An example of paid subscriber-based online gaming is World of Warcraft. An example of ad-based gaming is any game that’s free where during gameplay you see ads. Certain Counter-Strike servers have them, Facebook obviously has them, and so on.
There are gaming companies who believe that a subscriber model is the only way to go because it stands the best chance of making the most money. The very large drawback however is that many won’t bother because there’s a fee attached (no matter how low), and they don’t feel comfortable providing any recurring-payment fiscal information just for a game.
For most games that are sub-model-only, it is required to purchase the game off the shelf so they whack you not once but twice. First with the purchase of the game – which is completely unusable without the sub – and second with the sub itself.
And that whole "X free hours!" thing for certain games absolutely reeks of what AOL used to do with dialup ISP access for those who remember. It is literally the exact same thing as the "AOHell" days, and ironically the almost the exact same price per month.
The ad-based model is distinctively different from the sub-based, starting with the fact that the games are all downloadable. When you want to play an ad-based game there is little to no wait time to get going. Get the game, install it, create an account and off you go.
Where problems start with ad-based games is that most developers have a very difficult time achieving that happy medium where ads don’t annoy the gamers. Usually it’s the case that the ads are IN YOUR FACE far too often, and/or are so huge that they literally interrupt gameplay in the worst possible way.
After that comes the type of ads. Text? Image? Animated image? Audio? Video? Ad-based games will usually try everything – and usually all at once. The end result is this barrage of crap thrown your way that’s pretty much guaranteed to make you never pay attention to them, frustrate you and ultimately cause you to uninstall the game and move on.
Which is better?
Neither. They both suck.
The best model used when it comes to profitable gaming is a hybrid model.
Two games I can think of that do this rather well are Second Life and Runescape.
Runescape‘s free-play shows banner ads above the play screen. A paid subscription removes the ads and adds in 100 extra quests, 9 more skills and a "world" 3x larger to run around and explore. If you like the game, then yes that is totally worth ponying up the cash for it.
The best part about that however is that it’s optional. You don’t have to pay to play Runescape and this greatly attributes it to being so wildly popular.
Second Life takes a much different approach, some which say is a rather wild one, but it works. The game is free to download, install and play. You can explore around as much as you wish. Where the cash comes in is from premium memberships – however you can open a "shop" and even have a "job" in this game where you actually earn real legitimate cash for your efforts.
It’s important to note however that like Runescape, Second Life does not require any cash up front to play it. You can play the game as much as you like, and the "world" is set up in such a way where it’s not overly restrictive.
Both these games allow the player to get to know the environment and decide for themselves whether purchasing a paid membership is actually worth it. From a business perspective, this is a fantastic thing to do because it allows time to earn the trust of the customer. Ultimately this is why the hybrid model is the best there is for gaming.
On a final note, I’m not saying Runescape or Second Life is any better or worse than World of Warcraft or Counter-Strike because you the player have the final say on what’s good or not.
When it comes to your money however, having the ability to try a game for as long as you like without paying a dime is always better than a forced subscription or being plastered with ads just to play.
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