Final Fantasy XIV head defends MMO subscription models

Posted on March 29, 2014 - 10:00am by Patrick Breeden

Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn producer Naoki Yoshida defended the subscription model for MMOs in an interview with USGamer.

Yoshida explained that free to play meant having to come up with a profitable microtransaction model to keep the game going, which ultimately leads to the question of, “Who are we making happy?”

“With free-to-play, we need to think about where to earn income, because as game developers, we want to provide the best gameplay experience, but we need to have that revenue from item microtransactions,” Yoshida said.  “We have to not only think about game content, but we also have to think about what kind of items to provide in order to continuously gain that revenue. It brings up a question of who we're making happy in the end.”

The producer also outlined a specific concern in the free to play, microtransaction fueled MMORPG landscape: diminishing returns on microtransactions. Players usually have to pay to increase inventory space or to get specific items. But what revenue streams are available once the player makes the more necessary purchases?

“Producers, especially those who love MMOs, are maybe a little too nice,” Yoshida said. “Business-wise, when you think about microtransactions, where you have that instant source of revenue... Some companies might decide to set their ARPPU really high so they can gain that instant revenue and make a quick buck. But MMOs take years to build on and maintain. When you think about it, maybe you made a lot of money this month, but what are you going to do next month? By going the subscription-based route, it provides stability. The players will have to pay a specific amount on a constant basis, but that'll allow for maintenance, so we can have top-notch developers stay on staff. In the end, it turns out to be better for the fans. We can continually update and make the game better.”

Bethesda Softworks went the subscription direction for similar reasons. Bethesda’s Nick Konkle explained the company didn’t want players to be held back by pay gates in The Elder Scrolls Online and instead opted to open everything for consumption by forgoing free to play and sticking with subscriptions. Some free to play MMORPGs like Star Wars: The Old Republic render certain loot unusable with a free account while others put additional features and gameplay modes behind pay gates.

Massively’s Larry Everett concluded an experiment last fall to see how difficult Star Wars: The Old Republic was to finish on a free to play account, and the results didn’t yield a happy ending.

Yoshida said he believes some MMORPG publishers focus too heavily on the first few months of the game’s existence to determine what subscription model the game truly needs.

“A lot of games look at the first two months of subscription numbers, think that's not going to be a feasible business, and switch over to free-to-play,” Yoshida said. “I don't think it's necessarily because free-to-play is a better form, though. It's more about people making a rash decision to switch over and chase a quick buck. With the subscription model, you have that constant flow of revenue. As game developers, creators of games, we want to be able to continue providing the best gameplay experience and sustain that. Of course, the initial subscriber numbers might not be as many as the free-to-play model, but we have that constant stream. We're not thinking just about the business of the moment. We want to think about the long term and being able to have the funding to continue making updates”

Despite strong feelings for the subscription model, Yoshida said he believes both models have a place in the industry.

“I think it's okay for both models to coexist. It all depends on the demands of players,” Yoshida said. “I'll need to continue to pay attention to what the players want and consider what the most optimal format will be.”

Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn has 1.8 million subscribers and over 500,000 daily active users. According to a recent financial report, Square Enix saw financial gains and stability, much of which is credited to A Realm Reborn.

World of Warcraft, arguably the most successful MMORPG in history and Blizzard Entertainment's proverbial cash cow, closed 2013 with 7.8 million subscribers. The 200,000 subscriber gain broke a steady fall of subscribers the game was suffering and indicates subscriber numbers are on the rise.

The free to play model is not all gloomy. Games like Guild Wars 2 and DC Universe Online enjoy free to play success, both of which boast high player counts and praise from both consumers and critics alike.

MMORPG players: Which model do you prefer and why?

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