RMT, the great fail of MMOs

Before we get into the details of this post, I think it’s very important to keep one thing in mind; no matter the payment method, someone is going to end up paying more for option A than option B, and vice versa. The discussion here is what method would work best for not only the majority of players, but for the health of the company and future MMO development.

The pros of the current AAA model, a set monthly rate, are fairly obvious. If you are budgeting your gaming expenses, you know your favorite AAA MMO is going to cost you $15 or so a month regardless of how often you play. That breaks down to 9 cents an hour if you play 40 hours a week, 18.75 cents for 20 hours, or 37.5 cents for 10 hours. That monthly rate gives you access to everything currently in the game, and all future development short of a retail expansion. Most AAA developers add ‘free’ content fairly regularly, and continually fix up the product. In the purest form of cost/hour, the more you play, the less you pay, and regardless of what you actually do in-game, you are paying for the complete product. Chatting in town costs you just as much as high-end raiding or PvP.

The RMT model has a few forms. One would be a pay-per-minute method, which works similar to the subscription model above, but rather than a flat fee per month, you pay for only the time you actually play. The cost/hour ratio favors those who play less, and the total cost per month can vary greatly. If we assume a base rate of 25 cents an hour (the cost of someone playing 15 hours a week using the sub price of $15), someone playing 40 hours a week would be paying $40, someone at 20 hours pays $20, and someone at 10 hours pays $10.

Then you have the ‘free to play’ RMT model, where you pay nothing for a beginners slice of the game, and then pay to get access to further content, be it levels, items, quests, or instances. This model also frequently offers shortcuts, allowing you to speed up in-game progress by paying more.

I’ll be up front and say that I highly favor the subscription model, and the very notion of RMT is enough to drive me away from a product. Part of that reasoning is cost, I play ‘enough’ that a subscription is an extremely cheap deal in terms of cost/hour. Simply put, no other form of entertainment offers as much value to me as a subscription to an MMO.

However cost is not the only factor. In my opinion, the RMT model adds a lot of ‘features’ that I’m not looking for in an MMO. From the harmless (and imo useless) fluff, to game changing xp potions, to balance changing paid items, RMT changes how one approaches an MMO.

If we are charging per minute, my tolerance for waiting around for a PUG group drops to zero. I’m not going to pay to wait for some random person to arrive, or arrive and slow down progress by being a ‘weaker’ player. If I want to make raid progress, I surround myself with like-minded players in a subscription game. With RMT, if I want to make progress AND not spend more money, I HAVE to gather only the top players, and anyone below that level is strictly excluded, far more so than with a subscription model.

It also places added stress on guild activities. If a raid is planned for 8pm, and a few members arrive at 8:30pm, we have now paid for 30 minutes of waiting. This not only places more pressure to arrive on time, it also excludes those who can’t commit to a set schedule. If your kid is crying and you go afk, my patience for you will drop far faster when the pay-per-minute clock is running. Now that afk member is wasting both time AND money. MMOs have enough barriers as it is for group and social content, do we really need to throw money into the equation as well? What happens to flight paths that are not instant when we are paying per minute, or character downtime? If a priest kills mobs slower than a rogue, now not only do you need to spend more time, you are also spending more money to reach the level cap, or catch up to guild mates. XP potions are a nice option, but again you are spending more to reach the same spot.

Paying for content also has its pitfalls. If I buy access to an instance, I have to hope all my buddies did too; else someone is going to be left out. If I join a new raiding guild, it’s time to buy whatever current raid they are on, and forget whatever raids I already bought for my old guild. Players hate broken content already, what if in addition to wasting your time, you just paid for a broken quest, or a broken instance? At that point the old “slap in the face” forum post might actually be justified. If we are paying for gear, it creates more problems. If all your buddies bought tier 2 armor, and you are using the free tier 1 stuff, good luck getting a raid or instance spot. Who wants to bring the freeloader with ‘noob’ gear? Not to mention, if we remove the item carrot from an MMO, what exactly are we grinding towards? MMO gamers love to grind, we just like it cleverly disguised by things like XP, reputation, renown, gear tiers, keys, or any number of things. If I can pay to remove the grind, what exactly do I have left going for me, other than mailbox pimping? Sure things like ‘exploring’ and ‘seeing content’ sound nice, but single player games are notoriously better for those activities, and if we remove the grind of an MMO, the content goes by very quickly. It won’t take players long to figure out that dropping a ton of money for a character with limited options is not that great an idea.

The item/content RMT model works fine for single player games, as the only one impacted is the person making the purchase decision. As soon as you throw other players in the mix, you have just added another barrier of entry. Raiders now need 3-6 nights a week of time, and an extra X amount of money to raid. Groups of friends must decide on content together, and agree what to purchase. If the purchase is subpar, have fun playing the blame game. Players with the best gear are now either no-life loser, or spoiled rich kids, etc etc.

I’m sure fans of RMT have their reasons, and I would love to hear and discuss them, but keep one more thing in mind. The only reason a company would switch from a subscription model to RMT is if RMT earned them more money. Unless RMT guarantees you more customers, that added money comes from your current base. If I’m hardcore Bill, and I have two similar MMO games, one with RMT and one with a sub, which one am I going to play? If I’m Joe Casual, which one works best for me? Now which customer does the RMT company prefer, and which one does the subscription model company prefer? See the problem?

46 Responses to RMT, the great fail of MMOs

  1. lochness says:

    How about both. Monthly fee gets you access to everything, or you can pay by the drink for content when you feel like jumping in game.

