Category Archives: FTP/RMT

Off the Chest: MMOs are too cheap, Battle Bards Anniversary and my Black Desert Crib!

off the chest

There are too many small updates today, which is a perfect excuse for a quick multi-topic post!

After much consideration and more payment model debates over the past few weeks, I decided I really haven’t had enough of this yet – which led to this post on Camelot Unchained and Subscriptions (and MMO pricing) over at MMOGames. The recent MassivelyOP interview with Mark Jacobs tied in perfectly and from there, it was impossible not to take another look at MMO-specific free-to-play models. I don’t know how many more times this topic is going to occupy my mind, I suspect it will in 6-12 months time like all the other MMO evergreens, but am definitely holding on to this one: MMOs are too cheap and payment model shenanigans are here to stay as long as that’s the case. Solutions are easier said than done, but I would rather see higher pricing for buy-to-play / lifetime sub MMOs than what we’re currently seeing in terms of payment model hybrids.

The Battle Bards Podcast is turning 3!

After 72 episodes and many an MMO music argument, the podcast by Syp, Steff and myself is turning three years old, hooray! This is pretty wild and an occasion to celebrate because we never really expected to last this long, without an end in sight. We’re also getting back to some listeners requests on this special anniversary episode which was a very fun event to return to.

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Casa de Syl in Black Desert Online

As Bhagpuss pointed out in his post of today, BDO is seeing content and seasonal events added at lightning speed ever since launch and with that have come additional housing items to decorate our cribs for more shiny! I’m starting to feel pretty happy with my home in Velia 2.3 which is why I decided to take a brief fraps the other night and take a tour. The basement isn’t nearly where I want it to be….but hey, I’m not in a rush, right!

I really look forward to what else will get added over time, as the furniture options in the game have started to feel fairly limited. The recent Mediah patch introduced a new, fairly ugly set of furniture in the cash shop and looking at the market place, there’s not much else to get right now. I should probably start crafting some of those curtains and pillows for myself and find out where to get that blasted owl cage from!

Black Desert Online: Cash Shop Equanimity

Black Desert Online’s cash shop is rather pricey which is the one complaint I personally have with it. The 3$ reduction between CBT2 and launch doesn’t deserve a weak smile, 29$ for a cosmetic costume in a game that offers very little variety in armor styles is tough. I don’t quite understand it either: assuming I am not the average MMO customer, Daum could make a lot more money by lowering prices by 50% and have more than double the people grab one or two costumes instead. But that’s a question for the economists and all those who have real insight into spending behavior in Korea versus Europe or North America.

Other than that, BDO’s cash shop served for many an outcry selling a ghillie suit and lucky underpants which are supposedly very pay-to-win in an endgame that never comes (no level cap?). Sorry, doesn’t interest me in the slightest. And Eri is very angry at herself for buying pets and inventory space because that made a company that’s delivered a beautiful and huge game a couple of extra bucks after “only being buy-to-play”. If it’s any consolation, I too have bought a few things in the cash shop when I really didn’t have to. I’m not sorry, I am enjoying my time with them. Why is spending a few bucks in a game you enjoy a question of moral guilt? Hellou.

The whole thing is starting to wear me down too because basically, not even f2p or b2p MMOs are supposed to have cash shops anymore nowadays. Screw the effort, size and maintenance of a game that’s run 24/7 across four continents. Fallout 4 can costs 70$ but god forbid an MMO that costs half that box price has a cash shop with few useful items! Where are we getting this notion from that MMOs must be financially self-sufficient for years without any subscription or shop? Where did PA or Daum make a statement that the game isn’t gonna make another dime after you bought the box? If there’s any false advertisement going on, I am not aware of it.

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What do you mean I shouldn’t have bought this armor?

They can’t even sell cosmetics in shops anymore. Cosmetics are after all content to somebody (I love outfits okay)! So are pets and other conveniences, no matter if they could be acquired by other means if people did the research or had a bit of patience towards their “sandbox progression”. Okay, pets are off-limits in BDO the way most other things aren’t. Inventory space can be expanded another 30 slots just by playing the game and then there’s a whole list of things you can do via storage expansion and alts once you actually figure out how it all works. It’s fiddly yes but it also serves the underlying “realism” of the game that dictates towns should have individual storage or that characters can’t binge-craft for hours for example.

