Preying on the weak

I have a friend who is in the 1%. No, not the Occupy nonsense, but the 1% of F2P players that spend a silly amount of money in the cash shop. He is the guy who buys up every DLC regardless of what it is. He is the one who buys fluff just to own it. And he is the guy who runs XP pots/boosters/whatever because ‘he can’, even if they don’t make the game actually more fun to play. If it’s in the shop odds are high he has it. Cost is not a factor either, so whether a pony costs $5 or $50 is irrelevant to him.

And he is notorious for playing a game for a month or two and getting bored. He is also fairly anti-social, preferring to solo whenever remotely possible, and is someone who often gets excluded anyway thanks to his attitude. To put it bluntly, he is not someone I’d want in my MMO from an in-game activity/actions standpoint.

Yet in that month or so of playing something like LotRO, he was the ideal customer for Turbine. He certainly ‘counted’ a whole hell of a lot more than anyone not spending, or spending little, in terms of influencing what Turbine should work on next. His voice (wallet) was far more important.

Which brings me to my point: considering the above, is it at all surprising that F2P MMOs do what they do, and suck as much as they suck for people who like the sub model? Turbine selling you The One Ring next month is not done with consideration for the 99% that don’t pay and want the game to remain ‘fair’. It’s not done with consideration for how the average player will feel, or how the game will play once you buy the ability to turn god-mode on. The 99% don’t count. Game balance does not count.

What counts is my buddy putting down $100 for The One Ring, putting it on, one-shotting Frodo, and moving on from the game (because it’s too easy…). You can make a forum post about it, get 1000 ‘likes’ for it, and Turbine will feed you BS about “we never said we won’t sell The One Ring, we said we won’t sell direct passage to the Game-Over screen. God-mode is more of a convenience for our players”.

Now whether this practice is sustainable or not is another issue. We have all seen how ‘amazing’ the F2P conversion is the day after it happens. Announcements/tweets/forums posts all proclaiming activity is up 10,000% (from zero), that everyone loves the new ‘options’ in the shop, and that the game has been giving a new life blablabla PR speak. It’s odd that those same sources fail to continue telling us how awesome F2P continues to be a year after, but I’m sure that’s just a technical issue and not the reality of everyone checking things out the first day, seeing the same game they left (but now with pay-walls), and leaving after maybe buying a cute dress. Naw.

What’s even more disturbing is that the only way to keep a F2P MMO flying high is not by introducing great new content, or providing a long-term plan, but by ‘encouraging’ the 1% to keep spending. And the only real way that is going to happen is if the shop continues to get re-stocked with bigger and greater things. If The One Ring one-shots Frodo, then next month The Two Ring does it twice as fast and with fireworks after to announce your victory. And looks, its only $125! Soon as Two Ring sales slow, you better believe the devs have The Three Ring ready to go, along with super-Frodo, who is way too ‘epic’ to be taken down by unworthy adventurers and their outdated Two Rings.

And if you think the above is me being over-the-top to make a point, go check out the cash shop in Atlantica Online. Or just check back on this post in a year from now, after the latest LotRO update.

The whole model is also predatory. It targets those too weak/dumb to know better. Because let’s be honest, buying god-mode is not going to keep you playing anything long-term. Buying a pony that now gives you 20% more HP instead of 15% does not make a game more fun. A game does not get better or have more content when every month a new ‘convenience’ item that is more or less required is added. Solving the problem of low-level gear being ‘hard to get’ by selling it is not a smart long-term solution (it makes the cause worse, actually). SOE recently said that 25% of all their sales are ponies. Outside of pony addicts, what real benefit do EQ2 players get from more devs being focused on producing more ‘must have’ ponies? Because make no mistake about it, SOE is most certainly re-allocating more resources to ponies.

You can’t stop stupid. There will be thousands of Diablo 3 players who ruin the game for themselves by sending a silly amount of money to buy gear, just like there are currently pony addictions in EQ2 influencing SOE and One Ring buyers influencing Turbine.

And the worst part if it all is that while the stupid might be a niche, a tiny fraction of the overall playerbase, they are all that matter in the F2P model.

13 Responses to Preying on the weak

  1. Carson says:

    Did your great white whale of a friend spend a lot of time in Atlantica? I remember when I was playing, there were a couple of guys in my guild who always had the new mounts within a couple of days of them arriving in the cash shop. And given that they were always in gambling boxes that cost $10 a spin, I shudder to think how much they were spending.

    p.s. just checked the Atlantica mall, the latest “$10 a spin” mount box is a classic Ford car. WHAT THE HELL. http://atlantica.nexon.net/Itemmall/Detail/333

  2. bhagpuss says:

    Flash back a few years and the big issue was “dumbing down” and “welfare epics” and “easy mode” and what was driving that?

