PvP in Atlantica Online, and it’s RMT taint.

Now that the blogging break is over (ie: back at work), it’s time to catch up on some reading and start posting regularly here. It’s amazing what a few days of inactivity does for your page views. While the past week was a break from blogging, it was certainly not a break from gaming, so hopefully this will be a good week of posting.

As mentioned earlier, I gave Atlantica Online (AO) a shot a few weeks ago, and continue to enjoy it. It’s a MASSIVE grind, and does very little to hide it. In fact, it’s almost refreshing in how honest the game is about it’s grind, in that you know exactly how far you have to go, and basically how long it will take. Which is to say, VERY long (unless you cheat and RMT yourself up, more on that later), but in a way that long grind represents an ever-present carrot, rather than different carrots springing up as you go. Your mileage may vary if that’s a good thing, but clear-set goals work for me.

By far my biggest surprise with AO is the PvP, in that it’s actually really good. It’s NOTHING like WAR’s RvR, but rather what would happen if you could pit your Final Fantasy party against your buddies party. Again, if that sounds awful to you, there ya go, but for me it’s entertaining. The PvP is a bit like chess, in that both sides have access to basically the same pieces, but it’s how you mix and match those pieces, and when you use them, that determines the winner. Of course facing a lvl 90 as a lvl 40 will get you creamed no matter how skilled you are, but a 50 can take a 60 with good skill/strategy. Since the combat is turn based (each side gets 30 seconds), it’s zero twitch, which again is a huge plus for me.

PvP can happen in a number of ways. The first and most common is Free League matches, which pop up every three hours, and consist of up to 8 fights. You start at rank 18 and work your way up, and your rank is determined by your win/loss record. Since you can start participating in Free League at any time, you sometimes see very high level players in the lower ranks, but they quickly rank up, and generally you end up fighting players near your level. As the fights are free, and you don’t lose anything, they are a great way to test out strategy or just overall improve your game.

My guild was part of a Nation (collection of guilds) and a rival Nation declared war on us. War in AO is ‘kind of a big deal’, because it means anyone from the rival Nation can attack you any place outside of a city, and not only do you lose gold/xp for dying (the normal penalty for death in PvE), you can also randomly lose one piece of gear. Since the loss is random, it could be a near worthless piece, or it could be your main characters prized weapon, making it a painful defeat. The overall point of war is for one Nation to cripple the other Nations capital city (guilds can own cities, which provide some very nice benefits), but the lead-up to the final battle to determine a winner is a week of open PvP, and anyone level 30 or above is fair game.

The strategy of such a war in AO is rather interesting. Since both Nations have lvl 90+ players, along with a slew of lower levels, the war itself becomes a game of cat and mouse. Players can only teleport around once every few minutes, and since battles can be quite lengthy, the enemy’s high level characters can only be in so many places at one time. As I had done a good amount of Free League PvP, I was able to take down anyone near my level (40ish), meaning if I ran across a 30-50 player, I would PK them and generally win. For me the war was very profitable, as I gained far more than I lost (most defeats came when said 90s would teleport and join the fight, leading to quick death), and overall I was low enough to avoid the heavily camped areas of the world. On the other hand, one of our guild mates got robbed blind during the war, as he was just high enough to enter camped areas, but not strong enough to put up a fight. Granted he was also rather dumb to continue returning to those areas, but in the end he lost a good amount of his gear and gained very little. Another important aspect of the war was where you attacked someone. If the fight starts right outside of a city, it’s very easy for the enemy to call in reinforcements. If however you get the jump on someone deep in a dungeon, or between towns, it’s possible to take them down and flee before the roving 90s hit. And then of course you can set traps, attacking one player, waiting for a 90 to show up, and have two 90s of your own jump into the fight and turn the tide. Since only three players can join in per side, it’s important to consider who joins and when. A second 90 is not likely to jump into a losing battle, since item loss at such a high level is extremely costly.

Our Nation ended up losing the war, as only a few guilds in the Nation actually put up a fight, and ultimately we decided to leave the Nation after a members vote. It’s not that we want to avoid war, as most of us had a lot of fun even in defeat, but it was discouraging to see so many of our Nation members refuse to help each other out for fear of item loss. We are currently reviewing our options for other Nations, but hopefully we jump back into the city control scene soon.

Finally, I just wanted to make a quick note about the RMT aspect of AO. Simply put, its garbage. Since you can basically buy XP and gold in the item shop, anyone with money to blow can quickly boost themselves to the upper levels of the game. Granted this causes you to miss most of the game, but when you involve PvP, it gets a bit silly. It appears however that the vast majority of the players don’t use the shop (or even know about it), and since the game is mostly about grind, I have a feeling skipping said grind would leave you with far less dollars and very little to actually do. It seems many players in AO are just there to fill time, and don’t find the game good enough to justify spending money. The fact that the item shop is far from cheap also contributes to this, as making purchases in AO quickly goes far above a monthly cost even for a small boost.

I personally think AO would be worthwhile at $5-$10 a month, as its entertaining enough to justify the cost, but not exactly a AAA MMO title. The overall game imo is marred by its inclusion of RMT, and constantly reminds me that AO is ‘yet another Korean MMO’ rather than a solid stand-alone product. Again, still very worthwhile to try out and play around with for free, but not something to really settle down with.