Only, we don’t want to figure out how it all works. We’re used to WoW convenience levels and always getting the best of everything and every MMO that comes out must start there. No thanks! I don’t want another themepark epic-lol-wins MMO like WoW. I don’t need the best pet, I don’t need to purple everything. Yeah, the weight limit annoys the shit out of me – I’ll see about that. Maybe I should just get a cart, you can actually do that. Almost every problem has a solution further down the road in Black Desert. And the exceptions aren’t real problems for me, either.

What are they gonna sell if they can’t sell cosmetics or dyes, can’t sell inventory or weight limit increases, can’t sell extra character slots (because they actually too matter in the game)? They can’t very well sell uber-potions and they can’t sell anything that’s already easily available ingame. And to their credit: there are no lottery-box-for-epics shenanigans going on in BDO’s cash shop, whereby someone could potentially burn endless cash on an illusion of greatness. I would rather it stayed that way.

And don’t get me started on subscription MMOs now because WoW and FFXIV too sell “content” by above definition in their cash shops on top of charging monthly.

……

Okay, that was a bit more than equanimity maybe! I keep finding myself in the same position for years when it comes to MMO payment models but truly, Black Desert offends me not. At the end of the day I decide what I consider good bang for the buck in a game and in the business of fun, no one’s defining any price tags but yourself.

First Impressions: Dragon Nest Europe

This weekend I finally found the time to check out Dragon Nest, a game that’s been eluding my radar successfully until I encountered some screenshots over at Bhagpuss. What was initially a very mixed bag of feelings ended in 8 hours of playtime counting today and yesterday, trying out different classes and spending a wee bit of cash on the ingame shop.

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I didn’t like the sorceress but at least she started off in a snowy area!

Dragon Nest was released 2010 in Korea but took another three years to come to Europe. That makes me feel a little less late to the party. My initial reaction to this free-to-play hub/lobby-based MMO (think Vindictus or GW) was rather critical: heavily instanced content and a cross-hair action combat, somewhat similar to Tera, that takes some time adjusting to. The translation seems rather poor in places, with one of the major story NPCs referring to my female character as “he” already in the introductionary questline.

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First hub!

I spent the first 10 levels playing a sorceress and that almost made me quit for good. I did not enjoy the controls at all, maybe the ranged glass cannon just doesn’t lend itself so well to the intended playstyle or I was doing it wrong. Luckily, I tried the hunter and blade dancer from there and that last one made a world of difference. The fast-paced smashy melee combat is loads of fun once you got the hang out of combos (which happens quickly enough). Combat feedback is very satisfying on the blade dancer and so I decided to stick to her. The whole active combat approach against multiple packs of foes reminds me of Mini Ninjas on XBOX 360 (or PC), a game I have fond memories of.

What impressed me from the beginning were graphics. I love the picturesque anime style of Dragon Nest, which looks like a successful fusion between Lime Odyssey and Fable. The game is cute, colorful and hilarious in places but it has its creepy moments too (yikes!). I won’t lie though, I miss a persistent world like crazy – at the same time, all the quest-based dungeon/instance content (which comes in different difficulty levels) is rather quick and rewarding, meaning it lends itself particularly well to casual play. Your standard MMO furniture is present and easily navigated by genre veterans: skill trees and trainers, quest and achievements logs, bank and auction house, mounts and minipets etc. What is somewhat bewildering at first are all the different currencies and marks that have started dropping after level 10 but since I have no lofty goals for Dragon Nest, I feel safe to ignore them.

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Crazy Neko

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They have airships!

As far as the free-to-play factor goes, Dragon Nest is no more intrusive than Allods or LOTRO, in fact I find it a little less annoying. There’s a banner on top of your screen talking about promotions and stuff like extra bag or bank space will need to be purchased, however I’ve not come across any game-breaking or particularly vexing features or money-gates thus far. What is very lackluster is character customization at the initial character screen; there’s little to choose from for eye-colors and hairstyles, no body types and the classes are gender-locked, yes really! That said, there’s more variety on offer on the shop including costumes, which come as “rental” or permanent purchases. I have never encountered an MMO that makes you pay real currency to rent costumes for 7-30 days but there you go. It ain’t cheap either.

