Less and less content per addon - Is the subscription model for WoW still justified?


Some video games you buy and can just play straight away, while other games - especially online - require you to buy season passes or subscriptions for the full experience. The latter payment model is especially the case with MMORPGs like World of Warcraft.

The debate about how useful these subscription models are, what the alternatives are, and which of them is best has been going on in the MMO community for two decades now. Which direction Blizzard is following in the meantime and whether a subscription model for WoW is still up-to-date in 2022, we take a look below.

Free2Play, Buy2Play, microtransactions and co.

To clarify whether a subscription model for Blizzard's MMO is still up to date, we take a look at the various payment models of other games. Because in the MMO sector, hardly anyone dares to talk players into a monthly subscription.


You go to the store, pay once with real money for your game and can play it. That's how it used to be with console games, for example, before there were online updates. With Buy2Play, you pay the developer once for what they've done, no more, no less. As long as no DLCs are added, the creators concentrate directly on the next project after the product is finished.

Buy2Play with microtransactions

In the meantime, however, the trend is to continue earning money with the product after the purchase of the game. So-called microtransactions are then used to offer additional content such as skins. Particularly in MMOs, there is the danger that too many advantages are hidden behind the real-money transactions. In this day and age, however, no developer dares to do that anymore (at least in the western area). The developer has also done his work here and has been paid, the entire team no longer works on the microtransactions. The effort is no longer as great as with the following model. The amount of microtransactions like in SWTOR can be overwhelming, but in return the MMO is completely free to play. Source: buffed

Buy2Play with expansions

After buying the base game, the game developer can decide to expand their game with more paid mini-expansions. Usually, the term DLC (Downloadable Content) is used for this. Simulators in particular like to rely on this payment model. For example, Bus Simulator can add more lines. You keep paying the developer over time to add more and more content that you can optionally purchase. The base game, however, remains the same.
In MMOs, however, these DLCs are not quite so quickly dispatched, but quite often take over a year of development time. So by buying the game, you're also paying the developer for having enough resources to continue developing the product.

Free2Play with microtransactions

This model is followed by games like League of Legends, Valorant and Fortnite. The best example of Free2Play with microtransactions in the MMO space is SWTOR. However, especially in Bioware's MMO, you're often told that taking out a subscription with all its benefits wouldn't be a bad idea at all.

Most other MMOs without a subscription model require the one-time purchase of the game and expansions. In Free2Play MMOs, the developer keeps developing the game and hopes that players will stay tuned to keep generating cash via microtransactions. This revenue model is known as GaaS (Games as a Service). The store of WoW's biggest competitor (FFXIV) is huge in comparison, but is tolerated. Source: buffed

The subscription model

In the subscription model, the player pays a monthly fixed price with real money in order to be allowed to play at all. In some games, such as Wildstar in the past or WoW in the meantime, the player can take the in-game currency and use it to buy game time. In addition, however, Buy2Play also applies to each new expansion.

The game can be played with a subscription, and up to a certain level limit it can be played for free, but this effectively excludes the player from the endgame, and thus more than 90 percent of the other players. The purchase of the expansions is therefore mandatory. With this, you finance the running costs of the development studio and get a free update every few months. There are certainly other combinations of payment models, but in the world of MMOs, the methods listed here are the most common. Meanwhile, there are only two MMO giants that can afford microtransactions in addition to the subscription model and Buy2Play of their expansions - WoW and FFXIV.

The illusion of choice

So now we know what common payment models there are, what you get for it, how much you pay, when you pay and what you can expect for your money. Now let's take a look at the versions of WoW and what you have to pay for them.
Starter version: Completely free. Play characters up to level 20, but with some restrictions like no communication with players by mail, no access to auction house and so on.

Basic game: Play all versions of WoW Classic and Retail with a subscription of 12.99 euros at no extra charge, but the current Retail expansion is not included.
Current expansion: One-time 39.99 euros and only playable with monthly subscription of 12.99 euros. Includes everything from the basic version and the current expansion.
Heroic Edition (54.99 euros) and Epic Edition (74.99 euros) grant additional content in the form of mounts, transmogs and pets.

Keeping MMOs alive costs a lot of money

The purpose of these detailed listings? We want to clarify how much money we end up paying developers for how much content. MMOs with a subscription model come off quite badly compared to other full-price games, if you just count the months and the associated subscription costs until the next expansion of the MMO is released.

Just to keep this aspect in mind, you have to keep in mind that WoW players don't just pay the developers with their subscription to work on patches. In the background, there are servers that cost money, external employees that have to be paid for services, the game's customer service, the websites and much more. It's only fair at this point to remind ourselves of that.

The MMO Giant Maw

Additional services in WoW are very expensive. If you want to change servers and factions at the same time, you have to spend 55 euros for each character. An announced transfer bundle is supposed to make the transfer of multiple characters cheaper soon. Source: buffed WoW's offerings don't look flashy compared to other MMOs at first glance, and you gladly accept the additional costs to keep an MMO running. Yes, somehow as a WoW player you have gotten used to it over the years. However, if you take a closer look at World of Warcraft (buy now ), you'll see that Blizzard has its fingers in all the pay cookie jars you can imagine.

Read also: Shop mounts - goldmine or drop in the bucket?

This is hardly surprising, who does not want to earn more and more money with his company? It gets difficult when the content offered is no longer what it used to be and at the same time nothing changes in the price. In the following, we'll break down just how brazen and greedy WoW's payment model actually is.

WoW brand? No real alternative

The WoW subscription is free in itself if you own several million gold for WoW tokens. Source: buffed Inflation actually plays a role when looking at the subscription model as well. We don't mean the adjusted subscription costs from the beginning of 2021 in some countries, but the WoW token. Instead of investing 13 euros, you can extend your WoW subscription with the WoW token or buy the token for 20 euros and put it on the auction house for its current gold price.
Buyers can be found for it in no time. However, the token introduced in the Warlords of Draenor expansion in 2015 has increased in gold price by over 250,000 gold since its introduction. From time to time, the gold value of the token fluctuates, but it becomes more expensive in a straight line with each addon.

A normal player has no real chance to raise 300,000 gold per month to pay for his monthly subscription with the ingame currency without having saved up reserves from previous expansions. You have to be a smart merchant and/or put a lot of your game time into trading goods. So the alternative payment method option is more illusion than real option.

Rather, the WoW token contributes to leaving even more real money in WoW. The more expensive the brand becomes, the more worthwhile it is for people to pay another 20 euros for the brand in addition to the 13-euro subscription, in order to buy the expensive Legendary blanks or sell runs for gold, for example, to buy victories over raid bosses. As long as only gold and no real money is involved in these sell runs, they are tolerated. Only excessive promotion of the runs will result in minor penalties.

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