Designing an MMORPG: Business Model

This week we’re taking a look at one of the most hotly debated topics there is; the MMORPG business model. There are a few different models that are popular at the moment and a new one at the end that takes inspiration from outside of the gaming industry, but before we can get into that, we need to take a look at the last topic, crafting.

It may not come as much of a surprise but the “Hire a Guy” crafting system only received 5 votes out of 101. I was actually surprised to see it even get that many. Though at the same time I will admit Neverwinter does have an interesting crafting system that stands out. The more traditional, middle of the road crafting system you’re used to seeing in MMOs got only 24 votes. Which means, that with 72 votes, 71% the winner is the more realistic, complex crafting. This means that crafting is complex and time-consuming. You are also limited in how many skills and which skills you can pick from. Your talents will have to follow themes. If, for instance, you decide to become a Cook you won’t be able to also be a Blacksmith. You only have so much time in the day to learn skills.

That brings us to the second part of crafting; which skills we should have. Alchemy had the most votes at 52 while the option with the least votes was City Crafting at 35 votes. It isn’t a massive difference between the two but 9% vs 6% of the vote it seems like City Crafting isn’t a winner. Guild crafting was the next lowest with 37 votes. It seems that while group-based crafting is an idea that gets talked about, it isn’t something people actually want to have implemented. So, we are left with all the solo crafting skills going forward. They are; (in order of the number of votes received) Alchemy, Fishing, Mining, Jewelry Making, Hunting, Runs & Glyphs, Timber Harvesting, Gardening, Foraging, Archaeology, and Scrolls.


With that out of the way, it’s time for us to move on to MMORPG business models. There are five different models to pick from. We’ve left out Pay to Win and Lifetime Subscriptions because both models have proven that they have issues with long-term viability with Western audiences.


Free to Play

Path of Fire Elite Specialization

Today the free to play model is the norm. As a player, you don’t have to buy the game and there is no subscription fee. In return, however, you’re faced with microtransactions. It’s very easy for these microtransactions to turn the game pay to win, though this is something our MMO would, of course, be avoiding. With this model expect to get the very minimum for free and regularly have to pay for new content, cosmetic items, and boosts. Lockboxes also prominently feature in this business model but an option for the lockbox could be to offer everything on the store for slightly more money than you otherwise would have. A compromise that many who are against the gamble of lockboxes claim they would accept. If this option is selected we will have a look at lockboxes vs no lockboxes in the future. This is the model that Guild Wars 2 uses.



Subscribe or don’t, that is the debate with a hybrid model. With this model, you’ll be paying for the game but if you pay for anything more after that it’s up to you. Once again, there is a delicate balance to be struck. SoulWorker recently ran into some trouble with their hybrid model as one of the things they offered subscribers had fans crying pay to win. A good hybrid model needs to offer enough perks in the subscription to make it worth it, while not offering so much that it seems like a requirement.

Alternatively, you could offer the option to pay for the subscription using in-game currency. This is what World of Warcraft does with their WoW Token. Of course, the in-game currency route is not an easy one. It requires you to spend a lot of time in the game earning that currency. Which is still a win for the studio because the longer you’re in a game the more likely you are to buy items from the in-game store and the more you’re there populating the world for those who do pay.

If the hybrid model wins, a future article will dive into the different types in more detail.


Buy to Play

eso free play week

The buy to play model is very similar to the free to play model with one exception, you have to buy the game before you can play it. You will still have the in-game store, lockboxes, and pay for content updates. Buy to play is especially beneficial to the studio who are tasked with the job of making back the investment made in creating the game, to begin with. ArenaNet has made the buy to play model famous as they’ve used it both with Guild Wars and Guild Wars 2, though Guild Wars 2 eventually became free to play when the first expansion released.



Avoid the nickel and diming that comes with the other models and be ready to fork over $12-$15 a month on top of buying the game. A subscription model has a lot of perks though. You’ll get regular small content updates completely free, though large expansions you’ll still have to pay for. You’ll get all the flashy outfits and weapons you’d usually expect to be in the in-game store for free. Double XP events, and others like them, will make a comeback.