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Being a sucker for individual looks I ended up spending a few bucks on some unique class pieces (which I am keeping!) and also some extra bag space for which I received temporary rookie discount. I’ve decided to spend some more time with Dragon Nest in the future (I hear there are expansions), so I’d rather not keep looking at a half-naked character that looks just like everybody else. Cartoony or not, this MMO is still very Asian at its core which means a lot of silly gear and emotes for the ladies. I am kinda cool with my Blade Dancer now in her oriental outfit. I called her Symmetra.

Dragon Nest first look verdict: Better than expected and a nice addition to my standard MMO menu. I’ll be back!

Zomg Double-Subbed?? [#Blaugust 24]

Last night while working on my Wildstar housing showcase for blaugust, I realized something rather extraordinary:

I am officially double-subbed to two MMOs. This happened in 2015, that slow year for MMO releases!

Unplanned occurrences aside (let’s forget that I may or may not have remained subbed to WoW by mistake), I can’t remember the last time I was subbed simultaneously to two different games. I’ve always been subbed to something since 2002, namely FFXI, WoW, Age of Conan, Rift, LOTRO, Wildstar and now FFXIV. I would often combine this playtime with a free-to-play title like Allods or Tera, or then a buy-to-play game such as GW2. I like variety these days but being double-subbed is rare even for me.

Once more with feeling

I don’t know how long this will last but in terms of my current enjoyment with MMO gaming, I find it quite a remarkable and certainly unexpected state of affairs. In the years following my WoW spree, I was struck by a general MMO-malaise that many ex-WoW players undoubtedly shared. New games had much to live up to, sometimes too much, while I did my best not to qualify every different feature in terms of “better or worse than in WoW” – which is ironic given that I left WoW because it clearly wasn’t so great any longer.

I feel like I have finally overcome this mindset. I approach new titles without all the past baggage. It’s definitely nice to be immersed in that one MMO don’t get me wrong, it is also a very positive sign however that I can still find enough fun and enjoyment in MMOs to subscribe for two games in 2015. Even if I’m not necessarily representative, I feel hopeful for this genre. What I look forward to in the coming years is more stability; fewer new releases, more quality content for existing games. Fingers crossed!

With that in mind, I want to highlight this youtube fan guide on all the more recent changes to Wildstar (not the upcoming f2p changes but what’s been done up to now). I agree with the commenter that the pace and difficulty have been improved by Carbine in many events. As he points out too, it is sad the tweaking comes this late and one can only hope more players will give the game one more chance come F2P, together with those who have never tried it. Coming from FFXIV, I hold a torch for second chances: really, what’s there to lose?

Is F2P Saving Wildstar? [#Blaugust 17]

The much awaited Wildstar f2p-build is currently in beta as more and more players are either remembering to resub or acquire a copy before official f2p-launch. There are various veteran rewards and different goodies depending on whether you were continuously subscribed to the game, subscribed right before f2p or well, none of the above. There’s some more tricky fine-print as Bhagpuss points out in his post today and I need to thank him for the reminder. I’m about to resub myself before the whole f2p switch. I miss my housing plot in Wildstar and am very interested to see the additional items and bling yet to come out.

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All the while, existing Wildstar players are debating what f2p is going to do to their game. Depending on where you look, player attitudes towards the payment model change seem more or less dire: there’s those who believe that f2p was always in the books since day one (myself included), those who think it necessary to save Wildstar from bankruptcy and then another group who fear f2p will be the game’s downfall.

“I don’t care if f2p people come in. I just want the fucking game to be properly funded. I’m concerned with how much it costs to host the f2p players. I’m concerned that we are going to lose all of the subscribers we gained. Who many current players are going to opt out of the signature service? How many people who join for f2p are going to get the signature service? I think we might actually lose money. Then again they haven’t announced their cash shop. I’m not looking forward to getting nickel and dimed for vanity items I used to farm dungeons and content for.” [source]

I guess no matter how you feel about f2p as an MMO player, in lieu of verified numbers by developers it is impossible to predict what a payment model switch can or must achieve in the mid- and long term. LOTRO is one of the most well-known examples of f2p saving or at least buying an MMO more time. This is thanks to how well Turbine designed their different payment options too. From all I’ve read about Carbine’s approach, they may actually pull off a similar stunt – new players will first jump into f2p and opt in to signature service at some point. There seems to be a higher chance of that than legit, existing subbers from today downgrading to more restricted f2p service.