41 Responses to PvP in Atlantica Online, and it’s RMT taint.

  1. nuyan says:

    Sounds a lot like ZT Online, which I heard of a year ago here: http://www.danwei.org/electronic_games/gambling_your_life_away_in_zt.php

    Rather fascinating, but something I wouldn’t touch myself. That article I linked above is one of the most fascinating pieces on MMOs I’ve ever read, but you probably read it yourself a year ago already.

  2. Ysharros says:

    “It’s amazing what a few days of inactivity does for your page views”

    I’m a noob, and I’ve always wondered about that. If I have you on RSS feed (which I do), does that count as a page view? If not, then you have more stalk– err, devoted readers than you might think, no?

    (Belated) Happy New Year, too. ;)

  3. syncaine says:

    RSS readers don’t count as page views unless the reader comes over and comments. It’s not the actual number of page views that really matter anyway, but the comments. Its fun to see people react and offer up their take on a subject.

    Happy New Year to you as well!

  4. Werit says:

    I am almost tempted to try this out… almost. Good write-up. Feedburner can give you an idea about how many readers you have via RSS.

  5. syncaine says:

    Nuyan, just read that article, had never seen it before. Funny how similar AO is to ZT, and I’m sure countless other asian games, right down to the spinning chest of crap.

    What’s sad about RMT games is that they don’t cater to the rich, they cater to the foolish, the ones with addictions. I easily have enough money to dump into AO and hit lvl 100 tomorrow, buy all the best gear, and dominate PvP, but aside from missing most of the game, I know that’s not a good use of my money. Like casinos, these companies prey on weak-willed individuals, hoping to lure a few dollars out at each transaction.

  6. mbp says:

    Everybody seems to be predicting that RMT is the next big thing. I am not against RMT per se but I am very fearful that game companies will give into their baser instincts and start designing games in such a way as to squeeze the maximum rmt revenue possible out of players. If mmos get to the point where you have to spend hundred’s of euro’s a month just to stay competitive then I am going back to playing single player games. Only that won’t work as single player games are getting in on the act now too with talk of charging extra to kill the final boss!

  7. syncaine says:

    The more I think about it, the more I view RMT as a possible ‘dooms day’ for MMOs. It won’t happen, but if we assume subscriptions die out and everything is RMT, how long will players get tricked into paying for in-game items to stay competitive, before they realize the futility and quit? How many times will someone be duped by the RMT rat race before they abandon the MMO genre?

    It took me once, Pox Nora, to fall into RMT and cast it off. Perhaps had I not spend so much money on Pox Nora, I would not be viewing the RMT shop in AO with the light I do now. Either way, no more money will be spent on RMT MMOs, and I’m sure I’m not the only one in that boat.

  8. Ok, I’m sold. Will check it out tonight. You had me at:

    “By far my biggest surprise with AO is the PvP, in that it’s actually really good.”

    Nice write up.

  9. xXJayeDuBXx says:

    I personally do not care for the free to play MMO’s, and believe those to be the doomsday for MMO’s. But regardless nice write up, I had very little knowledge of AO.

  10. Tesh says:

    Different strokes for different folks, mate. I, for one, will never give money to a sub MMO. I’m not alone. I’ve happily given cash to Three Rings for Puzzle Pirates, and almost gave Atlantica Online money for a inventory expansion. A differentiated market is a healthy market.

  11. skarbd says:

    I would expect your page views to drop off over christmas. It’s not the you weren’t posting, it’s more likely to be people on holiday are more likely to be playing or doing other things, than sitting at a desk with a few minutes spare to read blogs. I know my blog reading goes up during work hours.

    I always wondered if people moved from RMT to Sub MMORPGs or vice versa. Personally I have always viewed 6 month subs to an MMORPG as to be very good value, considering going to a pub/bar will easily cost more in one evening than the 6 month sub and doesn’t give a hangover. I know friends who manage 20 – 40 hours a week (if I was only that lucky) over 6 months which gives such a low average cost per hour, as to be trivial.

    The reason I don’t go for the RMTs is I can envisage spending more than a 6 month sub, especially when I fall into the comfort zone of being happy to spend the money on RMTs, to maximise my progress. With a sub, I know my costs are defined.

  12. Swift Voyager says:

    “..they cater to the foolish..”

    They also cater to the scammers who get hold of other people’s credit card numbers.

    “..No more money will be spent on RMT MMO’s, and I’m sure I’m not the only one..”

    Yeah, I spent $25 each for myself and my daughter, which isn’t much, on RMT in Wizard 101. That was my first RMT MMO purchase, and I’m sure it will become my last. I’m glad I’m not the only sucker who falls for that stuff. It’s not quite the same as paying for additional content on X-Box Live, but it feels the same in the long run. The X-Box content could be seen more like a boxed expansion that you buy one little piece at a time, I think. I don’t buy x-box stuff, but I’ve seen the ads in my games.

