (and paying) continuously over many months. If it had been designed as a subscription MMO I bet answers might change.

      More to the point, considering that subscription revenue has never been a part of ANet’s business model, what exactly is the point of the question? Yes or no, the answer is meaningless and has no bearing on GW2’s long-term success. It would be more telling to consider how many people have bought gems, or if they plan to purchase expansions.

      1. Well, whether the question is ‘useful’ (to you) or not, it’s currently out there and being asked. gamers and gaming sites are big when it comes to hypothetical comparisons and analysis. ;)

        As I wrote myself in the article, I too find direct comparisons difficult and not particularly fruitful in terms of interpreting negative answers; there are too many differences and every MMO deals with a different reality in terms of time, competition, playerbase etc. as you added too, not every MMO is designed to work with a sub, either. this makes it hard to interpret results.

        however, I think you CAN still ask whether, based on the current status quo of GW2, players would be willing to pay an additional sub. I bet many are, more than just replied to me. just because GW2 has the cash shop model doesn’t mean it cannot be good enough(?) for players to still feel it would be worth a sub to them. that’s really all there is to that hypothetical question. it’s not referring to what success GW2 may or may not have in the future.

    5. I am another that would pay for a subscription for this game, and sure, it certainly didn’t hinder their sales by not having a subscription. It was a good idea on ANet’s part to release the game the way they did. But like you said, one month in I am enjoying the game and will do so on a long term basis, but of course that doesn’t mean the game is perfect.

      1. I have yet to play a perfect MMO. ;) in many ways it’s also some (not all) of the imperfections each game has that makes them stand apart from one another.

      2. Very true, there is no perfect MMO. I played FFXIV when it first released, that was certainly a game with imperfections, but it just made me stand completely far away from it, hehe. PS. Forgot to say thank you for mentioning me. :)

    6. What guild wars 2 has done is change my perception completely, I used to sub to 2 or 3 games at a time but seeing the quality of guild wars 2 and the amount of content available as a b2p game I’ll be honest its doubtful I’ll pay a sub again.

      The thing I do like about the gems is I do have the option of supporting arenanet with purchases and that’s exactly what I’ll be doing…. until I have all my bag, bank space and dyes that is.

      1. ….and then they’ll add mounts and many other goodies you will want. ;)

        I like the more direct support via cash shop myself; not just direct in terms of active, but direct in the sense that I can choose what and when I buy. in a way it gives you an extra tool to influence what they design and keep adding in the future.

    7. I guess I should elaborate a bit on my answer too.

      I do have a preference for free to play games but I don’t mind paying a subscription fee if I find the game fun. The fun factor is what makes it a complicated matter for me.

      The complication comes from perhaps the more direct competitors to MMORPGs: single player games. To me, singe player games have a very more tight, focused and diverse game play. While I feel that MMORPGs have stagnated a lot in the last few years. What little new attempts at the formula are rather small and too isolated from the rest of the game to make a larger impact in the genre. That kind of feeling has left me very jaded, very disgruntled with MMORPGs as a whole to the point I was stopping looking forward to new releases. Heck, even Guild Wars 2 was a game I was completely ignoring for a long time as I didn’t believe it would be all that different. I am happy to be wrong on that one though. :)

      In any case, the end result of that is when I think I might be paying $60 once and have some very good times with a single player game or $60 + 15 for a very long period of time with a MMORPG that might be filled with tedious chore or game mechanics where I feel I could easily switch the terms from another game and nobody would notice the difference, then yes, I start to feel like I am not getting as much for my money.

      I will also admit that single player games from the big studios are also becoming very stagnated to the point I am becoming just as jaded and disgruntled about it as with MMORPGs. Still there is enough variance about it to make me happy. And some times there are games that appear that give me some hope, like the new XCOM or Dishonored. :)

      Well, those are my two coppers about the matter. I hope it makes sense and didn’t go too off-topic.

      1. Off-topic is what comments are there for ;)
        mmm..I’ve been jaded with genres like that but somehow I always find myself back with RPGs and MMOs. no other genre gives me the same value.

    8. Quote: “Now, I don’t know how representative the quantitative outcome of the answers I received really is, as it’s mostly familiar bloggers who sent me a reply (I did ask in general GW2 channels though). Retrospective inquiries like that are also generally difficult to interpret because once you are enjoying the game a lot, hypothetical choice may be affected by your current, positive experiences. The same bias exists for negative experiences though – and to draw conclusions on success and potential sub failure, it’s the nay-sayers one must focus on. Of course, I followed up that “No. I would not” -reply with a second question: “Are you currently paying for any sub MMO?” The answer was “nope”.

      Well, shoot. I did hope for a different answer, maybe related to how bad this person’s gameplay experiences were with GW2, potentially compared to other MMOs! While you could probably argue that GW2 didn’t fully convince this customer to pay a hypothetical sub, there are players who will simply never pay subs and only ever try B2P/F2P games. That’s that and convincing them otherwise isn’t a realistic undertaking.”

      Really glad someone pointed this out! I’ve been reading that question a lot lately and it just isn’t the right question to ask. GW2 is not just a new title, it is the successor to GW1. It is without a doubt a totally different game, but many of it’s design philosophies are still present and a great part of the old community did change over to the new one. Now remember, GW1 had no sub fee. A lot of people playing GW1 initially bought that game for that exact reason and then fell in love with the world. I am one of them. I have a huge aversion against subscription based games, not only due to the cost (and justifying that cost in today’s environment, where server costs are not an issue), but also due to design decisions trying to artificially slow the player down or extend the content past it’s limits. I consider myself a person that says “NO!” to sub fees. My answer if I would pay a sub fee for GW2 is maybe and that is quite an achievement rather than a statement of doubt to it’s quality. Many people try to interpret that answer in the other direction though.

      Kudos, you got it right :D

      1. Thanks. GW2 is showing rather quickly how much is up to personal player expectations. Nobody, not even more fervent critics, dismiss the game as bad – but the diametrically opposed opinions on some of GW2’s features (“the pace is great!” – “the pace is horrible!”) and the overall gameplay experience show how much it depends what target audience you belong to. there’s nothing wrong with that really, there are different MMOs for different players.

        it’s only wrong to blame all of one’s own disappointment on others. I have not been part of WoW’s TA for a long time now and all it means is that I left the game, while others still enjoy it. that’s that.

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