I guess we’ll see if f2p will “save Wildstar”. Am not exactly convinced how last resort we are speaking, anyway. Does Wildstar need desperate saving at this point or is it not much rather Carbine ditching a dated business model, the way they always intended? Whatever, huh.

Today in P2W: Gamers are getting older and that’s okay!

Today I came across this passionately one-sided opinion piece over at Massively OP which makes a somewhat poor case against the ever-rising pay-to-win model for videogames (yeah, am still reading about MMOs and stuff!). I admit it was a disagreement between Isarii and Scree on twitter that made me aware of its existence, so like every curious MMO blogger I was drawn to the drama – and there is always drama when players discuss pay to win.

Now before I address the Massively article, I’ll say this: I am personally not a fan of P2W games. I don’t play any and they tend not to interest me in the slightest. I gave Candy Crush 15 minutes of my life once, out of obscene curiosity and recoiled in disgust after the first of many enforced time locks popped up. That being said, I am not afraid of P2W games either; while their market share may be growing, I don’t believe them to be an imminent threat to more traditional games or gamers since they do not cater to that target audience. We all know that gaming as a whole is getting bigger and the really significant growth of the last few years belongs to social or “casual” as well as mobile gaming. – Geeky and niche MMO gaming? Not so much. Still, we have little to complain about compared to our humble beginnings. So I guess what I’m saying is, I don’t fear P2W games any more than I fear that WoW has destroyed the MMO genre when really, WoW created its own market and if anything, helped other MMOs along (midterm copycat fails or not).

Of course one can take a moral approach and try analyze how (un-)ethical P2W models are. There may be merit in that discussion, although personally I am not prepared to have it (and my liberal stance on f2p is hardly news). Too often does it come down to players defending what they know versus what is new and still unfamiliar ground. Or worse, everyone starts sounding like a wanna-be psychologist and umm gaming addiction and save the children. There are some shades of grey, may-be, but essentially all videogame ventures and business models are looking to make the most money in the most effective way possible, triggers included. There have always been players at the shorter end of the stick of whatever business model. How exactly is this such a great “truth” we never heard of (in reference to the Massively article)? So while I understand some critics’ concerns and where they come from, I tend to agree with Scree on this one. The times they are a’changing and maybe we need to keep an open mind and try sound less like our at least proverbial grandparents.

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We’re getting older, oh noes!

My immediate reaction to the Massively piece was, passionate rant or not, that it’s incredibly condescending towards anyone within that “older gamer group with disposable income” who dares to play games differently and enjoy them differently. Jef Reheard even goes as far as saying that P2W players don’t actually play the games – no, they “pay their way through instead of playing it through”. This is also clearly not fun! That makes you wonder why the heck all these weirdos keep paying money for something that surely is objectively horrible but wait, there’s the answer to that as well: they are lab rats that act out of compulsion rather than umm, the righteous and sound enjoyment of the non-P2W advocate. Yep…that really is the gist of the article, I’m afraid. You got some jolly “no real gamersss”-disdain, mixed with the old “not fun”-trap and some pseudo-psychology spice to top it off and make this one unsavory cocktail to drink.

It’s no longer about the fun or the escapism of gaming; it’s about capturing a bite-sized piece of those bygone days when they had time to play, and of course it’s also about satisfying those psychological skinner box urges[…]

I snorted. And then I self-cringed too because I’ve had my share of “why achievements and instant gratification are destroying my MMO”-rants and malcontent on this here blog. I still hold to the journey is the reward (for_me). However in hindsight, and also really whilst writing, it’s apparent that dramatic rants were dramatic. I think us MMO explorer types can live alongside the achievers or killers just fine for the most part, heck some of us even like one another despite our different playstyles (<3)! And none of us have gone out of business.

But back to P2W: as a general rule, all panicky reasoning is bad reasoning. And sure, you might find P2W cheap or cheaty and that’s alright, but obviously there are many ways to find pleasure in games. I’ve played MMOs in the past just to dress up my characters and yes, buy exclusive clothes from an ingame store. Likewise, P2W-players do very much also play the games they invest in, duh – it’s not like they’re just paying money and then never spend any time on actual game play. They just play differently. Maybe they want to skip stuff they don’t consider fun (like grinding!), maybe their sessions are shorter. Either way, it seems reasonable there should be a market for such a customer. It also seems contradictory (and patronizing but let’s forget that) to say the model is dangerous for the weak of mind and spirit and then make a point out of how it’s a more mature and financially stable target audience that sinks money into P2W games like World of Tanks and ArchAge?

