Friday, January 23, 2009

Free vs Paid Expansions

Is there anything more exciting than new MMO content? Maybe, but for this blog post, no. Most often this new content comes to us via expansions. Sometimes they are free, sometimes they need to be paid for. Each MMO has its own idea of how this should be done. For this post, content additions and expansions are roughly equal.

On the free side you have games like Eve, Star Wars Galaxies and City of Heroes/Villains. They tend to release new content, at decent intervals, for just the cost of the subscription. SWG recently released the Battle for Hoth and an Appearance Tab system. CoX put out Issue 13, which had many improvements.

If you added up all of the free content those games release for a year, would it add up to a paid expansion? I think in many cases it would, but then you would have to add in the fact that you had to wait. Free expansions allow for more additions, quicker which means a more dynamic game.

On the pay side, you have games like WoW and Everquest. These games do put out free content upgrades too, but usually they are few and far between (I am looking at you WoW). When they do put out a paid expansion, it is usually packed full of content and worth the wait. The downside is that paid expansions can be slow to hit the marketplace.

Finally there is the hybrid, like Lord of the Rings Online. They put out free content updates (Book 13 ) pretty regularly and a rather large paid expansion (Mines of Moria).

As far as WAR goes, we will have to wait and see what approach they take. I think it will be a hybrid, but I can't recall where I heard that. They have released 2 new careers so far and have plans to release another two soon. These were cut from launch, but are free content none the less. I can't wait to hear their ideas for a paid expansion.

What kind of expansion do you prefer?

I would have to go for LoRTO. It seems that they are giving their customers the best of both worlds in terms of content. I really do like the free updates, however, I suspect a paid expansion can be very healthy for a game. Maybe it is just psychological, but the expectations are higher when shelling out extra money, regardless of the amount of free content they have been releasing.


I prefer the model City of Heroes and Lineage II have, where they have only free updates. The fact that someone still has the same content if they don't buy a newer expansion pack doesn't mean they have the same value; the expansion pack cheapens their experience effectively making it a forced upgrade if you want to maintain the same amount of value from the subscription fee. (For example, EverQuest wouldn't be as fun sitting around at the original level 50 cap when the rest of the playerbase has a higher level cap and newer continents you can't get to.)

Alternatively, I would also enjoy a model that charged ONLY for expansion packs without the subscription fee (like in Guild Wars).

It's mostly when we have both a subscription fee and pay expansions that I don't like it; it feels like double dipping. They may as well just go all out and toss in RMT and advertising on top of it.

I'm with you on this. I prefer a mixed bag. Regular, decent-sized updates are great and add to the current game, and help to throw more dimension into it, but I don't want to miss out on what paid expansions can do. With paid expansions there is an expectation of radical new content and vast amounts of more content.

Also, people forget that CoH had an expansion, CoV. Now it's all in one bundle, but that's due to restructuring and just the age of the game. L2 is the biggest fluke to me, I have never played any other game that has never released a paid-for expansion AND added level caps, new races, new regions etc... Of course, it's a Korean grind-fest to get through that beast, but that's a different topic.

I think i primarily come down to scale
the bigger the expansion the more can go wrong.
So the more time and money the developer has to throw at it the better
Similarly the bigger the changes the bigger the chance people don't like what they are doing.
So the more time spent appraising the community reaction to previews, more time beta testers spend on a product, the better.

SWG NGE is a example of when a company made a major change without properly considering the communities reaction.

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