  13. Chris F says:

    I am more afraid that the sub model will be the doomsday for MMO’s, as companies try to charge monthly fees for games not worth the price. Besides, most gamers only pay for one MMO sub a month as it is, and we all know what everyone is paying for at the moment. New titles entering the market can’t compete at the “industry agreed” upon sub fee of $15.

    Besides, sub fees are the only model that charges more to casual users (on a value basis). If I buy a standalone single player box – it costs you 50 and me 50, regardless of when we finish the game. Equal value.

  14. syncaine says:

    I think MMOs not worth the price of $15 soon die out, get added to the MMO graveyard that is Station Access, or added to the f2p bin. RF Online, SB, Ryzom, etc. And no one holds a gun to a company and says you must charge $15. Plenty of MMOs, including a major title like LotRO, offer lower rates. It just depends on the perceived value of the product.

    WoW launched in 2004, I think we have seen plenty of solid MMO titles compete in the market, even with however many people subscribe to WoW. Not reaching 11 million does not mean only WoW is a profitable game.

  15. Chris F says:

    Profits unfortunately do not mean success for big publisher MMO’s. I would bet if you asked EA off the record, they would consider WAR a complete failure (for their shareholders, at least).

    That being said, companies do not invest tens of millions of dollars into the market to be fourth or fifth. 11 million WoW subscribers is a market they want to capture. Those people typically play only one game.

    While no one holds a gun to the heads of the companies to charge $15, the value perception of the consumer is of such that if it isn’t the $15 – what they are used to – then it must be an inferior product. The same sort of thinking that goes along with F2P (as I believe you mentioned before – please correct if I’m wrong =) is that because there is no up front cost associated with it it can’t be good.

    And oh, LOTRO is $14.99 a month if you pay monthly. Holiday specials aside =)

  16. syncaine says:

    LoTRO seems to be under a permanent Holiday special, or at least was back when I followed it closer :)

    No way EA considers WAR a complete failure. How could they, when the goal was to become the #2 sub MMO in the US/EU, and that is exactly what WAR is. Not to mention the money made from the higher than expected box sales (which give the current quarter a nice boost), and the now stabilized player base. EA/Mythic NEVER aimed at 11 million (or even 4 million, which is closer to the WoW number for US/EU), and ANY company that aims for that is going to fail. The ‘only one MMO’ people you refer to are also generally not MMO gamers, they just happen to play WoW because Mr. T said to. They’ve never heard of LotRO, EQ, or WAR, and have no desire to play another MMO. Once their time in WoW is done, they go back to whatever genre or console they came from.

    The perception that a F2P MMO is of lower quality has little to do with it being free, and more to do with the fact that most F2P games are inferior products. Even AO, which I think is good enough to warrant a $5-$10 sub, still sports Playstation 2 graphics and high school voice acting, and AO is regarded as one of the BETTER F2P products. I can’t even imagine how painful some of the average or lower tier F2P MMOs must be (though we have all heard stories).

    Just like console movie tie-in games, it’s not the price that determines the perception, it’s the history of the product. F2P MMOs need more games like AO to turn that perception, yet every month PCGamer contains an add for some ‘new’ Nexon game with another spiky hairs guy/girl and the claim of an amazing world for you and your friends.

  17. Chris F says:

    Maybe “complete” was too, uh, complete of a word. While they haven’t released any subscription numbers, it seems fairly obvious they are in decline for WAR (which, they can’t be happy with). Don’t get caught up in MBJ’s happy little “we want to be #2!” public charade, either. No business person wants to be number two – of course he and EA probably had a realization #1 out of the gates would be neigh impossible, so settled with that mantra to meter expectations. Of course an awful lot of speculation on my part (to be fair) but as a business guy, “if you aren’t first, you’re last!” =P

    Will be fun to see when the next big studio tackles a F2P model, and puts a AAA MMO together under that context. (Maybe not free to buy, but no sub fee). Guild Wars has done well under that model (AA+1/2?) but companies will have to budget 200,000 subscribers under a $15/month sub and we all know they are trying to figure out ways to eclipse that income either through RMT, or other cleverly disguised RMT schemes.

    I am looking forward to see the ideas and as a consumer have some control over my monthly expenditures as a result. I am not going to hold my breath, mind you. =)

  18. syncaine says:

    Yea GW is debatable. IMO it’s not an MMO, but others do consider it so. Either way, you hear way too much about the wonderful GW model, used successfully by exactly one title… GW.

    WAR’s numbers declined due to the MMO tourists leaving. They have settled now, and the spot they settled at happens to be #2 MMO. No one is crazy enough to predict, pre-launch, that they will top WoW. That would be the equivalent of a tech startup saying they aim to eclipse Microsoft in market cap. It’s nice to aim for #1, but most companies are a bit more realistic (once you get past the marketing).

    I’m also curious to see when we will see a AAA f2p RMT MMO. I doubt it will be soon though.

  19. Tesh says:

    Sync, when people maintain the perception that f2p MMOs are crap, we’re not going to see companies in a rush to fight that for market share. As long as there’s the blind stigma that RMT is eeeevil (despite the obvious demand for it), companies that legitimately use it will be demonized.

    Swift, nobody is putting a gun to your head to buy stuff in W101. Even then, you can get everything you would get with cash via in-game gold. Complaining about that is simply a complaint about your own lack of self control.

