What’s a man to a king, what’s a king to a god, what’s a god to a non-believer?

My 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 this around and wrap it up (not likely). The predatory nature of the model, and how it influences developer focus, are very important aspects, but equally important are the options players have, and how their voice might be heard.

Compare the LotRO cash armor incident with EVE’s monocle fiasco.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that selling items of power (be they BiS or not) has a little more impact on a game than selling an overpriced fluff piece, right? And long-time LotRO fans have every right to suggest that their game is heading (plummeting) down a slippery slope. This is especially true in a game like LotRO, where supposedly the integrity of the IP is so important. WoW has always had its fair share of silly crap, so sparkleponies almost make sense, but LotRO was a pretty serious game in terms of respecting the IP.

Yet it’s CCP and EVE that changed course and listened to player demands, while Turbine further insulted their players with some weak-ass explanation of why selling The One Ring is not that big a deal.

EVE, because it’s a sub-based MMO, is ruled by the majority (more on this in a bit), while LotRO is ruled by the 1%. The only way Turbine is going to pull the cash gear out of the shop/game is if the 1% not only refuses to buy it, but also stops buying everything else. And like I stated previously, sadly the 1% are not exactly die-hard MMO purists or hyper-invested in the future prospects of that MMO. They show up, grab all the candy, and leave when they overdose on sugar, only to be replaced by the next ‘child’ with too much money.

About EVE, and sub MMOs in general: While CCP’s goal is ultimately to get as many subscribers as possible, this is by no means accomplished by catering to the casual majority at the expense of the die-hard minority. Again, one SynCaine is worth 30 Casual-Calvins (formerly known as Casual Billy). And not only that, but one SynCaine keeps those 30 Casual-Calvins playing for months/years, where if left to their own devices the Calvins would “run out of content” in a month, while also failing to attract a single friend. If you want to see what happens to an MMO when you drive away the hardcore to cater to the casuals, take a look at current-day WoW, and Blizzard scrambling to replace the churn rather than attempting to retain players. If you are a current-day WoW player, what does that stance by Blizzard tell you?

The Jita riots in EVE were not organized by the Calvins, but in order to be effective the casuals were herded over and told to shoot the pretty structure. And then when the content-drivers started to unsub, it did not take long for their flock to follow.

CCP’s hand was forced because of the sheer number of lost accounts, but those losses were not driven by a lack of catering to the casuals. Hell, Incarna was the most direct attempt from CCP to do exactly that, to ‘break EVE out of its niche’, and while certainly not perfect, it did somewhat accomplish its goal (casuals love dresses after all). But casuals don’t make EVE an 8 year old MMO that is still growing. They never have, and they never will.

Consider the CSM. If there was ever a “let’s listen to the super-hardcore minority” program, it’s the CSM. It’s a collection of players that not only know the ins and outs of a very complicated game, but have been around said game for years. They have no doubt poured THOUSANDS of hours into it, and are willing and able to take large chunks of time out of their lives to fly to another country and talk about it for DAYS straight with the devs. And yet upsetting the CSM to the point of protest is/was the single biggest mistake CCP ever made, and all it took was selling a fluff item. Not gold ammo, not even lower-tier ‘noob help’ items or catch-up potions. Nope. Fluff. Dumb, zero-impact fluff (yes, this oversimplifies the whole issue, but this post is already too long).

It’s also disingenuous, and IMO outright silly, to suggest that when the devs cater to the die-hard minority, they must do so at the expense of the casual majority. Back when I played WoW, all you would hear from ‘casuals’ is how Blizzard needs to stop making more raids that ‘no one’ will ever see, and focus more on the ‘fun fluff’ that casuals can’t get enough of. That since ‘only 1%’ all of players defeated a boss, that content was ‘wasted’ and did nothing for the vast majority of the players.

Of course all of this was happening while WoW was growing at an astronomical rate, and pushing what an MMO could do in terms of a subscriber base further and further. It was also during this time that the die-hards created the UI for WoW, created its first PvP system (town invasions, NPC leader raids), and created all the guides/websites/podcasts that further expanded the popularity and growth of WoW. This was long, long before Mr. T or Chuck stepped in.