And gamers are OK with P2W in large part because they’re getting older and they’ve outgrown gaming. They have mortgages, multiple jobs, kids, and a dozen other excuses for circumventing game mechanics with real money.

Ah pardon moi! I did not realize gamers needed “legit excuses” for the way they play games at all. As far as I am concerned, an aging player base with more disposable incomes and diverse tastes in gaming is brilliant news for the videogame industry. We are entering uncharted waters still with the first generations of videogamers advancing through their middle age; this process is far from over. Games, genres, markets, business models: they are far from being fully explored or formed or finished. I’m not sorry for growing older or changing my spending ways – what a silly argument to even have.

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Many changes, handle it!

I’ll make it a simple summary: whatever rants declare (good old) gaming is dying or getting worse or going under for reason “XY” are wrought with fallacies. Cathartic at times maybe or endearing in their zeal, still wrong. Don’t trust them, don’t worry about it. The only truth is change. Games change. Audiences change. It all changes constantly. Sometimes you’ll like it better, sometimes you’ll like it worse. Most likely, it just means we’re getting more games and different games and more diverse, specialized markets and business models. We’ll see things come and go, over and over because such is the paradox of time (green is the new green!). And some games you really should avoid, ideally without preaching to others (too much).

Yesterday a still studying co-worker of mine showed me an interview he did with a 60-year old pharmacist who happens to train apprentices. The topic was “today’s youth” and communication, or something. It was basically an old fart talking about how young people cannot concentrate anymore, constantly use their mobile phones for wasteful activities and other weird things the old man (old because of his ways) clearly did not come close to grasp. He had zero understanding of this new generation he was supposed to teach, in fact he had no interest to learn about their world at all. It was a most tedious read for me, also because I have worked with young people and count myself among the digital age children. I fucking love the internet and over-sharing on twitter.

That’s why I am somewhat radically over the ever-fearful, judgmental whinging of fading generations, in all walks of life. I hope one day I’ll be a better old person (with a cool hat). There is a new world born every day and I am ready for the next adventure.

(…and I’ll still tag this post under ‘rants’ because :IRONY:)

Time vs. Money in MMOs and Arbitrary Lines in the Sand

Omg I am doing it again. Stahp m….too late!

Two bloggers against whom I harbor no particular ill will, which helps when ordering and formulating thoughts, are going at it: Eri is very angry at the free-to-play model, in regards to a specific, exploitative subset of games. Tobold argues that free-to-play games aren’t in fact funded by masses of poor and gullible people, again by example of a specific subset of games (which gets another reply from Eri). They’d probably really agree on many basic principles, if they were actually talking about the same thing; there are some pretty awful mobile games out there right now and some MMOs do f2p worse than others. On the other hand, it’s probable that in games like LOTRO or Allods, dedicated longtime players spend more money overall than short visitors, especially when the shops offer power-ups for alts and endgame-relevant items. Not all F2P is created equal.

Meanwhile in comments and elsewhere, the discussion has gone completely off the rocker once players start defending their love/hate for payment models by (ab-)using the old worrysome “addiction”-card. The issue aside that we cannot exactly equate lockboxes or micro-transactions in games with casino-like gambling since psychologically this is a simplification with certain problems, I am really quite vexed that something as complex as addiction gets pulled into payment model arguments by...players . There’s already a degree of compulsive behavior being facilitated by basic, everyday MMO design without qualifying as addiction. Addiction doesn’t “just happen” because of game- or payment model design, any more than depression happens because you watched too many sad movies. Addiction to games or gambling (or anything else) shows when other risk factors (such as distraction or withdrawal coping mechanisms) are already at play – which yes, makes many activities potential escalators.

