Good F2P, bad F2P

June 30, 2011

A proper free-to-play game allows players to enjoy the game and still spend money based on the amount they feel comfortable with


The “they feel comfortable with” is, for me, the key part here. Comfort to me is when the decision to spend is totally optional, but still has enough personal benefit to make that spending more than a straight-up donation (donations don’t work long-term). Comfort is spending at your own pace, based on how you feel about the game, rather than feeling ‘hooked’ and having the ‘encouraging’ message to spend slowly morph into demands.

Buying a skin in League of Legend has zero effect on the result of any one game, but some of the skins are cool enough that I’m more than happy to drop some cash on them. The ones I don’t like are not thrown in my face with constant pop-ups, I don’t suffer through ads or lesser service, and I sure as hell am not playing a weaker version of that character.

I also have a much easier time justifying spending in LoL because of how great the core game is, and how frequently it gets updated and just the general ‘feel’ Riot (the devs) puts out. They are very active on the forums, transparent with their design decisions, take customer feedback into consideration, and anytime things have even remotely gone bad (servers down) they have more than made things right with the players (free RP or IP boosts for example).

It truly feels like spending is not required, and this for me makes spending that much easier. I’ve easily spend over $100 on LoL, and I see no reason to stop yet. At the same time, if I don’t spend RP for a month, fluff aside, I still experience the same quality gameplay. In short, I still feel like an appreciated, ‘normal’ player.

In contrast, teleport licenses in Atlantica Online are far closer to a must than a comfort. Either you play without them and suffer terribly design (super long walks for no reason other than to make you waste time and wish for a teleport license), or give in and play the way the game was REALLY intended. At best it’s a major annoyance, at worst it gimps your power (if you are at war with another clan, being able to teleport is pretty huge). Spending money on the license is in no way a comfort, it’s a cost you just suck up and deal with.

AO is full of such spending. Plus most patches include major power additions to the store, usually in the form of a lottery box that may or may not result in the item you want. Of course the super powerful stuff (mounts with stats, character boosts, etc) is also very rare, so if you really want something you are going to spend a ton of cash and end up with a lot of lesser ‘junk’ from all those boxes. Plus even after spending a lot of money you still might not get whatever item you wanted. Buying into that kind of power lottery feels more like being pushed off a cliff than treating yourself to something nice. And should you reach the end-game, good luck still enjoying the game if you decide to totally stop paying. It’s a nightmare.

The ‘good’ F2P model is a tougher sell IMO from a business standpoint because it only works for great games. If LoL was some meh title that Inquisition picked up for a month and then moved on, no one would have spent any cash. But because it’s something we have been playing for months and month, ‘investing’ in a skin feels like a good use of money.

The ‘bad’ F2P model works because it begs/annoys/forces you to spend, and often that spending makes the game better (at least short-term). That model can squeeze out a few bucks from someone playing for a bit, while it will demand a small fortune from its most serious players. The model is, in some ways, like a drug. You start out small, weekends, whatever, but the plan all along is to hook you to the point of doing damage. The more you get into something like Atlantica, the more you are ‘encouraged’ to spent. If you stop spending, you will noticeably see your game quality degrade. Not to mention the fact that everyone around you is also spending heavily after a certain point, and you either keep up or get left behind. There is very little comfort here, and it has almost nothing to do with the actual quality of the content.

The biggest hurdle right now is that ‘bad’ F2P dominates the market. For every LoL, there are dozens (if not hundreds) of games that will happily sell you godlike powers, or even just slip you a little 5% damage boost. I believe, perhaps foolishly, that eventually players will smarten up and see ‘bad’ F2P for what it is, and avoid it. I refuse to believe that millions really want to buy victory in a game, especially ones where player skill plays such a large role.

Good F2P has a lot of the traditional benefits going for it (easy to get your friends to try it, low initial risk, etc), but it ‘unfortunately’ also requires a quality product to support it. For some companies, it seems shipping something of quality is rather far down the list, and sadly too many players currently continue to reward them.