EVE in many ways is very similar. Non-EVE players love to point out that most pilots live in Empire as some sort of evidence that PvP does not matter, or that EVE is successful DESPITE its neg-sum PvP. And those who play EVE or at least are able to comprehend a bit of it understand why this is laughable. Why the minority that fights over 0.0 space drive the game. Why people like The Mittani ‘matter’ a whole hell of a lot more than Casual-Calvin ever will. And most importantly, why listening to the CSM (in moderation of course, and still doing their jobs as game designers) is not catering to the minority, but doing what’s best for the game, which in turn is what’s best for everyone playing.

To bring this all the way back around, compare how that mentality, of doing what’s best for the game leading to success, compares to doing what will get the 1% to spend again. Is it any surprise that CCP is motivated and rewarded for putting out something like Crucible, while SOE is pouring resources into coming up with the next ‘wings’ mount? That Turbine is willing to upset a large section of their playerbase just to get a few to buy mid-level gear?

Now both models work. Zynga after all was worth something at some point, right? But pure business model aside, as a player, which game would you rather play? The one getting updated in order to make it better, or the one with an ‘addictive’ shop that is able to lure in the 1% ‘kids’?

25 Responses to What’s a man to a king, what’s a king to a god, what’s a god to a non-believer?

  1. Carson says:

    The ironic thing about LOTRO’s cash shop floundering is that they almost had it right. It almost looked like they were making a hybrid F2P/subscription/pay-as-you-go model that wasn’t about selling big to the whales, but rather about giving options to players.

    I’ve played LOTRO off and on (but fairly regularly) since its F2P conversion. I’ve spent money on it, exclusively to purchase access to content (quest packs, skirmishes, the Isengard expansion). This worked out great because I was playing a solid game, paying as I went, spending less than $15/month and getting new content at the rate I needed it given my playtime.

    But no, I guess having some people pay $15/month and some paying $5/zone (or whatever) wasn’t good enough. They had to chase the great white whale.

  2. Ahtchu says:

    Just want to chime in with an ‘I agree’.
    Sub models also have the benefit of a ‘buy-in’ feature, of vested interest, meaning that populations are also more stable- leading to healthier in-game populations.
    Health, both in games and in life, is attributed to stability, not peak numbers with extreme rises and falls.

  3. adam says:

    Well said. It’s kind of a strangely similar argument Objectivists make about entrepreneurs and industrialists (the hardcore) vs. regular people (casuals). Not to make this political. It’s just interesting.

  4. moondog548 says:

    It’s a compelling piece to be sure, and food for thought not to be dismissed out of hand. But it’s also almost all conjecture.

    Keep at it.

  5. bhagpuss says:

    God that was long!

    I understand your whole schtick relies on taking extreme positions and long may that continue ‘cos it sure is fun to read, but the solution that’s going to make all of us happy in the end is variety.

    WoW is like the medicine ball dropped onto the elastic membrane. Its extreme density has stretched things out of all proportion. We just need to wait for the boinngggginggg to stop and for equilibrium to re-establish itself. Then we will see a wide range of MMOs suitable to a wide range of tastes, all able to settle down comfortably and profitably to serve their specific audiences.

    MMOs in 2012 would be SO much better had WoW never happened, not because there was anything particularly wrong with WoW’s gameplay in 2005 but entirely because its unpredictable and unreproducible success has distorted most activity in the field ever since. Let’s just hope TOR is the last attempt to ride that particular horse and we can all get back to what would have been normal had Blizzard not thrown their boulder into the duckpond.

    I just hope Titan doesn’t start another decade of nonsense.

    • adam says:

      I would love a glimpse at what the MMO genre would look like if WoW had never existed.

    • Rammstein says:

      “I just hope Titan doesn’t start another decade of nonsense.”