    I’d play more MMO at a time if some were RMT games and AA to AAA titles. I only sub to one at a time but if say Planetside or EQ2 had a way for me to play wihtout a lot of monthly expense, I would definatley shell out a few bucks when I felt like jumping in for some quick action.

    If the game

  2. sid67 says:

    If we are charging per minute, my tolerance for waiting around [...] drops to zero.

    I think this strikes at the core of the problem with a pay-per-minute model. Most MMOs are designed to use grind mechanics and Pavlovian conditioning to drag players slowly through a limited amount of content.

    It’s bad enough on a monthly charge, but that approach in a pay-per-minute scheme is so blantantly exploitive that there is no way I way i would play that game.

    When you also consider how such a thing would impact the social issues (i.e. lack of tolerance for others) — I can’t imagine this is a game I would find fun in any way.

    I also just don’t think US players would adopt a game that took this approach. I know in other countries (Europe for example) they are much more agreeable to pay-per-use type things. But in the US, most people have been burned by such “plans” in the past and it’s a severe deterrent.

    It’s going to be hard enough to unseat WoW and Blizzard from their perch as it is, I can’t imagine a company attempting to do that AND implement this type of model. As far as PPM goes in the US, this won’t even be a blip unless Blizzard decides to offer something like it (in the US) as an alternate subscription plan.

    Unlikely, but who knows… Their greed knows no bounds.

  3. Beau says:

    There are no cash shops that sell items that affect balance.

    A mount, XP item, fluff pets or any other cash shop items currently on the market (how many of these free games have you played? Seems like none if you think they are selling those UBER items in cash shops) do not affect anyone but the player themselves.

    If you are going to have an argument for something, at least stick to the truth: cash shop items never affect balance.

    Even in a PVP game, there are no unbalancing items.

    Even in EVE, which now has RMT, a player can buy a character and a ship that used to take years to achieve. Even then, there is no unbalance.

    You are confusing some players having money compared to others having none with balance.

    So, isn’t a player that can’t afford a monthly sub at a disadvantage compared to you?

    Even if a cash shop game started selling UBER items, there is still the same opportunity for the other players to have the same: as long as they have the money.

    Just consider it their monthly fee, just like the standard model. (Which is actually the RARER model if you compare the sheer number of players playing f2p games compared to “standard” games.)

    I think we all know that you are just afraid that some player would be able to buy an item that you “worked” for. That’s fine, just come out and say that it: jealousy is an emotion we all tangle with.

    I actually agree (like I did on my podcast) that it can create strife, or, at the very least, boredom, with many players. But no one can argue that selling of any items create unbalance. Everyone has the same opportunity.

  4. Beau says:

    “Most MMOs are designed to use grind mechanics and Pavlovian conditioning to drag players slowly through a limited amount of content.”

    I’m sorry to say, but I am no slave to MMO conditioning. Where do you GET such statements from?? lol

    “It’s going to be hard enough to unseat WoW and Blizzard from their perch as it is,”

    It’s not going to happen, as much as you want it to. But WHY do you want it to? They are not a phone company or crooked senator: they make video games. See, if you don’t like them, you go play something else. But…

    Didn’t you RAID for a few years? Weren’t you at the TOP of your game? Didn’t you spend HOURS and HOURS in this game that you always talk bad about?

    Did you ever think that the game didn’t change..but you did, and, like some kind of gambling addict, you try to find some scapegoat instead of blaming yourself? lol

    Players like you make me boggle.

  5. syncaine says:

    Beau please tell me you are joking, no items for sale in RMT? Haha, that’s too funny. So all these companies support entire game staffs on sales of ponies and skirts?

    http://swordofthenewworld.gamersfirst.com/ – item shop on the front page
    http://rappelz.gpotato.com/# – item shop on the front page
    http://shaiya.aeriagames.com/ – item shop on the front page

    I could go on and on, but all of those sell actually balance changing items. If I wanted, I could create an account, dump a ton of money into the game, and have a pimped out character instantly, so that whole ‘its all ponies’ thing is just a tad off. Then I can go around and bash all those ‘noob’ gamers with limited budgets.

    The strawman of fear is a bit off as well. I’m at the stage in life where dropping enough money to compete would be a non-issue for me, but like the post said, it’s not about that. If I wanted to play a game determined by the size of your wallet, I would pick a different hobby.

    And the game has not changed, really? So WotLK is basically vannilla WoW? Odd, you must be playing a different game than everyone else who talks about it, because from all accounts, its quite a bit different. But then again, you are also rather unique in that you have been playing MMOs for so long, and yet don’t play them for the grind, but some other, hidden factor… boggle indeed.

  6. Hiryu02 says:

    Amen, syncaine. You summed up my opinion on this subject extremely well. One of the benefits of the sub-type MMO is that everyone theoretically starts out even, and their progression/strength/awesomeness is directly proportional to your efforts and time investment.

    RMT cheapens the game. How cool would Thunderfury have been if you could buy it? Not cool at all, as any shmuck with a credit card could get TF.

    Beau, if you want to pay to have an advantage over other players with less time/money. You can gtfo of my MMO. I like an even playing field.

  7. mordiceius says:

    Syncaine, I must say that even though I disagree with you on a lot of things, I think this is first time I have 100% agreed with you.

  8. LurbyJo says:

    I’m confused how $0.25 an hour equals $10 for 10 hours.