    The silly penchant for relegating GW to a “non-MMO” status is prejudice and pigeonholing. It’s easier to ignore something if it’s “different”, after all. It’s the same argument for f2p MMOs; they don’t charge $15/month, so they must not be “real” MMOs, just poseurs.

  20. Tesh says:

    Oh, and once again, the shop in Atlantica Online does not sell weapons. It sells things to accelerate the pace of advancement. That has absolutely no bearing on how PvP plays out. It merely affects how people get into PvP. They don’t sell powerful weapons.

    There will always be roving 90s that gank lowbies. That’s a function of poorly implemented open world PvP, not RMT. The regulated PvP in Rome matches people according to Might rating. That’s a function of level and gear. The rest is player skill.

    In other words, the pace which players advance through the content is completely irrelevant to PvP balance. The leveling scheme that allows 90s to hit 30s with impunity is to blame for the open world trouble.

    Sync, you’re in such a hurry to demonize RMT that you don’t even see where the real problems are. The PvP issues (and they are real issues, definitely) in AO are purely game design issues, not RMT issues.

  21. syncaine says:

    GW not being an MMO has little to do with its price, and more to do with it’s design (no real levels, items, progression) I’m not saying GW is a bad game, I’m just saying it’s not what you traditionally want to get out of a game when you think about an MMO.

    If the demand was so obvious, and there is this massive demand for RMT, why have we not seen a AAA f2p game in the US/EU? Internet cafe gaming and asian culture explain RMT in asia, and that same cultural difference explains it’s position outside of asia.

    The ‘f2p is crap’ thing is a little more than perception too. Top 5 sub MMOs list looks something like WoW, WAR, LoTRO, EVE, EQ2? Name the top 5 f2p MMOs. How’s that list look?

  22. syncaine says:

    About AO: They don’t directly sell weapons, no, but they sell items which can in turn be sold on the AH for exorbitant amounts, and that money can be converted into items. It’s fairly common knowledge that that’s how the top ranked PvP players fund their gear. If everything in the shop was BoP, sales would go down, and NDoors knows it.

    Plus, when you can buy xp tomes and power level instantly to lvl 100, I would say that’s a nice advantage when you consider the Nation war system. Likewise, if you cap PvP to certain level ranges (which has its own major issues), all you would get is WoW twinking all over again, but with the help of the RMT shop rather than getting your buddy to run you though an instance repeatedly.

    Not to mention all of the issues with the RMT shop selling licenses, which are basically overprices subscriptions that provide BASIC game functionality. The casual is still screwed with RMT, since the hardcore will get more out of that 30 day license.

  23. Tesh says:

    Once again, Sync, the trouble is poorly implemented overworld PvP rules. If PvP contests were constrained like a reverse “sidekick” system, with the power levels normalized, it would be about skill. That they allow ganking is a failure of game design regarding Nation war, not of RMT. Is it really that hard to see? I don’t disagree that roving 90s ganking lowbies at war is a problem. Thing is, how those players got to 90 is irrelevant. It’s their abuse of lower level players that should be constrained by the game.

    I started playing in the closed beta, and after the last closed beta iteration, they didn’t wipe the characters. Those who had a level advantage got to 90 before the item shop. They couldn’t do open world war ganking because there weren’t enough powerful Nations to start a war, but they certainly worked people over in the Rome arena. Thing is, that’s a regulated contest, and while a fresh 90 playing at tier 18 in the arena will stomp a newbie, they rise through the ranks pretty quickly, and the Might rating and fight history make for some pretty nicely balanced PvP.

    I still find it funny that you’re arguing that levels are a prime indicator of a “true” MMO, since I first started following this site when you guys questioned the need for levels in MMOs in the first place. And how exactly are GW levels, items and progression tracks not “real”? They aren’t a cookie cutter implementation of WoW? What a shame that a game has to be a WoW ripoff to be considered an MMO. Or that something innovative and different isn’t “real” enough. And people wonder why the industry is stuck in a WoW rut.

    As for the demand for RMT, that’s gold sellers. There are easily dozens of sites devoted to gold selling in “real” MMOs. It’s a black market because the devs have declared it so, but the demand is real. GW bans what, 1000 accounts per month in connection with it? Who knows what the WoW or WAR numbers are?

    Licenses are luxuries. The license that allows you to see mob health is indeed a basic functionality of WoW, but you don’t need it to play AO. The others are merely conveniences, especially the teleportation license. When you can Autorun for free nearly anywhere, teleportation is just another accelerator. It’s possible and enjoyable to play AO without spending a dime.

    As for the top f2p MMOs, what of Runescape and Maple Story? They aren’t the same breed as WoW, but they have certainly proven profitable for their publishers and millions of people play them. No, they aren’t the same design as the top “real” MMOs, but so what? If they are fun and profitable, what difference does it make? You’re not the target audience, we get that. Again, so what? They are somehow failures because they don’t cater to the same audience as WoW?