      Well, if the WoW fad were to be followed by another fad, be it Titan or some other game, then that would start to establish a real pattern. But there’s no reason to expect MMO’s to follow a pattern of lemmings rushing after the latest fad, unless human nature were such that every field, from fashion, education, nutrition, politics, music, etc, was mainly a story of mindless followers rushing after the latest and greatest.

      So, which game do you think will start the inevitable next decade of nonsense?

      • Ahtchu says:

        unless human nature were such that every field, from fashion, education, nutrition, politics, music, etc, was mainly a story of mindless followers rushing after the latest and greatest.
        We can easily prove this statement in any field. Let’s start: Apple. How long has the electronics industry been around? The FDA is pretty squarely owned by CocaCola and Pepsi, malnutrition is the norm, due to the lemmings effect. We could go on and on..
        Human nature IS to be a sheep. It is the rare exception that doesn’t just think of swimming upstream, but does, and moreso, happens to succeed.

    • Rammstein says:

      “I understand your whole schtick relies on taking extreme positions and long may that continue ‘cos it sure is fun to read, but the solution that’s going to make all of us happy in the end is variety.”

      I don’t really understand this paragraph at all. Variety isn’t a solution, nor is it relevant to this article. This article is about how the f2p model and the sub model are inherently opposed. Similar to how you can rent a movie, or you can pay a fixed monthly fee to get a certain selection of programming on cable, but people are, on the whole, opposed to paying a monthly fee and also paying an a la carte fee per selection– except MMOs have social components that make that distinction between the extreme choices even more necessary, as he described. So while this article was about how the market can drive choices towards the extremes, this was one of the least “extreme” opinions I’ve seen Syn post recently, in the sense of being controversial or subjective. Wow doesn’t function as a counterexample, as the sub numbers from WoW have dropped precipitously since the sparkleponies were introduced. There do exist IRL situations where you pay both a monthly fee and a per unit fee, but that’s mostly in situations where you pay a monthly fee for access, and then a per usage fee for a real upgrade, like personal training in a gym, for example. I believe that the reason WoW was able to do as well as it did with sparkleponies is that people are used to that dual-pricing scheme from certain places where it makes sense IRL, but that doesn’t guarantee its future online. At some point, through competition people will be made aware that enabling a few extra mounts isn’t necessarily a worthy premium feature. The question of whether artificial virtual scarcity will be persistently perceived as a worthy target for real world currency is a complex one, I believe Syn overgeneralizes about virtual worlds in that EVE’s reaction to the monocles says much more about the type of virtual world that EVE is than about properties of VW’s in general.

      Handwaving about variety completely misses the point. It’s like if some blogger interested in fashion tried to predict how fashion would change over the next 10 years based upon the increasing globalization of culture and changing gender roles, and you replied, “well, as long as there’s enough variety, everyone can wear what they want.” That’s certainly true, and yet no one would take that seriously, and everyone would wonder why you were there.

  6. mararinn says:

    I challenge the assertion that the minority who live in nullsec “drive the game”. The people who PvP “drive the game”, regardless of where they dwell. The people who form groups of friends that participate in shared activities (e.g.: running a hisec research and invention POS) “drive the game”. The people who contract scam in market hubs “drive the game”.

    Nullsec could disappear tomorrow, and short of a bunch of players disappearing, the game would still be running.

    What “drives the game” is players interacting with each other.

  7. Azuriel says:

    Why people like The Mittani ‘matter’ a whole hell of a lot more than Casual-Calvin ever will.

    There’s always another Mittani. In fact, it’s Mittanis all the way down.

    P.S. At a 30:1 ratio, you’re saying ~13k EVE players are more important than 387,000 Casual-Calvins. I’m not sure CCP would agree.

    • SynCaine says:

      Oh but they do agree.

      Because those 13k are the reason the 387k log in.

      • Cupp221 says:

        100% this.

        Those 13k are the FC’s, Alliance Leaders, and Industry moguls that drive the content (and goals) for the rest of the populace. Those 387k “calvins” include grunts in alliances or corps that just show up for fleets (pvp or pve), or folks that mine ore to sell to industry moguls who create ships and mods (much of which gets bought by those 13k for their respective groups).

