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July 17, 2010

Paying for multiplayer - is it coming?

As many of you know, Activision president Bobby Kotick has reiterated his desire to charge the typical Call of Duty player for multiplayer capability.

But that's just him talking, right?  Just Bobby being Bobby?  Many of us have been over and over the controversy (and I linked above to my response to it).

However, it may not be just Bobby.

In the August issue of Official Xbox Magazine, they have an interview with video-game research analyst Michael Pachter, and he thinks paying for multiplayer is inevitable. (sorry, OXM's web site is *really* bad for linking to current content, so this one probably won't be on the web site until, oh, maybe 2012 or so).

Anyway, Pachter thinks that free multiplayer is going the way of the dodo.  Right now, everything's free.  But "Pachter says that's going to change, since game publishers are busy figuring out business models that will charge you for online multiplayer across both Live and Playstation Network."  He also says "Fall 2011, I think Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is a subscription game...It'll probably still have a single-player campaign and some free online multiplayer and co-op - enough to hook you."

Pachter claims that EA and Activision have basically told him that this is going to happen as soon as they can figure out the best way to do it.

One interesting potential business model he mentions:

"Activision probably can't charge directly unless it's on the PC.  I don't know how they can get around letting Microsoft collect for them.  My guess is, there'll be an incremental subscription. I think they're going to say, if you want Xbox Live plus Call of Duty, it's $100/year.  And I think when people sign up for it, it'll be 'click the button to charge your credit card.'"  Of course, Microsoft's going to get their cut, but they'll make money too.  "If they get to collect their 30 percent, what do they care if Activision makes $300 million a year?"

Given that it's not just Kotick saying this stuff now, I'd like to revisit your thoughts on this issue.

Personally, I can't see this happening for any game but the big 2 (Halo and Call of Duty), because those are the only games that are going to stay at the top of the play charts for an extended period of time.  Hell, even Bad Company 2, whose multiplayer is supposedly so awesome compared to Call of Duty (I like them both, so that's not a slight on either),  has fallen down on the play charts after being out a few months.  No other games are going to be worth doing a year's subscription for.  How many games are out there where we complain, a few months down the line, "there's nobody online playing!"  Do they really think that making people pay for it is going to keep people around?

Pichter's got an interesting response regarding those who will refuse to pay it, and what that will mean to the company's business model:

"The math is pretty compelling. If you believe 8 million people are playing Call of Duty on Xbox Live, that means probably another 4 million are playing on Playstation Network.  If 12 million people are playing, what if you captured only 2 million of them (in a subscription) at $15/month? That's $360 million incremental per year, so why wouldn't you start high?
"And what are the other 10 million players going to do?  They're going to be pissed, and then what? They're going to go buy another game.  They're not going to stop buying games.  They may boycott Activision for a week, but they're going to go buy Battlefield or Medal of Honor and try it online, until EA says, 'We're charging for that.' Then they'll go buy the new Bungie game and play it online, until Activision charges for that.  It's just the way it's going to go."

I know I will never pay extra for the multiplayer experience that I get now.  If they improve it, keep it a living and vibrant community, then I might consider it, though probably not.  Fifteen bucks a month is a lot of money.
Two questions for you, and one I'm sure I know the answer to:

1) Would you pay for *any* multiplayer experience that wasn't an MMO?

2) Whether or not you personally would do it, do you think this is coming?  And how do you think it will work?

I encourage you to check out the article (you don't need to buy the magazine, as it's a very quick article, though I do like the magazine, but I don't want this to be a plug and...ok, I'm rambling.  But check it out.

Note: All quotes above are hand-typed by me, since it's in the magazine and not online.  All errors or omissions are mine and not in the magazine itself.


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