What have you paid for me lately?

paypal_logoThe Great MMO Payment Model Debate smoulders on across the blogosphere (and it should, it’s an important question), and something occurred to me I hoped one of you guys might know. I’ll check into it when I get a chance, anyway.

Are there any “pay what you think we’re worth” games out there? There’s plenty of software like that — game mods come to mind — where you don’t have to pay but you’re encouraged to pay something. As for me in that model… sometimes I do, many times I don’t. I’m old enough to remember the good old days of paying for shareware I really used and not having to pay for shareware I thought was crap (as opposed to the “try a really cut-down version you can’t do anything with” way crippleware shareware is sold today) — and I actually did pay for my shareware. If someone makes the effort to create something I find useful, it’s only fair to pay them for the product. But as far as I can tell, shareware’s more or less dead and probably doesn’t apply to MMOs anyway.

I just wonder if it’s even possible to run an MMO under the “pay if you like it” model — and more, “pay WHAT you like,” though you could probably have a minimum amount in there, say $5. Presumably that’s just way too unpredictable (or, to be more cynical, totally predictable in failure) to actually plan around, and would only work for something that didn’t really need funding to begin with. Or something that had alternate sources of funding, like advertising or game-item transactions or whatever.

I’m not even saying it would be a good model — though it’s an alternative, even if it’s not a particularly attractive one. I tend to be a little too idealistic (underneath my glamour of cynicism) and assume more people would pay for something than actually would; and in all honesty, looking at my own current budget, I’d only pay if I felt I could afford it, and our sense of what we can afford these days has shrunk pretty dramatically.

Of all the discussions I’ve read lately, one suggestion stuck in my mind. I think it was Tesh’s — apologies if it’s misattributed, I’m only on my first cup of Joe — that proposes paying (in advance) for time played. Not for a certain number of days, which is effectively what the current subscription model is, but for a certain in-game amount of time. Let me buy 10 in-game hours at a time, or however much I think I’ll need. Hell, copy many other entertainment companies (like paintball, f’rinstance) and give me a certain amount of time per monthly fee — $5 buys me 10 hours, and if I want to be online more, I’ll need to buy more. If I don’t use them all up, consider rolling them over. Pay-as-you-play, so to speak.

I can tell you one thing for certain: if I were paying somewhere around $5 a month for a “limited” access time (as opposed to potentially 24/7), I’d be subscribed to a lot more games, which would please me a lot more. As others have said, we’re becoming game-hoppers, and there’s nothing wrong with that, apart from the current price tag. I’d probably end up paying about as much as I am now, but I’d be “hosted” in 5-6 games instead of in 2-3 — and the way my gaming acquaintances and friends have spread out in the last few years, that could only be a good thing.