Subscription or one-buy? Debating game price models

Subscription or one-buy? Debating game price models

“How much should a racing game cost? Two editors argue about what is the best price model.”

Let’s be honest, esports racing is not the cheapest hobby. And especially not the cheapest type of games. When it comes to acquiring the game of your choice, there are two ways how you can spend your money. But which pricing model is the best?

Our editor Marvin Miller is a fan of full price titles like Forza Motorsport or Project Cars. Buy one time, get an entire game with a broad variety of cars and circuits.

His colleague Maik Jahn likes the subscription-based pricing model used especially by iRacing and partly by RaceRoom. Here, each car and track needs to be purchased separately. In iRacing, there is a monthly or annual subscription fee to pay in addition.

Join Marvin and Maik as they argue about which is the best pricing model on the market. Who do you agree with?


Maik: Let me begin with the most obvious point for subscription models. You only pay for what you actually want to have. Besides the basic price, players can choose the content they want to buy for a smaller price. I adore this freedom of choice.

Don’t like the Nordschleife? Don’t pay for it. All you want to do is drive a Porsche 911 around the world? You don’t need to buy a package for big bucks that contains other cars you don’t want anyway.

Each car and track needs to be bought
Each car and track needs to be bought seperately in iRacing | Source: iRacing

Marvin: While that holds true I don’t think everyone immediately knows when and what to buy. The subscription model doesn’t allow for trial sessions. That’s a problem full-priced games don’t have. You can try as much as you want until you find your right fit.

Furthermore, you might not even be able to afford to buy as many cars as you want with a subscription model, since the equipment is already costly enough. When you have to spend upwards of $1000 to have a full-fledged setup, you shouldn’t have to pay as much as you do with a subscription.

Maik: I agree, sim racing is a costly hobby. But after you’ve invested so much money in your hardware, do you really want to compromise when it comes to the actual racing? I would not.

Full price titles like Assetto Corsa Competizione can be a nice starter. Cars and tracks have great quality. But in order to combine that quality with a market-based price, you need to lower your sights. ACC contains 14 laser-scanned tracks. Meanwhile, iRacing offers 107 of them.

I want my sim racing to be as realistic as possible. And I still want to choose from as many circuits as possible. For this purpose, the subscriptions and separate buys are the only viable model.

Marvin: I agree on the racing aspect. Full-priced games are obviously not as polished as games like iRacing. Simply because the amount of development a single game like iRacing gets exceeds those of games like ACC. But in many departments, iRacing still trails behind. The graphics don’t look stunning, for example. I find it hard to resort to the immersion argument when the game I’m arguing for still looks old compared to a Gran Turismo 5.

Besides that, full-priced games are the most sold racing games out there. Gran Turismo and Forza are even sales-arguments for a whole console. To add to that, F1 generates massive amounts of hype every year.

Maik: Fair point. Full price games are mostly part of large franchises like Formula 1, where people will always want the latest version. On the one hand, because they want to be up to date with their real-world counterparts. On the other hand, because there are new features or technologies people want to play and try out. Often, I feel these updates are not worth a price of €70 though.

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Marvin: I definitely know that. But speaking of technological evolution: leaps from game to game within franchises are often big, and sometimes the game gets completely renewed. You do not find such big changes and variance within one franchise in subscription models. I mean of course they have an ongoing patch cycle, but I prefer to have new technology implemented when I buy the game rather than waiting until the devs put it in months later.

Maik: You are right, changes can be very significant within franchises. But I don’t always see that as something positive. Sometimes, there will be nasty surprises. Take Project Cars 3 as an example, which went in a completely different direction than its predecessors.

I would love to see a franchise setting up one big game and developing it continually. I still hope Forza Motorsport is going to do this, seeing that they did not announce their new game as Forza Motorsport 8.

It would also have another great benefit: the community that loves a certain franchise would be united in one game. Also, people would not shift to the newest full price title of the franchise, leaving those behind who do not want or cannot afford the upgrade. One game, one community of passionate racers united under their favorite games’ flag. Sounds good to me, how about you?

Marvin: I find it hard to believe that something like this would be possible. I mean if a community is supposed to be united by subscription models, why are there still different games like rFactor2 and RaceRoom? Wouldn’t they all settle for one game then?

Also, consumers are used to one-time-payments. Subscription models daunt casuals.

Franchises like F1
Franchises like F1 combine all their features with one price | Source: Koch Media / Codemasters

Maik: I think separate communities come from the different types of cars and simulation aspects the developers focus on.

Subscription models daunt casuals? Why are services like Netflix successful then? I think the subscription and part-buy model is actually more beginner friendly. Want to try out a new game? Get a short-term $9 subscription, maybe even a free trial month. iRacing includes 26 cars and 21 laser-scanned circuits you can play for free as a subscriber. Enough to try out the game, in my opinion. And the amount of “wasted” money if you do not like it is way lower with subscription models. That is why I think they are perfect for beginners.

Marvin: That could be the case. There is no concrete data on this, but from my understanding, subscriptions could scare off new players. They do not want to get into a subscription straight away.

Maik: Hard to tell. But in the end, is paying $70 for a new F1 game each year not a kind of subscription as well? But one that comes with all the downsides of full price games? Things like possible bad surprises, separation of the community and less content than subscription-based games?

Marvin: Depends on how you see it. If you sign up for a year of iRacing to get a discount, you will have to pay more and still have the possibility of not liking the content.

What is your opinion? Which pricing model do you prefer? Tweet us your opinion @overtake_gg!