Pay-by-Hour is the wave of the… future?

I like to start my week off with a solid butchering of the English language. What can I say? Now, on to our main topic for today: pay-by-hour games.

We don’t see these a lot in the Western MMO market. It’s actually a little strange given that it was a big business model for early MMOs and MUDs. It’s also the primary business model for MMOs in China and Korea, so a sizeable portion of the audience is already indoctrinated into the “pay as you play” business standard.

So, color me excited by the announcement that a variation of it is being offered to All Points Bulletin players – even if it is an MMO Wanna-be. As I understand it, players will be able to buy game play hours in bundles beginning at $7 for 20 hours, on top of an included 50 when you buy the client (that’s about 2 ½ months of game time for me). There are also unlimited playtime options available for players that prefer the subscription model.

Good job, Real Time Worlds.

We may be seeing the start of a trend here, in a move away from the traditional $15/mo subscription. Sony started it with their EQ2 Passport and RTW is following it up with the closest thing we’ve seen to the Eastern Model in years.

And me? I couldn’t be happier.

I’m a big fan of Pay as you Play gaming. As someone whose play time goes up and down, it directly benefits me by not forcing me to pay for time I’m not able to log-in. It may be a bit of a contradiction, but I’m also more likely to spend more with the hourly model than the standard subscription, especially if hours are sold at a bargain. Like any discount sale, if I see game hours as a “steal” then I’ll probably take the dive and buy more than I need.

Take this weekend, for example. I bought 12 liters of Pepsi One because it was on sale for $.10 less a bottle. In tough economic times, these little bits of savings help. Cut me a deal on my favorite hobby? Hell yeah, I’ll buy in bulk.

I have first hand experience with the system too, but I’m trying not to let it color my perceptions too much. When Aion was still in beta in the States, myself, and many others, jumped through a bunch of hoops to play in the Chinese live version. To get in, however, you had to buy hours from a third-party company. Now, nevermind the fact that they called me at 3AM to verify my purchase, I stocked up on 200 hours for a little under $20. I knew that I would probably never use them all but, hey, it gave me the option.

Which is another great reason for this system to come to the Western Market: it lets us play a lot of different games. I can guarantee you, if we had a pay-by-hour system, I’d still be in WoW, Aion, and WAR. I’d be willing to be most players would sample more than they do now.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: monthly fees marry you to a game; cut the tie and you’ll never feel freer.

The only reason I’m able to be an MMO nomad is that I make a point to cancel my subscriptions within seconds of paying for each month. I feel better about single small purchase than recurring bills. Maybe I’m weird. In fact, I probably am, but I don’t like putting my MMO onto my monthly budget, like any other utility bill. It feels wrong (though I still did it for 2+ years).

Anyhow, I’m going off on a tangent here, but the main point I’m trying to get at is this: the more options we have, the better off we are. That’s the formula developers apply to MMO gameplay, so why not the business model?

After all, if China’s doing it, it’s gotta be cool.

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