There’s a way of making statements pro/against payment models for games without dragging in the flawed narrative of those who hate online gaming in the first place –

What I would appreciate and that’s a general statement, is that players stopped drawing that arbitrary line of ‘money spent’ being worse than too much time spent on MMOs. It absolutely isn’t true – losing grip on online gaming can have the same devastating effects (and happens a lot more often I’d wager) than erm, going broke. I don’t know anyone that went broke but I do know people perpetuating an unhealthy state of mind through escapism (I also know the opposite), to a point where it ruins their social and professional lives. That’s why the whole ‘dangerous addiction’ argument within anti-f2p arguments is so disingenuous. Let’s just agree right now that to a person that is already at risk, and only then, an awful lot of things can be harmful – lest we not start sounding like those who blanket condemn all online gaming because of its dangerous social hooks and manipulative progression-based content. (In reply to Azuriel elsewhere)

So much for that. Tangentially, my own brother is the one anecdotal example I can think of in terms of financial debt because of his Ultima Online addiction 17 years ago, amassing phone bills in the thousands of Euros for my parents in that early age of dial-up modems. UO didn’t have lockboxes any more than WoW does and yet, these MMOs are fully capable of serving good or bad, depending on a person’s situation.

In conclusion, once more

It’s important to be a vigilant consumer and be critical of what you’re served. It’s equally important not to turn a blind eye to what’s already there just because you’re more familiar with it. F2P games can be insidious cash-cows; F2P games can also allow someone with a small budget to participate in social gaming activities. Subscriptions can be a great, straightforward deal for regular players; subscriptions are also known to create a sense of “obligation” that some players actively avoid because it ain’t good for them personally.

But then, I have this feeling all along that our good old (and young) blogosphere is mostly in agreement on these matters, once all that righteous rage is spent anyway.

Payment Models in MMOs: Yeah, Still Don’t Care

It’s the never-ending topic whenever games have a bad launch, a mid-term low, a one-year crisis: it’s the payment model’s fault. Tobold goes as far as saying it’s the players’ fault when investment companies with chilling grey websites acquire a videogame developer like Sony Online Entertainment. If players aren’t willing to pay for games, well that’s what happens.

When it comes to this particular topic, I am out of fucks to give. Either I am not a very representative MMO player or an awful lot of people have it wrong when it comes to the effect of payment models and the viability of MMOs. The very first podcast discussion I joined was Liores’ Cat Context episode 28, and to this day my opinion is largely the same:

I want to play good games. I am more than happy to pay for good games. I’ve paid subs in WoW, LOTRO, Rift, Wildstar and Final Fantasy, to name a few. I’ve bought into buy-to-play and free-to-play games; free-to-play is just another word for “I’ll buy dresses and mounts instead” and I am vastly disappointed when developers present me with a lackluster shop I can’t spend any money on. That is on them (and happens all the time).

As for pay-to-win, hardly an MMO exists that truly deserves that label. What pay-to-win definitely is not is paying for airdrops in H1Z1 that fall visibly and audibly from the sky, for everyone on the server to see and retrieve, with a minuscule chance for upgrades. H1Z1 airdrops are paid chaos – there is more P2W in buying a silly hat in GW2 that distracts the enemy in WvW.

It cannot be up to players to know which payment model is the right one for a given game and it cannot be up to players to finance MMOs of a particular payment model just to “make a statement”. Heck, players don’t know what they want or what’s needed half of the time. Don’t put that type of impossible responsibility on their shoulders. Want me to pay for your sub? – Make a great game! Want me to pay your box? – Make a great game! Want me to invest in your f2p? –

Make a great game!

Make a game I actually want to play and that doesn’t crash and burn within three months because you’ve epically miscalculated your budget. Thanks!

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lolcat knows her numbers!

SOE and the All-you-can-eat MMO Buffet. Are we afraid yet?

It’s almost old news now, SOE and their single-subscription plans for all players. You can head over to Wilhelm’s for a roundup of what that means and why they’re doing it and check the other, related blogger links there. I am of course with Bhagpuss when it comes to feeling rather outraged about the whole Pro7Sat-deal for European players. If you’ve sorta grown up with those TV channels, it fills you with all kinds of dread thinking of them as MMO publishers, all other issues of this arrangement aside. I’ve been bewildered about this for a while now. First time I heard about it, I thought they were pulling my leg.

Syp explained today how the single-sub is really a “big win-win situation for both the studio and its customers” and a move towards rewarding brand loyalty. I can see how cross-financing more and less struggling products makes sense and why friends of SOE games might feel this way. After all, what’s cooler than getting more games for a single subscription, right?