        I think if you were to somehow poll every person that has played for longer than 6 months, a huge percentage of those people would credit “sticking with the game” to a small number of people they’ve encountered in the game. Namely, an alliance or corp leader, or maybe a group of industrialists that they all work together to achieve X or Y goals.

        For people who left the game saying “it wasnt for me” or “there was nothing to do”, most likely they did not run into someone who could teach them the intricacies of the game and provide “calvin” short-term and/or long-term goals.

        My point is that it takes a special kind of person to lead others or give out goals, and the reason those “calvins” stick around is because of said leaders. Therefore, by CCP catering to these leaders and their wants and desires, they in-turn, keep the “calvins” coming back, driving up subscriptions.

  8. Hong WeiLoh says:

    “Non-EVE players love to point out that most pilots live in Empire as some sort of evidence that PvP does not matter…”

    Actually a lot of EVE players also point that out as evidence that PvP does not matter, and hisec needs to be “buffed” (safer) because PvE is the play-style most subscribers want, safely grinding missions and mining away without fear of ganks.

    Also, the 13k players DO matter more…BUT only because of the remaining 387k accounts, 300k of them are alts of that first 13k. ;-)

    • Anonymous says:

      Are you saying that alts of those 13k hardcore PVP-loving players do not like PVP? I don’t play EVE so I’m just wondering.

      • Hong WeiLoh says:

        lol Nicely worded troll, but for those who don’t play EVE and don’t understand, I’ll bite:
        The Army of Alts of a “hardcore PvP-loving player” are generally not skilled for PvP. They’re skilled specifically for ‘support’ tasks, like hauling, scouting, planetary interaction, (for passive income), or off-grid boosting…any one of a multitude of those things, to help that “hardcore PvPer’s” main do what they want to do, which is be a hardcore PvPer.

        EVE is a geek’s wet dream of a game of spreadsheet min/maxing, or at least it can be and lends itself easily to that play style. It encourages [OCD min/max type] people to develop highly specialized characters — e.g. a hauler alt that can fly jump freighters with PERFECT skills, but does nothing else. Maybe once the freighter alt has perfect skills for that the player may start training it for other duties, but it’s a long way to “all-5″ for any particular profession in EVE.

        When Syn says that it’s a game for Hardcore Harry, not Casual Charlie, he’s right, in a way… but only in that EVE’s design itself is made to cater to that hardcore “must have THESE skills perfect to level 5 within 6 months or DAAIIII!!!!” mentality… a recent customer service survey from CCP asked how many active accounts a player had. The responses were enumerated 1-10, and then another option for “more than 10″. Well, with PLEX I suppose you don’t have to “pay” for all those accounts but still….who the fuck in their half-sane mind has “more than 10″ accounts for a VIDEO GAME?!?!?!

        • Truff says:

          I dunno. Three accounts is enough for me!

          Then again, in UO I actually had 6 at one point…

        • Xyloxan says:

          Thank you for your kind response (and I was not trolling). It convinced me that indeed EVE is a PVP’ers game with all those non-PVP’ing alts living there to support the main character (which, in most cases is a PVP’er). You actually confirmed Syn’s point that the core 2% (or whatever) of EVE players is more important than the rest – cause the rest are the alts supporting the main character.

  9. Hong WeiLoh says:

    EvE is a PvP game actually because CCP has said that’s its vision for it. Cold, harsh, all that… Of course, that was apparently years ago and it is fairly apparent that said vision is changing to accomodate the WoW-crowd and their $$$$ for subs.

    It’s not that PvPers are “better” than PvEers or noncombatants … just as a martial artist on the street is no “better” than the nerdy geek who just wants to walk down the street with his head up his ass ignoring the signs of impending mugging all about him….
    He’s not “better”, but he IS better prepared.

    Don’t like it? Learn to be prepared.