  9. Anjin says:

    While I don’t feel that RMT is the sky falling in on MMOs, I feel just as skeptical about whether it can be done right. A developer will eventually get it right in a Western MMO, but I won’t believe it until I seen it.

  10. Wilhelm2451 says:

    Can you point me at a definition of RMT that includes a per-hour subscription model? I have never seen RMT used in that way. I have only seen it used to indicate the exchange of money for items in game.

  11. Kyre says:

    There’s games that have done it well, already. Runescape is an example of a less severe barrier between free/pay, where it’s a monthly fee, to get all added features–sort of a fair compromise.

    My favorite example, however, is the game Puzzle Pirates, which knows how to meet that happy medium perfectly. It doesn’t charge per hour–it charges for features, just like suggested…sorta. There are two sets of worlds.

    One set is subscription based. Just like Runescape and the like, there are free players–and then there are subscribers on those servers, that get the higher level of content.

    The other set is their ‘doubloon’ servers. Servers where you can buy badges that give you a month’s access (a month of login days, rather than a calendar month) to a certain feature. If you have money, you can buy these doubloons–and unless you’re a real power user, it’s quite possible to play for almost half the subscription cost–even less, potentially.

    Even more interesting–there’s a market in the game, where you’re able to sell doubloons that you have purchased for in game money–that are bid by other players. So, if you have excess money IRL, you can trade doubloons for the in game currency. If you have little cash, you can spend time doing free things, to get doubloons, and access stronger features.

    Best of all–the game has very little to it that is actually based on equipment. You get access to more things you can do–but there’s no inherent huge advantage to the items–so it adds to the game, but it doesn’t create any true imbalance.

  12. Cuppycake says:

    So, “pay-per-minute” service doesn’t (and won’t) exist in North America. Our government doesn’t put regulations on how long we can spend on the internet playing games (yet) like China. This kind of gameplay hasn’t existed here since MUD’s, where it was actually EXPENSIVE to have simultaneous users in chat worlds together. Someone had to foot the bills, and it cost a lot of money per evening to sign into Prodigy to play text games.

    Consider this – what if you could play WoW (or insert game of choice here) for free each month and get exactly what you have now? The entire game was funded entirely by the percentage of people who paid extra money for things like name changes, character transfers, and char customization. What if a game came out that had all the features you want in an MMO for free – and had ‘perks’ that don’t effect gameplay that sucker tons and tons of people in and keep your entertainment free?

  13. syncaine says:

    I agree we are not likely to see a straight up pay-per-minute AAA MMO, I included that idea in the post because I’ve seen it suggested over and over on forums and the like.

    As for your other suggestion Cuppy, I would love to see a AAA MMO title support itself on JUST fluff RMT. Untill that happens, and until a company can show that it will stay away from adding more to the RMT equation (hi SOE), I’m not buying it.

    I think Puzzle Pirates is the best example of successful RMT (how successful is that game anyway?), but PP is imo more of a mix of mini-games than a real MMO. It’s entire model is designed around RMT, and as such, it’s ‘world’ is broken up into RMT chunks. I’ve only messed around with it for a few hours, but I never really got that MMO feel from it. Felt too much like one of those Wii party mini-games to me.

  14. sente says:

    A pay-per-online-time service (which has nothing to do with micro transactions per se) would likely be a matter of paying for chunks of hours giving the costs today.

    The subscription model works out best if you or your family mainly play one subscription-based game at any given time and spend at least an average amount of hours in that game. If your total game time is spread out over multiple games, perhaps due to different family and friend interests, the subscription model can become relatively expensive and a per-online-time based fee would be preferable.

    Some parents might also prefer a per-online-time cost, to support enforcing a certain number of hours of game time for their kids.

    As for paying for content, this is already in use today in a number of games – it is called expansions. The problems you note are already there, only on a different scale. At what level of granularity does it become annoying? The principle is already in use, it is just a matter of finding a reasonable sweetspot. For subscription-based games those chunks of content tend to be large, but not always – see EQ2 as an example of adding smaller content packages also.

    I do not see anything wrong with micro transactions as one fee principle to use. It is when it comes down to discussing specific implementations of it where things can break down and become more valid to discuss implications of certain implementations.

  15. Werit says:

    MMO’s (i.e. Neverwinter Nights) used to be pay-per-hour. Much like ISP’s that charged per hour, I don’t see that making a comeback as we have tasted unlimited time on a flat fee.

  16. Beau says:

    “Beau please tell me you are joking, no items for sale in RMT? Haha, that’s too funny. So all these companies support entire game staffs on sales of ponies and skirts?”

    Posting a few links to a few items, regardless of what the items are, proves nothing. There are SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO many more cahs shop games out there that DO sell skirts and bugs and stuff, and yet they have combat, dungeons and all that. Again, you obviously have not played but a few, or at least looked into it.

    And there ya go with SAYING it creates unbalance..without showing HOW it creates unbalance.
    A player having better equipment is NOT unbalance. Unbalance is another player directly affecting your gameplay. There is no way for other players to do that. Even in EVE, where one can get held captive until log-out, there is no case of players forcing other players to do anything.

    Why?

    Becaus that is the official rule set of the game, and the game allows it. Every player has the same chance to get that stuff, that ship, that cash shop item.

    Saying that “what about the poor players?” is proof that a cash shop somehow makes ADVANTAGES is like saying “but that player doesn’t have a computer! You’re at an advantage.”

    They draw the line somewhere.