  24. syncaine says:

    Even with reverse sidekick, items would have to play a role in power right? Otherwise the PvP would be exactly like chess, and while that works for chess, it’s not very MMO-like. People like to build up characters (which is why for so many, GW fails to deliver on MMO expectations. And you seem to be taking my opinion of GW as gospel. Others do consider it an MMO, which is fine) and when you allow money to influence that character buildup, it comes a different rat race. Now it’s who has the biggest wallet, rather than who has more time. While both in large amounts are a waste, a large amount of money to one might be trivial to another, and that opens up an ugly divide. I would consider the health-check license mandatory if you want to PvP, and in a war, anyone without a tp license is worthless. I agree you can enjoy aspects of AO without spending money, but the games major feature (PvP) quickly falls into the money rat race.

    I’m not arguing strictly for levels, but rather character growth, as a key ingredient for an MMO, or an RPG rather. As MMOs move further away from their RPG roots, that might be a non-issue. GW has such a short lvl/item curve that it feels very RPG-lite in that sense. It does not have to be the WoW model either. Both UO and EVE use very different models, and I would never question either one being an MMO.

    You would consider Runescape, Maple Story, or Habbo Hotel on the same level as any of the games on my list? In terms of overall product quality, if you were pitching it to the average gamer? (whatever that is) I’m sure people have fun with them, just like I’m having fun with AO, but at the end of the day, when it comes time to spend money, it would be a tough sell in the US/EU to pitch a top 5 f2p MMO over a top 5 sub MMO.

  25. Chris F says:

    Time and Money differentials are inconsequential. Who cares if someone has more time, or more money. It doesn’t impact your personal play experience one bit. If Syncaine the level 90 Gladiator comes by and smacks around poor little Chris F, the level 50 Peon – it doesn’t matter one bit how Syn got to level 90. Maybe Syn paid his way to 90. Maybe he spent 10 hours a day grinding away to 90. It doesn’t matter, it’s a pure smackdown.

    Time and/or money from players won’t fix poor game mechanics. RMT “evens” the “gap” with advancement between players with Time, and players with Money. Players with an abundnace of either, or even worse, both, screw the player who has neither.

  26. Tesh says:

    That other players already have a huge amount of time makes for an existing ugly divide. Sub players just don’t notice it because it favors them.

    And again, the complaints you’re voicing about PvP, which I consider troubling as well, are based on game design, not item shop purchases or RMT. Reverse sidekicking would have to take items into account yes, but again, that’s game design, not RMT.

    Growth in these games (whether levels or otherwise) is already tied to a wealth of time. Offering the ability to tie it to cash wealth is just another option to widen the player base and earn more for the business. People who bypass the content to be “elite” or what have you are only “hurting” themselves. That is, if the PvP is designed such that it’s about skill, rather than either a wealth of time or money. That’s the key, and why I agree with you that the Nation War mechanic (or rather, the open world PvP mechanic) in AO is flawed.

    To me, all the problems that rightfully come up regarding “buying power” or “grinding for welfare epics” and the PvP imbalances that they create are purely game design concerns, not a facet of the business model. If PvP is about skill rather than “putting in your time” so you can gank noobs, yes, it’s more like chess, TF2, CS, or any other “sport” model. To me, that’s the point of PvP, to test my skills. If all I want to do is measure my wealth of either time or money (or gear purchased with either) against that of another player, I may as well settle for XBox Achievements or other random ego stroking. It’s about as fulfilling.

    Pitching those games to whom? I wouldn’t pitch them as direct competitors to WoW, no. That’s suicide. I’d pitch them for what they are; free to play games with alternate monetization that can reach a critical mass of players to be profitable. I’m not interested in defining “true” MMOs for the genre, I’m interested in making interesting and profitable games. The label might be a marketing point, but when it’s just as much of a stigma, it’s unnecessary. I’m likewise not interested in defining them as a certain “level” or not, or “AAA” or not, so long as they are finding an audience and making money.

    I’m not interested in such comparisons because they are apples to oranges. A Maple Story player or even Runescape player is looking for something different than a WoW player. I suppose that there might be some objective comparisons between them, as Runescape’s 3D art certainly is far inferior to WoW or GW, but again, the games are marketed to different audiences.

    That’s the whole idea. Positioning yourself opposite WoW is asking to be steamrolled. Companies have to find different niches and cater to them. That’s why the argument about what “true” MMOs are is silly; if the game is what a particular (and profitable) audience wants, that’s enough. There are still text-based MUDs that are profitable for their companies. Are they not “true” MMOs? Who cares?

    …thinking more about “growth” in MMOs, I’d suggest that it be measured against the PvE portion of the world. PvP “growth” should be about player skill. Players do certainly like to feel that they have “earned” something with their time investment; that’s what keeps them coming back and paying. All of the ugly biases against PvP imbalances are rooted in the fact that PvE progress can affect PvP. Divorce the two with “sport equalizer” mechanics, like the sidekick buff/debuff, and let skill be the key to PvP. That’s one thing that GW did fairly well conceptually, and then botched by letting PvE skill acquisition imbalance PvP. If the PvP there were all about the choice of build and the skill in implementing it, where all skills are available to all players, it would be a much more interesting PvP. It’s certainly already much more of a skill tester than any PvP in WoW.

