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Many games employ a monthly subscription to play a game. However, this makes coming back to a game pretty difficult, as you are most likely unsure of whether you will be playing the game for a few months or a few days.

Why are there no games where you subscribe for in game time (or why is it not common practise)? That would allow returning players to either have some game time left when they return, or not feel so bad for buying more game time in the case they end up playing the game for only a couple of days. I believe a monthly subscription could exist alongside an in game time subscription. Currently, this is stopping me from playing a couple of games.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I can actually remember one MMO which did that model of both flatrate and game time subscription models: The European branch of Ragnarok Online. It's now defunct, but so are all the other branches. The target demographic for that model were players with limited free-time. Although it wasn't really clear to me what those were supposed to do in a game as grind-heavy as RO. I am not so sure that they really knew what they were doing, though. The company publishing the game in Europe was primarily a print media corporation which was trying to get into the game market for the first time. \$\endgroup\$ – Philipp Feb 23 at 10:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ It's difficult for us to speculate on the choices other developers made when choosing their subscription model, and what reasons they used to come to those conclusions. We'll generally be much more effective advising you about your own game project, where you can provide all the behind-the-scenes info we'd need to propose good answers. So: is this a monetization model you're interested in applying to a game you're developing? What challenge are you encountering with it that we can help you solve? \$\endgroup\$ – DMGregory Feb 23 at 13:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DMGregory Sorry, this is a purely theoretical question born out of my frustration and stinginess. I could not think of any other place to ask this question with even a sliver of chance to get a sensible answer. I'd be content even with a speculative answer as to the cons of such a model. Should I model the question to ask for cons instead? \$\endgroup\$ – M. Mäkipelto Feb 23 at 17:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ If you're a player using this question to express your frustration at the current popular monetization models, rather than to inform the creation of your own original game or mod, then this post may fall into the "rant in disguise" category described on our help page about what kinds of question to avoid asking here. If you're unsatisfied with current payment options from games that interest you, the most constructive thing you can do is contact the developers of those specific games and express your interest in alternatives. \$\endgroup\$ – DMGregory Feb 23 at 23:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DMGregory I am both frustrated and genuinely interested by this question and I believe in the value of answering it. Since I don't plan on creating games myself anytime soon, is it off topic? I think I will try asking one or two developers for reasons behind this and post here if no one writes a pro con analysis before then. \$\endgroup\$ – M. Mäkipelto Feb 24 at 9:09
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I suspect one of the main reasons is that you would get charged if you left your screen and left it running by accident. Imagine you were playing your phone game while waiting for the microwave to finish. You hear a pop, quickly put down your phone to make sure your oatmeal didn't explode. You see that your oatmeal is done, so you sit down on the couch and eat it, getting sucked into a good show. 2 hours later, you pick up your phone, only to realize that all your game time is done.

This would not be a good situation as a customer. With a monthly subscription, you are putting an upper cap on how much money you'll be paying, and you don't have to closely monitor your playtime. Customers who aren't closely monitoring their playtime tend to get more involved in the game, and will likely spend much more money on other game-related purchases like DLC or items.

Furthermore, paying for playtime makes you feel like each second spent in game needs to be worthwhile, so small annoyances or farm-ey gameplay would seem extra tedious, and be actually costing you directly. It would make this downtime seem absolutely unbearable.

For games with any form of strategy, one of the joys (at least for me) is to stare at the screen in-between action and plot how to maximize my power, or plan my next acquisitions or upgrades. If I was paying per minute, this would probably never happen.

For multiplayer games, waiting for other players, although already very annoying, would be absolutely unbearable if you were paying for that time.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I did not even think about that as it would not apply to me. I guess most people with such a mindset would instantly abandon the idea of a game time payment model. I have the opposite where not playing feels like a waste of money, but I guess that's desirable for the developers. The first problem you mentioned, however, would be solvable with an automatic log out after a (user set) time limit. Also, do you think there is a downside if the models existed side by side or would it be unnecessary complex? How about a combination where exceeding a set time changes the subscription to a monthly one? \$\endgroup\$ – M. Mäkipelto Feb 24 at 21:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm a firm believer in making games that I would want to play myself. Would you want to play a game that nickeled-and-dimed you for every minute you spent on the game? It would have to be a pretty damn good game. It would also make me think twice every time I thought about playing it. Maybe a per-match fee makes more sense. Then It's more of an entry fee, similar to what @Foxwarrior mentions below. This way it's like you're paying for a set experience. I've played games that have tournament entry fees, so I guess that's similar. \$\endgroup\$ – Adam B Feb 24 at 22:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ I would rather get charged from in game time than downtime (of course reasonably priced), hence the question. Unless I'm very into a game, I cannot see a monthly subscription as a monthly pass but instead as paying for downtime. But I guess people with my mindset are the minority, and I can very well see how this would stop most developers from making such an option. \$\endgroup\$ – M. Mäkipelto Feb 25 at 8:15
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Mobile games actually do something pretty similar sometimes, with energy meter mechanics. You get some number of matches you can play for free, and then if you want to play more you either have to wait a long time or pay a bit of money to buy more energy. There's often some way to get a monthly subscription if you want to play a lot, too. It avoids most of the problems Adam B mentioned since you pay for matches (which usually have pretty consistent lengths, but in turn-based games still let you think for as long as you want) rather than for individual minutes.

If you forget to buy the subscription, or the game doesn't offer one, you may be surprised by how quickly buying more energy can slurp up all of your real life cash.

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Due to Sunk Cost Fallacy, a person will feel that if they already paid for a month worth of game, they might as well spend that month playing, while if they payed daily, they can quit any day.

Since subscription based games rely, at least to some extent, on the addictive nature of the game, making the player keep playing for more than a few days will increase the chance to "hook" them.

It's not the only reason, but I believe it is a big part of it.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ That is surely part of the reason why games rarely offer subscriptions lasting less than a month. In game time subscription would not mean paying daily as would not a monthly subscription. For example, if you normally play 40 hours a month, an in game time subscription option could sell you 40 hours of game time for the price of a one month subscription. A user would still be inclined to finishing the in game hours but I agree that it would not hook as much when you can span the hours however you want. \$\endgroup\$ – M. Mäkipelto Feb 25 at 14:19

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