Davis Freeberg wrote to Joystiq to let us know that he feels ripped off by the lack of disclosure about the fees required to play Final Fantasy XI for the Xbox 360.
Though experienced PC MMOG players and other hardcore gamers know that games of this type typically include monthly fees, Freeberg appears to be more typical of console gamers. He expected to be able to buy the game, pop it in, and start playing. Instead, he was required to spend hours installing the game and registering for a separate online service before he was told that the game would cost $12.95 per month plus an additional $1.00 per month per character (beyond the first) he created.
Deceitful marketing or clumsy mistake? Click "continue" below to see what we found.
Here's what we found:
- The installation process for the game is, by all accounts, clunky and unfriendly. You might be able to get away with that on the PS2, which doesn't have a unified, easy-to-use online service, but it's shameful to allow the same to happen on the 360 which has won kudos for being user friendly.
- Requiring consumers to complete an hours-long installation process before fees are spelled out is shady and manipulative. Researchers have demonstrated that large sunk costs (of time or of money) increase the likelihood that individuals will continue to pay for small incremental charges that occur later. Final Fantasy XI's install process seems to prey on this common psychological vulnerability: the upfront cost of the game ($50 plus tax/shipping) is followed by a large time investment (the hours-long install process). By the time the $13.95 minimum monthly fee is disclosed, many gamers may feel that they may as well follow through after such large investments of time and money.
- Fee disclosure should happen up front, at the retail level. None of the following retailers we checked disclose the fact that this game will cost more than $12.95 per month. We checked Amazon.com, Target.com, Gamestop.com, Outpost.com, Costco.com, and Walmart.com.
Meanwhile, other MMOG-type games do disclose their monthly fees.
The Amazon.com product description for Everquest II includes an explicit statement: "Note: This game requires an Internet connection and charges a monthly fee payable by credit card or pre-paid game card (sold separately)." World of Warcraft's product description also includes a clear statement to this effect: "A monthly subscription fee is required to play online."
Why are these fees never disclosed for Final Fantasy XI? How are parents supposed to make good purchasing decisions if game retailers and marketers aren't honest about the full cost of the products that they're selling?
[Update 1: Fixed some ambiguous language around the fees. Also, would like to point out here
that most reader comments simply confirm the fact that our readers are quite informed about the costs of MMOGs. The
point is that the general public -- who don't read Joystiq -- are not quite so up-to-date on game fee structures, and
shouldn't have to be.]