  27. Tesh says:

    *sigh*
    Thanks to Chris for being more succinct and clear.

    Sync, I completely agree that the ganking nature of AO’s Nation War is a bad thing. But that’s a complaint about the game mechanic, not the monetization. Ganking in WoW is just as aggravating and imbalanced, but you don’t see me blaming the sub model for that.

  28. syncaine says:

    Well, the time/money divide is key, because one bothers me (money) and the other does not. Time, if the game is designed reasonable, can be overcome. Money, in the traditional f2p setup currently, can not.

    In WAR, certain players rushed to 40, and have been farming high end gear for a while. I’ll hit 40 soon, and then start collecting that gear. Currently those 40s are a bit more powerful than me (but even then, most are within reason), but soon enough the power level will be close enough to not matter. They will still progress, and remain ahead, but the difference will be small enough to allow us to compete, even if I might only win 40% of the time against an even skilled player. Now if WAR continues to add ranks whenever someone maxes out, that would be an impossible time barrier to overcome, but Mythic is not forced to expand in that way because of the underlying business model.

    In AO, unless I continually spend money, I’ll never catch the top players. As soon as someone hits the top, more money sinks must be placed into the game, otherwise the company is not making a profit. In WAR, Mythic continues to make money off those 40s, because they continue to sub, but in AO, while the top players will continue to play, they have no reason to keep spending, and that creates a problem for the company.

    So yes, it’s a game design problem, but one rooted in the business model. The sub MMO just has to provide you with a reason to play, while the RMT model has to provide a reason to pay. Everyone playing a f2p MMO without spending money is dead weight for that business, and no f2p game is designed around that player base.

    Casuals always complain about companies focusing too much on the hardcore elite, and while mileage may vary, it’s in the f2p companies best interest to cater exclusively to the high paying elite. If I spend 10x the amount a ‘casual’ does, it would be crazy for the f2p company NOT to devote 10x the developer time on me, rather than providing equal content for me and Joe Casual who spend less.

    I’m sure similar complains could be made for PvE-focused f2p games, but I have a feeling that business model does not drive the elite players to spend nearly as much as pvp-focused games do.

    Again, maybe some RMT-driven games can exist on PURE fluff RMT, but the big successful ones out of Asia are all driven by performance-based spending.

  29. Tesh says:

    Time costs money. My playing schedule is such that paying for the thousand hours or so that it would take to get my character all geared up for endgame PvP in WoW would cost me $1500 or so. That someone with a wealth of time per month can get it cheaper is plenty imbalanced.

    Your analysis on keeping people paying for the endgame is interesting, and fairly reasonable. Perhaps that’s why MMOs actually need endings, rather than trying to keep people on the treadmill.

    Puzzle Pirates actually does a great job keeping performance based on skill rather than pocketbook, but they maintain profitability. It’s possible to design with that in mind, but you’re right, far too many companies don’t. I do maintain that smart game design could completely compensate for the perceived imbalances in PvP, and PvE progress rates are completely irrelevant.

    That AO didn’t manage their War PvP well is unfortunate.

  30. syncaine says:

    Right at some point on the casual play scale, even $15 a month is going to be costly. But being reasonable, for most that $15 is very cheap when compared to other forms of entertainment. If you play 1 hour a month, WoW is more expensive than going to see a movie once a month, but are we really going to worry about the 1hr a month MMO player?

    If the MMO in question had an ending, the company stops getting money, both in the f2p and sub model. That would be disastrous. Remember when Shadowbane wiped all the servers, and that was considered suicide? Suicide for a f2p game that only had it’s ultra-hardcore base remaining. What would happen to all the WoW players if you wiped all the servers? The MMO model does not allow for an ending.

    Puzzle Pirates, like EVE, is the exception rather than the norm, and is indeed designed well (although my time with it is very limited, so this is mostly from reading about it rather than first hand experience). Companies like Nexon are not aiming to design PP though, they are aiming to hook people into rehashed versions of ZT Online, or whatever f2p game started the whole ‘pay to advance’ model.

    Which comes full circle to one of my points, that AO would be BETTER off as a cheaper sub model than a f2p RMT game. Perhaps the length of the grind would need to be adjusted, or more measures taken to prevent those with extreme amounts of time abusing those with less, but under the f2p model, those who pay and advance only help to full others to dig into their wallet and further fuel the cash race for power.

  31. Chris F says:

    I think you hit upon the key point syn, traditional F2P. I see F2P/RMT as an opportunity for companies to earn my money. I spent over $1000 playing WoW. I had 50 hours a month, so the investment felt worthwhile. Now I have 15 hours a month. I would pay $5 a month, but not $15. Money isn’t the issue – I am doing fine (thank you for asking =P) it’s just value for that money.

    I see RMT as a few opportunities that way. How many people would still contribute to WoW at a more reasonable price point? The danger is what would the blow be if WoW offered a cheaper service plan, and how many people would prefer to fall under that (danger for WoW, that is).

    So, RMT done right, in a spend vs WoW relation (typical player spends $15 or less to play an RMT game per month – but chooses what they get for it) is the next market major companies will most likely look to. $5 from 2 million people a month is better than $15 from 200,000.