For now. I just can’t help but puzzle over all the included implications for this genre that’s made for longterm, dedicated play. A genre that’s not the most suitable for switching games constantly – a thing that gets incentivized by the way sub bonuses will affect all of SOE’s involved products at the same time.

Don’t get me wrong; this is essentially not much different from free-to-play MMO gaming. You could say that you’re paying a sub for one game and get the rest for free. A single-sub MMO buffet doesn’t “destroy” player commitment any more than free-to-play does, any more than any payment model can. I have never believed in subs being great or in fact genuine tools of facilitating player commitment. I don’t believe they decide over how, when and why MMO players leave a title. Great games keep players. Great games create great communities that keep players. It’s all connected in one direction for me.

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Another thing this frontrunner of all-access MMO deals is doing, is inspiring wild industry speculations on what we can expect from here. It’s a no-brainer that other companies will follow suit; certainly other giants such as Blizzard or NCSoft have their own, big enough game palettes to offer. There will be a point in time where business analysts with a very large clip-board will have proven beyond doubt that, in these times of plentiful micro transactions, the pros of single-sub buffets outweigh the cons (such as losing multi-subbers) by far. Once you have access to more games and are actively encouraged to play them in combination, that opens up all types of new avenues of getting hooked and spending money with that one sub payed on top of everything else. As Tesh rightly pointed out on Twitter, it’s opening the floodgates to MMO meta-gaming and cross-overs, too – and we haven’t even properly begun to explore those. Frankly, I am scared to explore them. I do not appreciate those Steam trading cards at all.

But one can almost feel it now: a ripple in the fabric of the MMO market as we knew it. I can’t shake the gloomy feeling that SOE has just rung the bell for an entirely new era of MMO development – or opened a particularly disgusting cans of worms, depending on your viewpoint. One sub to rule them all and in the darkness bind them?

At this time and considering existing games, there may be clear upsides to this model. However, what it may cause in the long run and what types of new games it might inspire to be developed….especially for the traditionalists among us…..

I am afraid to even consider.

NextGen Sub model or B2P launch? A Desperate Thought Experiment

The blogosphere is abuzz with next gen subscription analyzis. MMOGC reminds us that subscriptions aren’t in fact back and she’s not alone in her suspicions. While some MMOs in the past were forced to revert to f2p, by now we have reason to believe such moves may be calculation. Tobold calls this new generation payment model “The bait & switch business model” and apparently it’s what any smart (and ruthless) business person would do given the current market. Others have chimed in on twitter how there really is no disadvantage here profitwise – subs must win by a landslide. Meanwhile, Tesh is full of eyeroll over the TESO sub and declares personal boycott. While I have a soft spot where Tamriel is concerned, I agree with every last word in his article; I would sign up for that MMO utopia yesterday.

May I raise a question here though? How superior is this route really, compared to the buy-to-play (and cash shop) alternative many expected? Especially given the crazy competition 2014’s AAAs will be facing, somehow I have my doubts this is such a clear winner. If anything, re-introducing a subscription-barrier in this particular scenario seems weird? LET’S THINK OUT LOUD HERE:

Let’s assume for a moment both Wildstar and TESO are going live sometime during Q1 2014, with Everquest Next on their heels in Q2 – and let’s completely ignore that Blizzard too may have a big expac up their sleeve around that same time. For the first time in years, the MMO mainstream is bewildered by too many AAA-choices and as we know, hardly anyone cares to pay for two subscriptions at a time. For the two sub-MMOs that essentially means a guaranteed loss of the usual potential playerbase. Alright, TESO have come up with a 1-month freebie but there are still box prices to pay too and it’s already bad enough these games launch so closely together. I don’t know anyone who appreciates that.

I doubt the mutual exclusivity of this situation is beneficial to either Carbine nor Zenimax. It’s the nature of MMOs that communities will form during the first few months into a game and that after a given time, players don’t care to join games that are already advanced in progress. They might dip a toe in but they’re less likely to settle and therefore less likely to purchase any virtual goods. We’re itchy to make decisions early when committing to new MMOs.