MMORPG business model

Here’s where I propose a business model that started out being called the Total Honesty Model. It is inspired by Patreon. The idea is the studio gives a monthly goal. The studio comes right out and says “we must make this much money every month to continue running.” Then it’s up to the players to decide how much they can give, offering perks for different amounts given. These perks can include exclusive skins and mounts. Higher tiers can include players being able to design NPCs or even art of their character done by the game’s artists. Going over the goal for the month means work can be done on an expansion. Want to see that expansion made? Put in $50 over the next 3 months and it’s yours. Doing this means you’re voting with your wallet because the studio is only working on the things that have already funded. This complete honesty can have its downsides though. A decline in Patrons will be obvious and will snowball. So, the death of the game will be swift.

Once items are made (not the Patron exclusives) they can go into an in-game store for people who don’t reach the Patron threshold to buy. Maybe you put in $5 towards the expansion when it was being created because that’s all you could give at the time. It still funded, but you didn’t really contribute enough to get the expansion. You’ll still be able to buy it and you got an epic sword for the $5 you gave.


So now there’s just the question remaining, which MMORPG business model seems the best for our dark fantasy MMORPG? Does the Patron model work in your mind? Would you be a Patron rather than a subscriber or buying in the in-game store? Leave your vote in the Strawpoll and your thoughts in the comments.

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Designing an MMORPG: Dark Fantasy Races

We’re all taking part in a little thought experiment in which we design an MMORPG as a group. Our focus this week is picking MMORPG races but before we can get into that, we need to take a look at how the previous week’s vote went.

Last week we were voting on which fantasy subgenre to set our MMORPG in. For quite some time it looked like Dark Fantasy and Gaslamp was going to be tied, then High Fantasy snuck into the lead for a bit. But in the end, it was Dark Fantasy that won. I’m really excited to explore Dark Fantasy as it relates to MMORPGs because The Secret World is really the only title we have in the genre.

For races, you won’t get to vote on Humans. They’re pretty much a given. Instead, you’ll be able to select from 16 different races and you can vote for one or up to 10. Those with the top votes will be the races we select. MMOGames doesn’t own any of the art used and we’ve done our best to link to the original artists.


Dark Elves

Once, not all that long ago there were two races of Elves. But lifetimes of war between the two took its toll and eventually it was only the Dark Elves that remained. Spending so many millennia fighting for survival turned them into a warmongering race. They are some of the finest fighters in the world, trained in martial arts and magic alike.



With a massive chip on their shoulder, Dwarves today are mostly known as poor drunks who waste their time panning for gold. They swear that long ago, the Dragons stole their homes and their wealth. The other races brush this off as drunken lies and pity the poor Dwarves who, for generations, have been the bottom of society. A new generation of Dwarves seeks to change their reputation though. Learning all variety of skills, working hard to rise up from rock bottom.



Vampirism is the one true way to continue life. Becoming a vampire is to be blessed with eternal youth. Vampires have wealth and power within society. As a group, they keep very tight control on who is turned and who isn’t, only the best for society. Only during the Turning Event, which happens on the longest day of the year, can vampires freely turn those who are less worthy. (Vampires are only unlockable after certain conditions are met or during Turning Event. Can only be made from Humans, Dark Elves, Dwarves, Hellspawn, Dilia, Naja, Gills)


Hellspawn – Demons

The gates of Hell opened and all manner of demonic creatures came pouring out. They altered the land around their gate, burning down forests to make it a little slice of home. While many made a home for themselves here, not everyone was satisfied staying put. So they set out into the world, learning new trades as they traveled.



The eldest of all the races, the dragons are the last people you’re likely to run into. Unless you’ve gone to their mountain range. They live together atop the mountains hoarding knowledge which they pass on only to a chosen lucky few. Having chosen to keep their feet on the ground and live indoors, they have lost the ability to use their wings. Outsiders will only ever see them in their humanoid form as they keep their true form hidden except for those they’re closest to. (This race only unlocks after certain conditions have been met by the player)


Lalers – Undead

Would you like to experience Life After Life? Get a second chance without any of the baggage from the life that came before. Become a warrior, see the world, become nobility. Anything is possible when you experience Life After Life. After you serve just 10 short years in the service of the mighty LAL military force, you’ll be free to make a new life for yourself. Relocation packages are available, speak with a Traveling Second Life Dealer for more information.