    Even with all that, in any MMO that has PVP there is still no “competition.” You might FEEL like there is, because obviously you care enough about LEET LOOT that you were a raider for so long, but there isn’t.

    You cannot die in an MMO. A player cannot stop you from playing, according to all official game mechanics and rulesets. A player does not have an advantage because he can get to that mob faster than you, because of that faster horse he bought. That just means he got a different (note: not better) place in line than you. The mob re-spawns.

    There is no way for an MMO to read the thoughts of their players so that it can formulate items that each individual will value. Some might not want stats over look (yes, I know this seems crazy to you, after all, you don’t MIND looking like a skittle as long as your DPS is rockin’) and some might not want the item because of lore reasons.

    I assure you, outside of the RARER (compared to most players) playerbase that is raiding, there are a million reasons why players play the game. Most players, according to the actual companies, (I tend to believe them over some blogger kid) don’t actually raid and haven’t even noticed these cash shop items. Most are going about their business.

    And of course, this all stems from your fear that they will sell the bestest items to the unwashed masses in a cash shop, which shows, again, that you know nothing about game design OR the history of cash shops.

    “And the game has not changed, really? So WotLK is basically vannilla WoW? Odd, you must be playing a different game than everyone else who talks about it, because from all accounts, its quite a bit different. But then again, you are also rather unique in that you have been playing MMOs for so long, and yet don’t play them for the grind, but some other, hidden factor… boggle indeed.”

    Oh dear LORD man, you mean players only play a game for a GRIND? That hidden factor?…here, check it out..I’ll spell it out slowly for you:

    FUN.

    To sum up:

    I do not care what other players think, nor do I care what they do with their time or money. I am not jealous over someone else’s virtual life. I have my own.

    Cash shops will not sell that bestest uber loot. Don’t worry, you can still brag to those that care about having the “best.” (If spending 40 hours of your life inside the same content is worth bragging about.)

    There is no unbalance, being that these games have the same opportunity for all. Of course, it’s easy to cry about unbalance for those few that cannot afford those items, but
    A) Those items never affect other players, even if they ARE weapons.
    B) Those players can either afford it, or go play another game. No one is forcing anything.

    Anyway, I know Blizzard hurt you like, real bad, especially after all the hours you put into the relationship, but she’s moved ON, man. Let her go.

  17. mbp says:

    Good microtransactions could be used to encourage more people to play: For example offer a pay by the hour fee as an alternative to the monthly sub. If you play a lot go for the monthly fee if you play a little go for the hourly fee.

    Bad Microtransactions could be used to squeeze more money out of existing players: You want this armour of Epeen Splendour? No problem – you can spend 5000 hours grinding the dungeon of uber pointlessness or you can pay $15 of real money and get it today.

  18. Swift Voyager says:

    Beau, try Wizard 101. It has cash shops that sell items quite a bit better than anything you can get any other place in the game. Wizard 101 also has PvP dueling, which they are expanding this week, according to their web site. Try dueling another player and one of you has RMT items and the other has just plain old epic quest items. That’s going to afffect the balance more than just a little bit. They’re adding a PvP tournament system that tracks winners and gives rewards for winning duels too.

    Also Beau, Eve doesn’t allow character and item sales. It’s a bannable offense. You are only allowed to buy game time codes with in-game money, and you are required to use the official site for those transactions. Getting caught doing RMT in Eve will get you smacked with the bann stick hard.

    Wizard 101 is a great example of where MMO pricing could be headed in the future. They offer a 1 year subscription at $60 per year, they have $10 monthly rate, and they have a totally free-to-play area that gives you about 20% of the total game content. They have cash item shops with seasonal fluff, and they have a seperate cash shop with totally game-breaking awesome gear. Then, if those options aren’t quite what you’re looking for, they also offer the option to purchase access to individual areas of the game world alacarte.

    It’s a game aimed at young people and families (moms), so the pricing model works well for them. Judjing by the number of servers they keep adding, it seems to be working out well for them. Oh and by the way, this is a US/EU game not some asian game like the Aria games.

  19. syncaine says:

    MBP, good RMT is only good for the player, not the company. Letting people pay less because they play less (define less however you like) means the company is lossing money on that player over the traditional model. WoW is so successful because it caters to the ultra-casual, who generally plays less. Would they still have such high profits if they let everyone just pay for their time, given that the hardcore would leave for other games (they are not likely to pay per hour to raid when they can raid at a cheaper rate in games like LoTRO or EQ2). They make far less money in Asia, and while Gov regulations get mixed into that, the core of their profits comes from the US/EU subscription market.

    And Beau, I’m glad you live in an alternate universe, with this magic majority of players who don’t grind but only play for ‘fun’, oblivious to everything around them. If only in this universe fun was not linked to grind for all successfull MMOs, you might not sound like a complete loon. And while I would love to spend hours pointing out cash shops for you, I think three directly proving you wrong with a five minute google search is enough. Granted items like “best bracer” don’t effect gameplay in your world, because it’s magic fun land, but to me being able to buy something set as ‘best’ tends to have an impact on my skittle.