Hopefully in five years or so, we look back at bad F2P model games and laugh, amazed that they lasted as long as they did.

It’s all fun and games until you start making millions

June 30, 2011

Via a link in Tobold’s soon-to-be-departed comments section, this RPS article is pretty funny, and the comments related to it are hilarious.

I’m also surprised this has not happened yet. Not the whole “two paragraphs for free” part, but the ability for people to pay for ‘fluff’ related to commenting and such. I’m 100% positive that if offered, some people would pay a monthly charge for their comments to look different from others, be it a special icon or different text. Customizable interface, more RSS feed options, priority ping-back location, etc. People would pay for this stuff.

WordPress should get all over this, and then take an Apple-like cut of any of the profits, in exchange for handling the whole transaction backend so all I have to do is enable fluff at whatever prices I want.

Pure genius IMO.

(And no, I would not sell power, so no “comment goes to the top”, or “ability to delete other comments” or anything like that. I do have standards!)

An hour with the Heroes 6 beta

June 29, 2011

The Heroes 6 beta was released yesterday, and I was able to spend 60 minutes with it (exactly, according to Steam). Consider this a complete review. Basically. If you enjoy EG.

Graphically the game looks/feels like a Heroes game, but one brought into 2011. The world map looks great while still keeping all intractable items clearly visible (very important). The units during combat have a ton of details, and small touches like only zooming in on the combat for critical hits add some flavor. The crit-hit animations for the units I’ve seen are also very cool. For example, on a normal melee hit the crossbow guy pulls out his dagger and just stabs with it. Pretty standard and quick, as it should be. On a crit-hit, he flips the dagger out of its sheath, catches it in mid-air, and strikes the enemy with more force than a normal hit. The zoom-in to watch this lets you catch all the little animation details happening. The whole thing is still rather quick, so the pace of combat is maintained, but it does bring some flair and variety, and adds a little extra reward to something good (more damage) happening.

One improvement I noticed right away is that the city view is now a large window rather than a totally separate screen. This not only reduces loading time, but also speeds up the entire process of going in to upgrade a building or to buy new units. It’s not a “set the world on fire” change, but it’s a positive fix that streamlines the game and shows that the devs put some thought behind even the most basic functionality of the Heroes series.

In that hour the game did not crash and I did not see any bugs or errors. Considering the state Heroes 5 shipped in, so far so good on that front considering this is just the beta and release is still a few months away.

Finally, what little I saw of the first scenario/map was solid, but more on the actual content as I get further in. I’ll also hopefully get a chance to play some hotseat multiplayer this weekend.

The side-grind of raiding

June 28, 2011

Back when Molton Core was the first raid in WoW, Blizzard ‘nerfed’ it by introducing fire resist gear. These days they nerf raids by turning god-mode on for everyone and letting them breeze through the content. Trion also elected to nerf content rather than provide content-specific paths to power.

Of course the first method also introduces new content, even if it is just a separate gear grind that’s only useful for one raid. The upside here is that players can decide how far to go down that path, and in turn how easy to make said raid. If you already had MC on farm, you did not need the new gear. If you struggled on Rag, you could always equip more people with fire resist gear to up your chances. Keep gearing people up until you down him, then move on.

The addition of a side-grind is less entertaining than a whole new raid, obviously, but given limited dev resources, I’d rather get a small patch with a side progression path than one that just outright makes everything easier by nerfing the mobs and buffing the players. From the “keep them subbed” standpoint, a side-grind accomplishes this goal better than the nerfs as well. Not that this fully explains why WoW was able to retain players so well back then, but it certainly helped.

How much for a sparklepony with a monocle?

June 27, 2011

Good summary of the EVE monocle debate over at TAGN, including links to other info and a post from the CCP CEO.

