I worked for an MMO company. I developed game content as well as back end systems on three titles. One of those titles is one of the largest MMO’s in the world. Another of those titles (to be released Q3/4 2013) is one of the largest IP’s in the World.
That company’s name was Jagex and the games were RuneScape and Transformers Universe.
Why am I telling you this? I’m telling you this so that you know where I come from when I speak of MMO mechanics and monetization.
I have played quite a lot of MMO’s. City of Heroes (up until it was disgracefully canned). Matrix Online. World of Warcraft (Don’t judge me). The Secret World. I even played RuneScape for a bit (You can judge me for that).
I have seen a great many ways of monetizing a game. Subscription. Cash Shop for all. Cash shop for cosmetic items. And so many great parts of the game open to the MTX area.
Fundamentally I think MTX based payment systems will become the norm, as subscription can only go so far. Blizzard has already made the first steps into it, and will continue to press that as a system. I know of very few games that will open with a subscription base. They will instead have some method of MTX. I don’t like pay to win cash shops. I don’t like MTX. And I am not a fan of how it is done in the MMO space.
Why am I okay with PLEX? How is it that the PLEX system has converted me for EVE? Why is it that this is okay in my mind?
The PLEX system formalizes an informal relationship. one player saying to another : “If you pay for my sub this month, ill give you X”. This happened a lot in RuneScape (I saw the logs). RuneScape has PayBySms systems that people would use for this, and it was frequently the target of scamming (Which, for non Eve games, usually gets you a temp ban).
The PLEX system removes the scamming component. You have a concrete in game item you have bought for money that corresponds to a subscription, that can be sold at market value to other players. And the amazing thing is that it allows people on low incomes to continue to enjoy the game, and also allows people with low time to spend in game, to be able to gain cash to enjoy the game as well.
It’s a good tradeoff. Coupled with the offline skill training mechanic, it means people who are time poor time can still enjoy and progress in the game.
The ramifications are that it means the entire Eve market is one big cash shop. Nothing is not for sale that can’t be bought via the indirect PLEX method. And it is now such a part of eve that to remove it would seem folly.
I proposed actually switching RuneScape to such a system, once upon a time. I thought this formalization would remove the scams that occurred. And, to be honest, the money we would rake in for such a thing would be immense. The powers that be chose not to, instead opting for an alternative mechanic for allowing for out of game cash -> gold (Squeel of Fortune). I still think my solution was better.
Any game with a subscription base, would be wise to follow the CCP lead.
P.S: I did three major events, one seasonal content, one Machinima item and systems work for RuneScape. I think there’s a YouTube video of me with long hair talking like an idiot out there. I also did systems programming for Transformers Universe. The guys developing that are amazing people and the story of how it started is one I’ll have to sit on for a while yet (I think I’m still under NDA for that)