    You keep bringing up EVE, which is very odd, because what you talk about would have massive impacts in EVE (heard about that scandle? Why is it such a big deal if someone has more ISK, in fun land it does not matter what everyone else has, right?) Sure EVE has RMT-lite, but it’s again controlled, and at the rate of $15 for 300m ISK, its cheaper to get the ISK yourself than bother spending the money, assuming you know what you are doing. It might help new players get more expensive ships blown up, but it has no impact on PvP (that part of the game you seem oblivious to, because it consists of players interacting with each other, and then it DOES matter what everyone brings/has)

    I’m happy you found magic MMO fun land, but until the rest of us catch up, trolling blogs about the virtues of fun is rather pointless. The millions of people who are actually paying to play MMOs are clearly having fun already, even if we are just logging on to grind. We will stick to those topic, and you can go troll the forum of ‘only for fun’ land.

  20. Swift Voyager says:

    I think maybe he plays single player MMO’s.

  21. Thallian says:

    I don’t think pay per hour would work for the largest MMO on the block but it might for smaller ones better, especially if they have competitive rates (5 cents an hour anyone?) Then its so negligible that it isn’t niggling at the back of your mind the whole time and you can get new people to try your game easier.

  22. Hiryu02 says:

    Beau, you have exposed yourself with your latest comments. You don’t care about players, and you also claim that RMT games have the “same opportunity for all”.

    This is a patently false statement. RMT is NOT equal, because not everyone has equal funds to spend.

    You claim WEAPONS don’t affect other players? Wow. Hey syn, can we get rid of this guy somehow. He doesn;t even argue well, he just spreads disinformation.

    Go play single-player games, Beau. No one else gets hurt in your magical single-player funland.

  23. Tesh says:

    The “good old boy country club” model of subscriptions only provides a “fair” gaming field for those who can pass the barrier to entry, and those who have roughly the same amount of time per month to play.

    Also, whether it’s monthly/quarterly/annual subscriptions or charge per minute/hour, it’s still charging for time. That clock is still ticking. It ticks a bit louder for some, true, but any time a business model charges for time rather than content, there will be an impetus to perform, and an impatience with those who aren’t at your level. The more constrained your playing schedule, the louder the ticking.

    The game design of WoW is aimed at the casual market, but the business model most certainly is not. The more casual the player, the higher the cost to play a subscription game (measured as price per unit of time actually spent playing). Some people are OK with that, sure, but it’s far from the “fair and level playing ground” that some argue for. The playing field in a sub game is heavily weighted to those with more time to play. That’s only “fair” if you look at a very specific set of players and compare within the group.

  24. Tesh says:

    @Swift Voyager,
    The “RMT” items in W101 are also purchasable via the in-game currency. Effectively, players can pay for them with either time spent in the game earning in-game currency, or with time spent in the real world earning real-world currency. Typically, paying with cash is indeed a shortcut, but it’s not an absolute barrier.

    Caring about how quickly (or slowly) someone else plays through the game is silly.

  25. Eric says:

    Having played MMOs since UO beta, I will never play a pay to play MMO.

  26. anothergamer says:

    F2P RMT MMOs (which relates to Cash Shops games…Syncaine confused us a bit talking about the pay-by-hour model) will favor players who pay more money than the others.

    Subscription-based MMO will mainly favor players who put more time than the others (skill has a small impact, I agree, but not as much as time).

    In the first case, the players who are on the short end of the stick at least don’t pay to play. They get an “advantage”.

    In the other case, a player who doesn’t play as much as his friends or guild will probably have less fun since he’s behind. He’s paying as much as everyone, but he can’t follow since he doesn’t put enough time (for whatever good reasons he may have, it doesn’t matter). However good you may be at the game, if you’re getting left out, you can’t experience the same game as the others.

    I’ve experienced the subscription-based model a lot. I’m currently sick of it and trying the other one now.

  27. Tesh says:

    anothergamer, that attitude is largely why I think that the market as a whole is ripe for a well crafted microtransaction game. There are huge prejudices and stigmas in the blogger and hardcore world, but MT games aren’t really for them in the first place. MMOs are mainstream now, and the casual gamer is a force to be reckoned with.

  28. Tesh says:

    Let me reiterate on that last point, since it’s more or less what syncaine was asking about; the financial viability of a microtransaction model. Microtransaction games are not built for the hardcore. They are build for the casual player. That’s why Puzzle Pirates isn’t the same old level/loot treadmill that every subber is used to. It’s a different sort of world, with a different sort of economy, a different reason for playing, a different presentation, and a different set of progression metrics.

    Microtransactions are not going to be able to support the same sort of gameplay that subscriptions will. Trying to frame their potential and game design applications in the same light as subscription models is apples to orange, and is setting up strawmen to dismiss something different.

    Microtransaction games, like Puzzle Pirates, are built to allow players to pay for what they can and will play. Good ones allow free play, and monetize fluff and convenience. I’m just as opposed to “selling power” exclusively to cash customers, which is why I initially complained about the W101 crown items. They have since made those items available for purchase with in-game currency. The only difference now, since these items are available to one and all, is how the player winds up paying for them.

    Bluntly, it is no business of any player how someone else pays for their game. Likewise, it is no business of any player how fast someone else progresses through the content. It is utterly irrelevant to your gaming experience.

    PvP can be a trouble spot, but canny game design will bypass this completely. I’m not sure that anyone does it right yet, but Atlantica Online is pretty close. PvP contests use a matchmaking service that accounts for your aggregate “might rating”, which measures the levels of your team and their gear. It’s as level of a PvP playing field as a DIKU lineage game can get. In WoW terms, it would be as if your gear and character build were given rough numerical ratings and you are matched against those with similar ratings. This places an emphasis on skill.