I had to dig into my archive to find exactly what I have written about the WoW sparklepony, because even I can’t keep all my ranting straight sometimes (I know, shocking to those who have been here for longer than, oh, a post or two). Luckily that event happened during a calm state of mind day, because what I wrote back then is exactly how I feel about things today. That post can be found here (it’s mostly about EVE, the WoW stuff is the last paragraph), but here is the choice quote:

As for the e-peen pony, while it would have been better for Blizzard to add actual content (a complex quest to earn the mount perhaps), the fact that thousands of people are lining up to hand Blizzard $25 to be handed a new shiny and to pretend they are a special snowflake is reason enough to not bother with the content piece. The customer dictates the direct you go in, and when you have thousands (or millions) of people screaming that they would rather pay for items than play to get them, it would be foolish to ignore them.

In other words, don’t blame the devs, blame the players.

Now what’s interesting about EVE here is that only 52 monocles were sold in the first 40 hours. That’s… a slightly smaller amount than the 140k+ that were lined up to buy the WoW pony. Granted the total player pool is different between the games, but the buy-in rate is still a little off between the two games. Plus CCP has stated that the monocle is the highest grossing items in the store, so not only is the monocle not setting the world on fire, the other stuff is sitting on the selves as well. From the “player vote” perspective (the real one, not how many “I quit” forum threads are created), it’s clear that EVE players would rather blow stuff up than buy virtual designer clothing.

The real question EVE fans should be asking is this: will those 52 monocle sales increase actual content delivery, or does the dev time spend on fluff items cut into other development even after you factor in the increased revenue? Because if it’s the former, then EVE fans should be thanking the 52 people who are really, really into online space Barbie, because pre-monocle they really had no way to over-pay for the development of EVE. If it’s the latter, EVE fans have a legitimate issue. Somehow I don’t see creating a monocle as a dev time crushing activity.

Of course, CCP could just be spending all that monocle cash on hookers and blow rather than content, but that would be some serious ‘borrowing’.

TL/DR post on accessibility

June 24, 2011

Accessibility brings content to the players that they previously would have had to make an effort to reach.

If the players would rather quit than make the effort to reach the content, what does that say about the content itself?

The metrics made me do it!

June 24, 2011

One of the justifications from Trion concerning nerfing difficulty in Rift was to allow Dungeon Finder groups to complete them. That statement contains a lot of value when broken down, and directly relates back to the topic of accessibility and its effect on MMOs.

The obvious take-away from the above is that the average PUG group is worse than the average pre-made, and can’t complete the same content at the same rate. I think most everyone can agree on that, right? But what’s interesting is that Trion, and Blizzard, see this as a problem that needs to be fixed, and not only that, but a problem that MUST be fixed even at the expense of the pre-mades, among other things.

Now one of the great ‘hooks’ for any MMO is the social aspect; you log in to hang out with your guild, and you are willing to do content that might not be at the top of your list just to help out said guild. This, in essence, is why raiders run raids dozens if not hundreds of times. This, also, is why raid content is the gift that keeps on giving from a design perspective, and why it’s far cheaper to produce then solo content. Helping your guild progress by improving your character also gets people do to crazy stuff like grind out rep just to get that 1% upgrade, or collect a silly amount of mats to prepare for a raid. Notice that the last two examples are in fact solo content, but the motivator is social/guild-based. It’s also solo content that takes a lot of time without a ton of dev work (when compared to something like a long quest chain with extensive use of phasing or in-game movies).

The Dungeon Finder removes that social need. You can ‘solo’ group content now with other random people, never needing to really socialize, without building those bonds that will get you to run something even if you already have all the items/rep/whatever from it. The dungeon finder does a great job in turning group content into solo content, and not just from the “I need 4/9/19/24/39 others” aspect, but from the “why am I running this” one as well. It also does a great job of killing that secondary effect of improving your character just slightly for the guild, which in turn kills a ton of long-grind solo content for many. Pretty crazy huh?