    The sub MMO doesn’t just have to find a reason for you to play, but find a way to stretch out that reason for as long as they can to get additional sub dollars from you. Exhibit A – Lockout timers, terrible NECESSARY (for progression) gear drop randomization, slow xp gain, etc. Instead of creating meaningful and fun content their time is spent trying to force you to replay that content out of necessity for months to stretch your payments.

    In the end, it should all even out. The endgame is reached, either through time or monetary investment, and the company makes an expansion to keep both camps (RMT/SUB) paying and playing. Now, which company is under more pressure to release new, fun content? The one that stretches existing content with inflated time sinks, or the one that has to keep gameplay fun and engaging so you would consider spending?

  32. Tesh says:

    I’ve said this before, but the movie comparison is absurd. It’s apples to oranges. Compare games to games. I can get the content in GW for a flat price and no further cost. I can’t get the content in WoW, I pay for time. I’d be happy to pay a flat one time fee for the WoW content, to be consumed at the pace I choose. When devs charge for time, they are introducing the time/money imbalance. They are introducing the need for grind in the game design to stretch out the play time. Charging for time is the reason for grind.

    Perhaps that’s the better place to focus: content vs. time. Charging for content and letting players be the content for the endgame can maintain a game indefinitely, so long as it’s well designed, and the PvP system is sufficiently interesting.

    Also, I’m not talking about an end to the servers. I’m talking about an end to the progression tracks and story. The game world can be maintained indefinitely, and players who want to keep playing the skill testing PvP will stick around, even at the level cap. Why fuss about monetizing these players, since they already paid their way to get through the real content? TF2 and CS made plenty of money to be profitable. Milking players for maintaining a game/player relationship is again, charging for time, not content. That can’t last in a tight market. It can certainly work for a while, but smart consumers in a recessive economy will cut the dead weight.

    Perhaps the industry has just naturally moved from a content based industry to a service based industry, but in the end, that’s not the only way to make money, and stringing people along with grind is drawing equity from good game design.

    And yes, we’re going to worry about the 1 hour/month player. They are part of the community, they are part of the game world, they paid their money and want to play the game. The country club mentality of the sub model is just elitist and absurd.

  33. syncaine says:

    It would be interesting to see how popular an option to pay per hour in WoW would be, and once you reach $15 a month, you lock into that. The business question would be, do you gain more because new players come in, or do you lose more because those willing to pay $15 a month now get to pay less? Considering it has yet to happen, I’m guessing research would point to the latter.

    The current RMT-based games don’t function like that though. They attract a wipe variety of players due to being free initially, but they make most of their profit off the ultra-hardcore who are willing to spend crazy amounts of money. Under that model, the needs of the casual will always be ignored over those of the elite.

    As for your question, content can only be delivered so fast. I’m sure Blizzard would love to release an expansion every 6 months like EQ, but they know it makes better business sense to release higher quality content slower than rush out lower quality stuff. It’s a decision they make, and clearly its working for them. Devs and the bean counters have different sets of motivation, but sadly until the bean counters are satisfied, they make the rules.

  34. Tesh says:

    Oh, and since the movie came up, I can pay for the content and buy the DVD for repeated watching (and pausing), or I can pay for the service and go see it once in a theater. Discerning customer that I am, I wait for the thing on DVD and get it on sale. I buy the content, not the service. It’s not the only way to consume, but it’s the best way for me.

    Also, tellingly, movies in the early history of the genre had to make their investment back entirely on box office sales. There were no VHS or DVD replays. Movies can make a lot more money these days by offering both models, and as a result, we see developers willing to spend more on an individual project, and higher quality as a result.

  35. syncaine says:

    Tesh, so you favor lifetime subs, which with LoTRO means 200+ up front, plus retail expansion costs. The GW full lifetime cost is also above 200, right? (game + 3 expansion?) That’s a high price to pay for a game I might quit after a month.

    Remember also that the idea behind the MMO sub cost is to fund further development, above and beyond the original content the $50 box price covers. Players are the content in PvP games like EVE or WAR, but without the support of CCP/Mythic, even the original game would fail without further content to keep things interesting. How many major content updates has GW offered for free?

  36. Tesh says:

    Actually, my “lifetime sub” to GW was less than $50. Early adopters take it on the chin. You’re right, it’s a lot for something you might quit, but for me, it was no worse than paying for any other game that I might not play after a month. If you’re LOTRO, you offer a free trial to get people hooked, then offer either the sub or the lifetime price. That’s good business. Or sell it in discrete chunks with smaller price tags, like GW. Again, it’s paying for content, which is much more palatable to me as a time-constrained consumer. It’s certainly not going to be the best for everyone, but offering options is a good thing to reach more customers.

    MMO subs don’t pay for future content, or else we wouldn’t be paying for the box price for each expansion. That’s the idea they sell it to us on, but for as much money as WoW is pulling in, they could do a heck of a lot more than they have. Maintenance costs also go down with tech advances.

    I’m not sure how many free major content updates GW has offered, but for anything other than a few new missions, I have no problem paying for the content. I work in the game dev field, and I will always pay to support good work. I will not pay for time, however. I will pay for content. That’s why I say I’d pay fair money for the content contained in WoW, but I will not subscribe to play.