    That’s the point of playing with other players. Skill is the determinant of PvP. It’s the WoW mentality, where gear and time investment are much more important than skill, that is truly “unfair” when it comes to PvP. If Arena contestants were given the same gear to start with, there would be parity. If there were two rounds, with players swapping characters between rounds, like Left 4 Dead’s team fights, there would be a sense of parity.

    As long as a game charges per time played rather than by content, the game design will be strongly based around keeping people playing. That’s the genesis of the unholy grind. I find it interesting, syncaine, that you’re arguing for grind, when one of the primary reasons I follow your blog is based in the game design concerns you expressed when questioning whether we really need levels in our MMOs. People like achieving and progressing. Grind is actually an impediment to that, and makes the time investment much more important than the skill investment.

    Back to Puzzle Pirates. Player progress there is based almost entirely on player skill. So called “credit card captains” can buy the toys to look pretty, and the tools to do the work, but if they are utterly incompetent at actually playing the game, they will not see success.

    A hardcore player who has a deeply rooted DIKU mentality, loving the level/loot treadmill for forty hours a week, will likely always get more out of a subscription model. There’s no shame in that. The trouble is, that’s not every player. Microtransactions and dual currency business models open the gates to the mainstream of casual players. Yes, if the game design is firmly rooted in the hardcore DIKU mentality, there’s a mismatch at the outset, and the game won’t really click, just as microtransactions don’t click in the DIKU model.

    Are microtransaction games economically viable? Absolutely. Will hardcore Western players like them? Not necessarily, but again, those games aren’t designed for them in the first place. There’s plenty of room for MT, DC and sub games, all catering to different audiences. It’s already been proven that WAR and AoC can’t compete toe to toe with WoW. They can’t out-WoW WoW. Microtransaction and dual currency games aren’t trying to do so. (BioWare’s aspirations and hubris notwithstanding.)

    Beancounters in MMO development houses have to understand by now that they can’t compete directly with WoW. They might make a temporary dent, and find a semi-stable audience, as LOTRO, WAR, EVE and AoC have, but more will go the Tabula Rasa route, compete directly in the business model, and fall flat on their faces. At this point, in this market (including the recession/depression), it would be foolish to make another expensive mistake. Microtransaction and dual currency models are proven to work, especially if the game design matches the model.

    The Guild Wars model works. SWTOR could fill a curious niche between GW and MT systems, and to be honest, I think that it’s about the only way that it will be successful. The storytelling of BioWare is more suited for single player RPGs, or a GW-type instanced world. That’s the nature of a heavily storied game; it has to be personalized.

    Ultimately, we’ll just have to see where things go, but the more companies try to compete directly with WoW, and the more that fail, the less we’ll see of innovative ideas because investors won’t like the risk. The business model has to adapt or concede that WoW will always be taking their lunch money, and the devs will have to be content with 100k subs or thereabouts. Beyond that, a diversified market is better for players and devs, since there are more opportunities to find profitable niches and innovative ideas. Every MMO that takes the $15/month (or even $10/month) sub model as a given has already given WoW its biggest tool to kill their game.

  29. Beau says:

    “Beau, you have exposed yourself with your latest comments. You don’t care about players, and you also claim that RMT games have the “same opportunity for all”.

    This is a patently false statement. RMT is NOT equal, because not everyone has equal funds to spend.

    You claim WEAPONS don’t affect other players? Wow. Hey syn, can we get rid of this guy somehow. He doesn;t even argue well, he just spreads disinformation.

    Go play single-player games, Beau. No one else gets hurt in your magical single-player funland.”

    I am not sure I have ever read a statement that attempted to kinda’ sound tough, while sounding realllllyyy whiney at the same time.

    Again, you see no difference between someone affording 15 dollars a month for a sub and another player spending 15 dollars a month on XP pots.

    And, of course, you are one of these guys that says stuff like “Single player funland” as though you are doing something in your game that is “serious.”

    You are essentially calling my ice cream “gay strawberry” while yours is “manly vanilla.”

    Yo Syn, bra…can we dump this dude? All he does is say that things like “Mmo’s ARE competition!” and “People LIVE for the top spots.” and that “Cash shop items completely unbalance the game, even though affording cash shop items is the same as buying access to a game. Of course, I didn’t see it this way at first, but even my character is a cash shop item. After all, I PAID 50 bucks for the software first, right? Then, on top of that I pay 15 dollars a MONTH. So, I OWN that character, just like that player in Rappelz OWNS that XP pot that gives him the advantage. So yeh, the sub model is just a thinly veiled CASH shop model, even though I would never admit it, because cash shop games are stupid, and HURT players. Man, it hurts players like RAIDERS that work HARD man, HARD. In the videogame. You know, virtual world.”

    Ok maybe you haven’t said that last one, yet.

  30. Beau says:

    EDIT: There’s no shame in playing 40 hours a week??

    What??

    Dear lord, who the hell plays 40 hours a week and feels NO SHAME?

    Wow.

  31. syncaine says:

    Tesh, you make a lot of good points, and I agree a game like Puzzle Pirates works well for RMT. The problem for me is, I don’t view PP as an MMO, or at least not a game that will fill what I am looking for in an MMO. I like the DIKU model, and I don’t feel this great need to move on from it. Evolve it, yes, but not abandon it. I also don’t believe the DIKU model is going away, or is going to be unseated as the ‘top’ MMO model. I think MMO trends since EQ1 have shown that people really do like the DIKU model, but that’s somewhat of a different topic.

