Global costs for MMOGs
Many times when discussing how successful different MMOGs are, different measures of number of players comes up (active accounts, created accounts, subscribers, concurrent players etc), depending on what info the companies provide, business model etc. In this argument it is included that for example in Asia, “everyone” plays the games in PC game rooms/internet cafes.
When games that are successful in multiple regions, it is often said that it costs much less in Asia and in particular China, so that cannot be considered valid measurement – World of Warcraft being a prime example here.
There is seldom any facts presented when such arguments arise, so I decided to do at least a brief check on some numbers here. I checked some numbers reported ny NCSoft, which can easily be found on their website under the Investor Relations section. Using just some numbers from one company is far from any proper study, but at least it is a starting point. NCSoft has a presence in a number of regions and applies a couple of different business models, which makes it an interesting choice. The fact that it is easy to obtain the info does help also…
First, PC game rooms versus home PCs: In Korea, people can both have personal accounts or play from the PC cafes. In the latest quarterly earnings report it seems that approximately 75-80% of the sales for Lineage and Lineage 2 in Korea comes from personal accounts, PC cafes are just 20-25% of the sales. That does not mean that 75% of the actual players have personal accounts – the PC cafes have discounted rates, at least if they have a number of computers or sell a reasonable amount of time usage. But apprently not “everyone” are playing at the PC cafes and most of NCSofts money is coming from those personal accounts.
Looking at what those with personal accounts pay, a monthly fee with unlimited time amounts to 27000 won, which is about $30. So Koreans pay about twice as much as their fellow players in US and Europe if they pay a monthly subscription. They can also choose to pay by the hour, which at best to about $20 for 30 hours. So if a player plays less than 10-12 hours per week, the hourly fee is better, otherwise the monthly fee is the better option.
Looking at some of the other Asian countries, the monthly fee in Japan is near $25 per month for Lineage 2. If you play less than 75 hours per month, an hourly rate may be more beneficial. Taiwan has a monthly fee of around $15 and China’s monthly fee is close to 7-8 dollars. The hourly rates are comparatively low though, and the threshold compared to a monthly fee is at 120 hours per month. So the really dedicated/addicted players might benefit from the monthly fee there, most others probably pay by the hour.
Looking at average disposable income between the countries, the relative cost for Asian players goes up, at least in comparision with the US (look at World Salaries site for some numbers). Playing online games in Asia is in this comparision a more expensive form of entertainment than in the Western world, at least in this limited example.
And looking at absolute players/subscriber numbers for a region like Asia can be deceptive in trying to estimate actual amount of money involved – the price level is not as homogenuos as in the Western regions. Which is not at all surprising, given different levels of industrialization and development.
Given the relatively low monthly rates in the West, paying by the hour may not be an option that will be available anytime soon. But how would the market look like if the monthly fees were changed to a level similar to those in the Asian countries? And would hourly rates be an option people would go for to a higher extent then? And would the play time patterns change?