But the damage a dungeon finder inflicts goes deeper than that. Without it, the only reliable way for a player to run group content was to join a guild. Sure, you could join PUG groups through chat channels, but that was not always reliable and somewhat of a hassle. Trion/Blizzard identified that hassle and solved it with the DF, which in that regard they succeeded. However, that hassle was an important tool used to drive people into guilds, to get them to actually be social and commit to something rather than remaining in their own little solo-hero bubble. Trion/Blizzard provided a tool to eliminate one of the major hooks that keeps people subbed. Oops.

“But SynCaine, lots of people were leaving the game rather than joining a guild, I saw it on the forums! That’s bad business! Money rules you drool trollolololl”

Oh, were they? Pre-dungeon finder how badly were WoW sub numbers struggling? Was Rift seeing a mass exodus pre-DF (I know, short timeframe, but still) How massive was the population explosion once it was added for WoW/Rift?

Oh. I see…

“Well, um… the world economy also crashed! Yea! People can’t afford high-priced luxury items like $15 a month entertainment that’s worth hundreds/thousands of hours.”

Excellent point. Silly me. Off to that $11 2 hour movie I go.

Going back to Azuriel’s PvAH post, deep in the comments section he asks if, had WotLK not happened and Blizzard had released another BC, would WoW have reached 16m subs. 16m sounds like a silly-high number, but if in 2004 someone had asked me if WoW would reach multi-million sub numbers, it would have sounded silly-high as well.

“But SynCaine, MMO burnout is natural, WoW is really old, it was bound to happen no matter what Blizzard did!”

I know, just like it’s bound to happen to EVE ‘soon’. Oh wait, EVE is older. Hmmm. Well whatever, everyone just mass-quit over that fluff item you can buy in-game or for a million dollars. Nevermind. EVE is dead, moving on.

The truth is we don’t know. But what we do know is WotLK and onward sub numbers struggled for a game that, until that point, continued to grow far beyond any reasonable expectations. If what Vanilla and BC did was so bad, and what WotLK/Cata did was so good, why are the numbers so backwards? Just doesn’t add up, does it? Even if you want to 100% dismiss that raiding and difficulty had anything to do with growth, clearly SOMETHING changed to cause the growth to stop and the decline to set it, and I’m just not buying that magically a lot of players all ‘burned out’ at the same time and, at the same magical time, the market hit it’s cap in total player interest. But if you believe in magic, good for you!

On to another thing Azuriel mentions in his comments section, that Blizzard’s Bashiok looked at metrics and to him they suggested that players wanted more accessible raid content, so they gave the players just that. As Nils was quick to point out, metrics are just numbers, and interpreting them correctly is not always easy.

That all players want to see the ultimate big bad sounds pretty damn obvious to me. Of course everyone wants to experience killing the Lich King, the dude is on the damn cover of the expansion!

The real question however is what happens if they can’t do it? Do they leave? History suggests they don’t. Most players did not kill Illidan in BC, or Onyxia in Vanilla, and again, the stats show players were coming, not leaving. Everyone with a pulse (basically) killed Arthus, yet I missed the “WoW has reached 13m subs” announcement, so what happened?

To me this goes back to my original point about accessibility; players think they want it, but the devs have to be smart in how they give it. The DF is, in many ways, a knee-jerk reaction to players wanting to see content without ‘committing’ to a game and forming those social ties that, ultimately, will keep them subbed long past the point of having enough content to justify the sub if they were only looking at things from a solo perspective.

Trion’s 1.3 update is another example of this: they made it easier to acquire certain gear that, prior to 1.3, was only available from expert/raid rifts. They solved the problem of players not having access to that gear by, in a roundabout way, killing the need to run expert/raid rifts. Anyone care to guess how that change is going to play out long-term for retention and overall total content? Again, knee-jerk and short-sighted. Oh, but I’m sure the metrics suggested that not enough players had ‘access’ to that gear, and that players wanted that gear ‘real bad’.

Those damn meddling metrics! (Yes that’s a Scooby Doo reference to end a blog post. You’re welcome).


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