    Now, for all those players who don’t like DIKU, yes I think RMT MMOs work for them. Puzzle Pirates is a great example, as is something like Pox Nora (a game I spent way too much time/money on). But as fun as Pox Nora was, it was a break from MMO gaming for me, not an alternative. The other ‘problem’ with current RMT games is they are all AA or lower. Until a AAA game launched using the free-to-play RMT model, and players accept it, RMT games are going to have that stigma of second class. A new anima grind-fest launching every other week does not help that stigma either.

    At the end of the day, I think subscription games and RMT games are almost two different genres, with two different player bases. I’m not sure the divide is as simple as hardcore/casual (otherwise how could WoW have the sub base it has?), but perhaps just a separation of game styles. If grind-like gameplay is not your thing, an RMT game might work. If you like set character progression (or whatever we want to call it), subscription might work. I agree both styles should be supported, but I think trying to mix the two is rather unpopular (look at the reaction for the EQ2 shop, and that’s very RMT-lite, for now)

  32. Tesh says:

    Well, AAA/AA and “MMO or not” is pretty subjective. Heck, there’s even a call for removing the RPG from WoW, since there’s very little RP going on, or the MMO from GW since it’s instanced. (Never mind that 90% of WoW is soloable.)

    In the end, who really cares as long as it’s fun to play? Getting hung up on labels like RPG, MMO, AAA and such is really only something that the hardcore braggards do, and it’s only hurting themselves. (Even as they turn around and buy gold, I might add.) If the game if fun, people will play it. If it’s profitable, the company is happy. Nothing else really matters.

  33. syncaine says:

    Yes fully agreed. I was just using the titles to help identify a style of gameplay. Puzzle Pirates and WAR don’t share many design decisions :)

    Other than PP, any ‘free-to-play’ MMO you suggest Tesh? I’ve tried Sword of the New World (fun for about an hour), Pox Nora, Wurm, and a few others. Anything really worthwhile out there?

  34. Tesh says:

    You’re right, they may be different genres, but that’s probably what they need to be. It’s called market differentiation, and it’s the only way for them to carve out a profitable niche. I just see little point in being prejudiced because they are different.

  35. Tesh says:

    I’m also not opposed to the DIKU style. I agree that microtransactions probably won’t fit for them. *shrug* I’m perfectly happy with MT, dual currency and sub games in the market. Competition makes for better games overall. I don’t care to play sub games, m’self, but I don’t begrudge those who do. It’s all about giving players choices. :D

    I’d suggest Atlantica Online. It’s a DIKU flavored squad based tactical combat game, with overtones of Suikoden and an interesting economy and crafting system. Tipa seems to like DOMO (I’ve not tried it.)

    I’ve tried Perfect World, NeoSteam, 4Story and a few others, but you’re also right in that they really aren’t all that impressive. I don’t attribute that to the business model, though, I attribute it to poor design choices and localization. It’s possible to do good game design on a shoestring budget, it’s the art and engineering that take up the lion’s share of the dev budget.

    In the end, I agree that there are a lot of lame MMOs out there. Sadly, most are free to play. Again, I attribute that to bad design, not the business model. The free to play microtransaction or dual currency business model can be profitable enough to run a company… as long as the product itself is any good. ;)

  36. Tesh says:

    I did enjoy Wizard 101, but it’s only free to play up to a point in the content (though for unlimited time). I’d classify it as a sub game with an extended trial mode. I actually also like WoW, I just don’t see enough value in paying a subscription for it, given my constrained schedule.

    That’s actually where I do think that RMT and sub models can play nice, by giving alternate subscription plans. Say, an Alliance or Horde only WoW sub for half price, or maybe even just limit it to a race for even cheaper. Such may not work for WoW, since it would be a radical change, but a Light Side/Dark Side split of products might work for something like SWTOR, if they go sub. If they go with the GW model, they could break their product up by class, as they seem to be designing. I’d be quite happy paying even something like $15 or maybe $20 for a single class if it spans the whole of the content. If I wanted another class, I’d buy it. If I wanted them all, there would naturally be an omnipack that sold them all at a bulk “discount”.

    I wrote an article on this sort of thing on my blog last week, writing about market segmentation. Offer different products that tie into the same “world”, but charge differently for them as they offer different value. That allows more players to buy in and get involved. In an MMO world, it’s important to get that critical mass of players to sustain the community and ultimately, to keep the game alive.

  37. dcwebb33 says:

    I think you are confusing microtransations and RMT, which means Real Money Trading. Real Money Trading has an economy outside the game, where a player can trade an item for real money. It has nothing to do with items that are sold by a company like Blizzard, unless those items can be sold between players. Microtransactions refer to items that are sold by game companies to support games. The items can sometimes be sold between players, where they become RMT, but some items cannot be sold. Look up the definition of RMT and microtransactions. A good source is Wikipedia, starting with http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RMT. I do understand that some acronyms loose their meaning and can be redefined, but I cannot find the definition you are using.

  38. Hiryu02 says:

    @ Beau.

    I’d love to see you claim that you own your character and can do whatever you want with it to a company like say, Blizzard.

    The way this works for say, the WoW model. Legally, you have no rights to your toon. You play in the world that is essentially the property of Blizz. Everything about your character is not owned by you. You paid 50 dollars to have the opportunity to play in Blizz’s world, using tools/items, etc that are owned by Blizz. Including your character.