    Yes, it means I wait for prices to come down, or for second hand purchases, or get less than the “premium” model. It means I pay what I think the product is worth, which is the heart of a capitalistic economy.

    If the lifetime sub to LOTRO offers roughly four times the content of the original box price of GW, yes, I’d be willing to pay four times the box price for it. I don’t see that as the case, so I’ve not bought in. Yes, it’s potentially a significant chunk of change, but that $15/month adds up fast.

    Putting it another way, buying the treadmill is better in my mind than paying for access to it. That’s why I don’t have a health club membership, but I do have a nice exercise bike and a bicycle for good weather. I know that’s not going to be true for everyone either, which is why I’m not calling for subs to go away. Still, the market is more than subs, and savvy game design can incorporate different business models.

  37. Tesh says:

    I’ve written it before, but it would also be nice to allow players to convert their account to a lifetime sub at any point, but have it prorated for past subscription. Say, the $200 lifetime sub price would be discounted $45 if they had subbed for three months. It’s a variation on the “pay hourly to a $15 monthly cap” idea for monthly subs, just taken to the logical extreme of a full content purchase in the form of the lifetime sub.

  38. Swift Voyager says:

    Tesh, as usual, you’ve deliberately misunderstood what I said, and taken my comment out of context so you can troll.

    First- I didn’t say anyone tricked, cajoled, or forced me to buy RMT items. I am an adult and I did so of my own free will. It was money spent for the purpose of entertainment and was completely discressionary spending on my part.

    Second- At the time when I bought the RMT items they didn’t yet offer those items for in-game money. By the time they offered those items for in-game money, I had already lost interest in the game and let my sub expire, although I still maintain an account for my daughter.

    Third- I didn’t complain. I was sharing my feelings about MY DECISION to purchase RMT items. I enjoyed having those items for a short time, but in the end I felt that the game was more fun for me before I had those items. I don’t feel that the money was productively spent, since it was entertainment money and the end result was that I was less entertained (I was still entertained, but not as much as I would have been otherwise). I simply said that I wouldn’t do it again, under the same circumstances. This is a comment thread, and I’m free to comment. That’s not called complaining.

    In regard to the various possible payment schemes: An MMO is a service, not a product. So, compare it to other long-term entertainment services and you’ll see what works best and what doesn’t. Most notably, I’d point to cable TV, magazines, newspapers, internet services, and gym memberships. Dont even think about using movie theaters as an example, because they are selling products, not a service, since most of their revenue comes from consessions (can you say microtransactions anyone?). Having said that, I’d like to tie back into the original topic. Much like AO, the microtrans at the movie theater doesn’t mean that the movie was bad. I just always leave the theater saying two things: 1.”wow, that was an incredible movie, did you see that part where the guy did the thing?” and 2.”wow, I can’t believe they charge $x.xx for a coke and popcorn?!”. It’s not that the price of the snacks made the movie bad, it just detracted from the experience, which is what Syncain said about RMT in AO. “..reminds me that AO is yet another korean MMO rather than a solid stand alone product..”

  39. Adam D says:

    To pull back from the current discussion and move back a bit towards Syn’s original posed question (or one of them):

    “When will we see a US AAA F2P/RMT title?” I would say SOE’s “The Agency” will fit that title.

    While they have yet to say exactly how the pricing will work, everything I’ve heard to date is a F2P with RMT elements. All the graphics I’ve seen so far look as good as (or better) any current generation MMO.

    Will SOE manage to take the product and turn it into a solid success? I have no idea… it’s why I’m not *in* the video games industry.

    But I think the saw always has been with RMT games “80% of your income comes from 20% of your population”. If the game is skill based, it becomes mostly a non-issue, because while you can spend $10.00 for that Sniper Rifle w/ 15x scope, night vision and match-grade ammunition, plus tactical gear and other items that end up costing you $50.00 overall… if you don’t have the skills to back it up someone with better skills will cap you with a 9mm round they bought from the game’s equivalent of Wal-Mart for $.10. It’s when the player with less skill can absorb 4-5 kits due to the $5.00 Kevlar body armor they bought that it becomes an issue. Hopefully SOE won’t go that way.

    As for me, I’ve slowly gotten away from FPS’s simply because as one gets older, their reaction times get slower. It’s frustrating when you can spend 2 mins sneaking up on someone, only to have them turn around and 1 shot you because they’ve got the cobra-like reflexes of youth… durn kids :P

  40. BigBoss says:

    I like RMT. I have a lot of disposable income so it really doesn’t mean a whole lot to put a token amount into a game and if it saves me extra time playing the game then I can use that extra time to make money so i actually save money by buying item mall stuff. For all the enjoyment i get from Atlantica i feel that i should support the game by spending the equivilent of a subscription fee every month. Oh, and i love crushing n00bs. I also like that Atlantica allows you to gank low levels when war is declared. The war is actually about destruction of your enemy so it isn’t declared lightly.

  41. [...] good to promote it. First is Syncaine from Hardcore Casual writing about Atlantica Online here. He likes it but has this to say on the F2P side: Finally, I just wanted to make a quick note about [...]

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