It’s also not very realistic to assume either game may go free-to-play after the first 3 months. The Secret World was special in its swift conversion for various reasons. Assuming a switch is already planned for both Wildstar and TESO, there’s no reason to believe either would switch after 3 months, given the much bigger hype around these titles and risk of bad PR (switches so soon after a launch are generally regarded as failures). Personally, I think a switch is way more likely to happen after 1 year – just like ArenaNet announced the first ever trial weekend for Guild Wars 2 only this August 2013.

12+ months are a lot of water under any virtual world’s bridge. It’s very likely players will test the other game as soon as it goes free – yet, that means they never payed subscriptions on the competition and they’re less likely to have spent a dime yet on virtual goods anywhere. For those switching from one sub to the other halfway through, both titles basically share player base. However: how many players were lost completely to one title due to community, or to both due to box+subscription model fatigue? How would GW2’s buy-to-play model truly compare to this assumed “early gold digging” scenario, considering a heavily contested launch?

An entirely hypothetical, simplified and sadly flawed calculation

Let’s assume 4 million players are ready to jump into either TESO or WS early 2014 and that neither turns out to be a clear “winner” (as I am not interested in that particular outcome). Why 4 million you ask? Given what Rift has managed in the past (pre-switch), that seems a very generous assumption.

2 million subscriptions each during the first 3 months, before players start dwindling. After that, let’s assume 50% of said players remain, while another 50% move on; 25% leaving for the other sub for another 3 months, 25% leaving for a f2p game for good. Between months 7-12, only 50% of overall players are retained while the game is still on a subscription. In this hypothetical scenario, box sales (60$) and subs (15$) for TESO/WS would yield the following for each:

chart1

Variables not accounted for: double subbers and/or box buyers, shop items. The first group adds marginally towards outcome and shop items are less eagerly bought in MMOs with subs. In any case, I am ignoring them for simplicity’s sake but you can add your own number if you like.

From here, it only gets more complicated when attempting to simulate a comparable B2P/shop scenario after GW2 fashion with a (better) shop like Rift’s. Unfortunately developers hardly ever make numbers public when it comes to cash shop habits and revenue – just like we don’t hear about active account fluctuations for subscription games. But since I am feeling lucky punk today, I’ll give it a go anyway and assume two different and hopefully somewhat realistic B2P/shop scenarios.

cölint

(Already I regret this whole idea!)

This time, we will assume 5 million players are ready to jump into either or both TESO or WS early 2014. Why 5 million this time? Because I am generously assuming that B2P games attract a wider target audience than sub MMOs. One reason why GW2 has sold 3mio copies by now is the one-time cost. Some players always stay the hell away from sub games. There is also a second difference, as I will assume 50% of the entire potential player base are “cross-buyers”. It’s rather likely that over the course of a year, a big part of that community will buy both WS and TESO, given it’s a 120$ in total and no more than that (in comparison one game with 12 months of subs would cost 240$). Means, 3.75mio boxes/account sold each. After that, we venture deep into hypothetical morass…but I’m already 11 paragraphs in and it’s too late to stop now!

Cash shop scenario 1) is more even-spread; it assumes that over the course of one year, the total of players per game will spend the following on micro-transactions: 30% spend 50$, 40% spend 20$, 30% spend nothing.

chart2

Cash shop scenario 2) is more radical; it assumes that over the course of one year, the total of players per game will spend the following on micro-transactions: 10% spend 100$, 30% spend 20$, 60% spend nothing.

chart3

As you can see, even with a lot of goodwill and no small amount of simplification, the subscription-model seems superior – by some. We still haven’t accounted for several more factors though where B2P is concerned. Variables not accounted for: whales, cross-shop purchases and box sales after year one. Especially that last part is worth taking note; B2P MMOs have the tendency to keep being sold longer than sub MMOs. Of course that argument is redundant if the sub games also turn B2P after one year, duh.

So that was a lot of effort for nothing?!

What was the point of all this? Well, it looks like especially in the short term, subs are more profitable. Still, the difference between the two models isn’t as drastic, considering there is a huge margin of error in all of my calculations. And this is in fact good news! Why is it good news? Because from here, one could think of ways to tip the scenario either way.

So, help me refine this: was I too generous on cash shop sales or not nearly generous enough? Would a B2P maybe attract twice as many box sales than usual? Under which circumstances could we still see the B2P model win the upper hand? Where did I go wrong the most (real data would be awesome)? I guess that’s where a proper business analyst would come handy, for once.