Tricksters and thieves, the lot of them. Fae are cheeky, mischievous creatures who will always look for a way to rob you blind. They’re absolute rules lawyers who know every trick in the book. Their beauty hides their true nature, aiding them in their mischief.


Shifters – Were-beasts

Long ago, High Elves cursed a kingdom of men, changing them into terrible beasts. But the curse turned out to be more of a blessing. The Shifters embraced what they had become and the abilities they had been granted. Now they walk amongst Humans, able to blend in perfectly or let their fur hang out.


Harpies (Female Only)

A society of female warriors, Harpies have quite a reputation. They go on the warpath to kidnap men in order to fertilize their eggs. Their battle shrieks strike fear in the hearts of all creatures. The only race that does not fear them are the Crow, who Harpies know better than to mess with.


Corvids (Male Only)

Corvid are expert marksmen, able to hit a target with deadly accuracy further than any other race. Their memory is unparalleled, able to remember events that took place long before they were born thanks to blood memory. Their ability to hold a grudge is also unmatched. They tend to live on the outskirts of society because they remember when your Great Great Grandfather stole their hunt and they don’t like you.


Angias – Plant People

Angia are walking, talking, living plants. They’re considered outsiders in society, odd because they don’t quite fit in. They always smell of something, be it rotting flesh or honeysuckle. The ongoing joke about them is that their bark is worse than their bite, but those people have never felt the torture of deadly nightshade pumping through their veins.


Dilia – Reptilian

Dilians live for excess. They have big appetites and big personalities. Others would say they’re overweight, but they worry the rest of the world is starving. Most of the time they’re a slow-moving race, “What’s the rush?” they’d ask, but don’t mistake their seemingly laid back attitude about life as them being pushovers. These happy-go-lucky people will strike when you least expect it.



Artist Unknown

When a lonely fae gave her shadow life, she would be the mother of a new race of beings. Today the Shadows call her The Great Mother and worship her. She is the only thing they fear, as she is the one that brought them into the world and she’s the only one who can take them out of it. Shadows don’t reproduce so much as they steal the shadows of others and grant them life. They’re sneaks and thieves, murderers and assassins. They’re rumored to have been behind every high profile assassination for the last millennia. Of course, they know this isn’t true, but reputation management is important, especially when you’re a race without words. Yes, The Great Mother gave them life but failed to give them a voice. So everything they do is through body expression and writing.



Once considered architectural décor on Human buildings, Gargoyles were blessed with life by a mysterious force. Gargoyle skin is as tough as stone and they’re virtually impossible to kill, which is a good thing because they’re unable to reproduce. They often work as guards for those who can afford them. Many also train to become stealthy assassins as they can learn to disguise themselves as ordinary rocks.


Naja – Venomous Snakes

The Naja have a rich and vibrant culture and wear gold and the finest jewels money can buy. They’re an incredibly wealthy race thanks to the ability to sell their venom for a high price. They have a reputation for taking shit from no one and rarely backing down from a fight. Along with the fangs in their mouths, they often grow long, sharp claws that are a sign of wealth but also serve as deadly weapons.


Gills – Fish-like

The common language unceremoniously lumps all creatures that have come from the sea into one race; the Gills. This is a term that all members of the species hate and if you were to catch one in a bad mood, might be worth fighting about. The reality is that the race is incredibly varied with everything from the Octopus-headed Kraken (who take their name from the mightiest of them to ever live) to the Batoid, a race of Land Rays. It’s well known that Gills prefer to eat their food wet. It’s often assumed that they have weak teeth but in fact, some have some of the most deadly teeth in the world. One trait that all Gills have in common is the innate desire to travel.

*Note* In the poll Corvid are referred to as Crow Men as I hadn’t come up with a better name for them when I made the poll.

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