    And please don’t put words in my mouth. I don’t raid, am not a raider, nor am likely to ever want to be. I just don’t agree with the RMT model simply because I don’t agree that progression in a virtual world should be tied to actual money. The subscription model is not a vaguely disguised RMT. Subs pay for servers, content, and maintenance.

    Again Beau, your arguments basically point out the fact that you do NOT want to be held to the same standards as other players because you feel that somehow your time is worth more than other peoples. And therefore, if you wish to pay for progress instead of investing time and effort you should be allowed to.

    That is your opinion and are entitled to it, However, to claim that RMT is “fair” is completely false. RMT consists of players purchasing with real money, items, and advantages that another player who can not afford the same things can not access, or not access as quickly. How is one player using financial means to gain an advantage over another player who can not make the same finalcial investment fair? It’s not.

  39. Tesh says:

    Hiryu, how is the disparity in available time per player under a sub model fair? It’s not. It’s just different, and arguing that one or the other has some sort of moral high ground is silly.

  40. anothergamer says:

    ^^^

    You nailed it right there. Let’s broad our views…the world is not flat. :)

  41. Hiryu02 says:

    Here’s the thing, a sub-based subscription model is fair in that the cost of playing/enjoying the game is applied to everyone equally, in the form of the sub. No player plays more or less than another. All progress, items, etc is acquired through the players own effort. Now, in a PvE MMO, there can be room for RMT, as nothing you are purchasing affects other players. However, if the MMO contains PvP mechanics, then RMT should not be implemented. In pvp MMOs, time/effort invested is proportional to your effectiveness ingame, just like anything else. You play basketball a lot, you get good at it. Same rule holds true for many MMO’s, the best players are the ones who have practiced and invested time and effort.

    To introduce RMT into a pvp equation renders the playing field uneven, as in many MMOs better gear vastly improves one’s combat prowess, therefore purchasing them makes you a more effective baseline player without the same amount of time investment.

    I realize this argument is going around on itself. I feel we are not really discussing RMT so much as we are discussing the value of time to a given player. My final stance is thus. One player’s time is not worth any more or less than another’s. To say that “my time is worth more and I should not be subject to the same hurdles as others, so long as I can pay more” is a patently selfish mindset that is not conducive to the shared experience of an MMO. One of the beauties of the MMO is the relative equality given to all players. In truth, MMO’s offer a fairer life than real life, in some cases.

    Let me give you a hypothetical situation. You go to see a movie, yet the guy in front of you is loud, blocks the screen and spoils the movie by talking over it. Yet you are told he can not be ejected because he paid an additional fee. That’s sort of what I mean. I have no problem with RMT so long as it doesn’t affect anyone. PvE RMT is fine by me. However RMT in a competitive PvP game is unbalancing and detrimental. I don’t mind if you pay for your fun, just so long as no one else is adversely affected.

  42. Hiryu02 says:

    “No player PAYS more or less than another” I apologize for the spelling error, no edit button =(

  43. Tesh says:

    Ah, but that’s a crucial difference, Hiryu. Players play different amounts, so the cost per unit of time of play is anything but equal. The sub model is already heavily imbalanced in favor of those with more time to play during the sub period. In your terminology, the player who has more time per month to play has more valuable time. The imbalance is already there.

    If you charge players the same amount per unit of time PLAYED, rather than by access, then yes, the player who chooses to spend their time goofing off rather than raiding will naturally be behind the curve, but that’s their choice. Charging for buffet access simply gives those with more free time an edge. That’s not fair by any measure of the word.

    Also, RMT is only uneven in PvP if it supports exclusive gear. If all it does is increase the pace at which someone progresses, it doesn’t make a difference. That is, if PvP is designed properly. If it’s just a race with no rules, rather than a sport-like arena, yes, things can be a problem. That’s the province of game design, though, not the business model.

  44. anothergamer says:

    “Let me give you a hypothetical situation. You go to see a movie, yet the guy in front of you is loud, blocks the screen and spoils the movie by talking over it. Yet you are told he can not be ejected because he paid an additional fee. That’s sort of what I mean.”

    Mmmmm…let me give you a real comparison between MMOs and movies.

    In a “subscription-base movie theater”, everyone pays the same price for his ticket. For the majority of people, the movie experience will be better if they have a good seat (some don’t care, but most do). The people that will have the best seats belong to those who had plenty of time to come early and make the line-up first. If you don’t have time to come early to make that line, you will be seated in a bad corner or in the front row, giving you pain in the neck and not seeing well, even if you paid the same price as everyone.

    Now…in a “RMT movie theater”, nobody pays to enter the movie room itself. Instead, you pay for the seat you’ll be taking in that room. The best seats cost a lot more and the bad seats cost much less. There are a couple of seats (the worst in the room) that are free because you don’t see very well sitting there. You don’t have to do a line-up in this model because you already have your assigned seat.

    The first model gives a big edge to those who have more time on their hand. In the second model, the movie is free if you want it to be, but you can pay to have more privilege.

  45. lee says:

    Ha ha, nice metaphor “anothergamer”, i’m pissing myself lol!

  46. CBCCp says:

    I’ve stopped subbing games that run any form of RMT

    Removing the game from the game is not my idea of fun.

    FLuff content used to be delivered on completion of content. I shouldnt have to pay for *@#t that belongs in my content. Nor should xx or yy get a xp bonus that outwits my conscious credit card charging habits.

    I paid for the title.. the xpac and months of service.. yet the fluff is still xtra.. wtf.

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