    Subscription players demanding access to *everything* the game had to offer because they had the right to it all since they were paying $14.99 a month.

    Unless you’re content with a very small playerbase that shares a very specific view of what your MMO should be, there are going to be compromises whatever the payment method. And pretty much any MMO developer that grows beyond hobby-project status is going to stop being happy with “very small” sometime just after launch when the money starts to run out.

  3. Heh, I remember the “Two Ring” from WoW! +2 to all stats, described as “twice as good as the ‘One Ring.'”

    But back to the topic, this was sort of what I was harping on with the crazy mounts in EQ2 the other day. Your big spenders drive the direction of the cash shop. EQ2 makes 25% of its revenue on mounts, so you can bet there will be an endless stream of bigger, faster, crazier mounts coming.

    Not that mounts are the worst thing in the world. They are… mostly… cosmetic in EQ2. But it illustrates the point, that focus will follow the dollars.

    As for ruining the game for yourself. I recall our group at the time finding a character editor that would let you give your local characters any equipment they wanted. We all buffed ourselves up, got bored, and stopped playing in about a week. A couple months later we gave it another try, but only after swearing no cheats. They killed the game.

    But if that had been an MMO and we had bought items that made the game too easy, we probably wouldn’t have come back.

  4. Eudaimonean says:

    Wait, um… LoL?

    I’m not a huge fan of F2P but there’s a lot of hyperbole in this post. It’s true that the dev’s incentive structure for F2P can be pretty terrible, depending on the player base. But honestly, they don’t all end up like Atlantica. Look at DDO, which is from the same devs as LOTRO and also ~2 years farther along in the F2P life cycle. It doesn’t resemble your grim picture at all.

    F2P is a big component of a dev’s incentive structure, but it’s not the only component. The other half is what demographic the game appeals to. Facebook F2P games are pretty much structurally set up to suck, because the Facebook gaming demographic is moronic. But then you also have games such as DDO or LoL, which began by attracting a more sophisticated audience to begin with. That affects how the devs process F2P incentives.

    I think it’s unlikely to LOTRO will become the cash grab you describe, though I will acknowledge that the upcoming release of the Hobbit films will shift Turbine’s incentives towards that direction, so I wouldn’t rule it out entirely.

    • SynCaine says:

      LoL is the gold standard for F2P. But much like CCP, not everyone (anyone) can be Riot.

      Turbine is somewhat lucky with DDO. The original design is perfect for F2P (selling the bits of content). It was made pre-F2P, so it was terrible design at the time, but hey, broken clock and all that, right? Not that DDO is perfect, but not really being an MMO, selling items in the shop is overall meh compared to other games.

  5. As one of those who is susceptible to impulse buying into MMORPGs then leaving after a month or so, I would quite prefer a subscription.

    It’s actually cheaper per month than buying 40 bucks worth of stuff/points/currency/ponies.

    That said, I was supposed to sub to EVE, but for some reason, I’m afraid to subscribe. I will reason that out then sub soon, I hope.

    • Armagon says:

      Couldn’t help but notice your Ragnarok Online Avatar. Too bad there’s hardly any talk about it nowadays. I don’t really miss the grind, but it was still mostly a fun game.

      Also, the only game thus far where I could play by the hour, something that I would still very much to prefer to some F2P games with basically mandatory item purchases…

  6. Tahna Rouspel says:

    Say, Syncaine, what was your idea about the model for Dust 514?
    It’s going to be a free to play game, but how do you think it should make its money?

    They’ll probably allow people to buy PLEX – and PLEX will transfer to isk or aurum. I”m not entirely sure which currency will be used.

  7. Maxwell Albritten says:

    THANK YOU! Thank you for being the voice of reason MM0 gaming all needs.

    I’ve been watching the decline of gaming since I first learned of the DLC acronym on the original Xbox Live. I could never understand why everyone else seemed to casually support the micro model and I often felt alone in opposing it.

    This blog (along with the EvE summer riots) have given me hope that there is a strong push against F2P and micro-trannys where none should be.

  8. [...] post about the 1% in F2P games did not finish my thoughts on that topic completely, and hopefully in this post I can bring all of [...]

  9. [...] I was in the process of writing an article agreeing with Syncaine’s views with regards to how F2P is a tragic thing for the MMO world…and I had cited Rift as an example of a game that saw no real benefit to a F2P model. You [...]

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