  10. steelhunt says:

    Regarding the hardcore driving the game in EVE (and every other game), you all seem to be looking at the wrong angle and the wrong direction. Hardcore in this context does not mean the nullsec PVPers VS hisec carebears or alts and whatnot. It’s about the directors. The operation planners and organizers. The diplos. The FCs. The intelligence and black ops divisions that run so much behind the scenes. The reimbursement directors. The noob mentors. The doctrine theorycrafters. The forum/TS/jabber operators. The logistic divisions that put in enormous amounts of boring, grueling f’ WORK, so that casual Billy can monkey-click on a jump bridge all day and bitch about how the market in Assoftheuniverse Solar System is shit and sux balls (i.e. prices are 15% over Jita). And so on. This applies to any MMO – though in EVE it may be several orders of magnitude higher than others.

  11. Anonymous says:

    I think that your missing one big reason that Turbine did not have to remove the armor from the store and that is that the majority of their player base doesnt even know its in there. Its been said that less then 10% of players use the game forums and LOTRO has a large number of very casual players.

    My sister and I have been playing the game since it came out and both have lifetime accounts so in reality we dont have to spend any more money on the game. My sister plays the game very casual only logging in 2 or 3 days a week for a few hours. I asked her yesterday if she knew that Turbine had added armor to the store that you could use at lvl 20 that has stats like lvl 28 armor and she said she had no idea they had added it. Then I asked her if she cared if they added it. Her answer was no it has no effect on her.

    Eve hardcore players were able to get the whole playerbase upset about the item they added to the store and get enough people to drop subscriptions to make it felt. But LOTRO hardcore players could not get the casuals interested in their cause and my guess is a large number of the players who were upset already were premium so all they could do was not purchase points. Not purchasing points for a few weeks just does not have the impact that canceling a subscription has.

    Turbine has the ablity to monitor how many players log in and if there was not a drastic decrease in log ins after it was announce letting the upset players blow off some steam and then explain their reasoning seems to have worked fine. People are no longer talking about it and its been less then two weeks. The announcement of the new expansion has pushed the armor issue from the majority of the players minds.

  12. sean says:

    One Syncaine is worth 30 players yes.
    FC, Corp officers, people who organize ops are worth many more players.
    Also while only 1% of wow may have completed a specific boss…it is the carrot the goal to achieve and work towards. Without that why play?

  13. Antivyris says:

    Funny thing is that the most successful hybrid (subscription/f2p) mmo out there is indeed EVE. Considering Army of Alts, many of them are funded via plex, and all plex are player bought. That means essentially that casual players buying plex to get ahaid in the credit game by selling it are actually funding the F2P alt accounts in a sort of zero-sum subscription plan.

    As F2P goes, it’s actually quite ingenious. Keep enough churn going and you’ll never run out of new casuals looking for quick credits.

    Playful ribbing now aside, a common idea is that item stores in MMO’s are clearly a way for evil/greedy game companies to take your money. However, something rarely considered, perhaps they are just alternate funding?

    Consider it like this. Your MMO is moving along at a good clip, content is fine, features are fine, then suddenly one of your developers has an idea that you just have to run with. However, the cash isn’t there. You can’t justify taking money from the main budget as this is separate, but it is a project that you want to start that will add value to your game.

    Would everyone consider the sparkle-pony to be greedy if it was found to 100% fund things such as non-planned features? Like, LFR, live developer chat, 64-bit client, etc. Since the Activision merge, they have probably needed things such as the store to fund things that the more corporate types see as extras.

    And a final note. Honestly, if WoW wasn’t around, we would probably be sufferring through the numerous errors in (insert MMO here that was sub and went F2P) and just living with them. WoW at least showed us with it’s UI that we didn’t have to settle for what a game company shoved at us, and that’s finally turning back on blizzard itself. Even EVE is responding to this shift in player enlightenment, revamping parts of it’s own UI.

  14. [...] is particularly upsetting for me as 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 [...]

  15. [...] write the above (again) because, to me, gaming is going down a very dangerous trend in terms of ‘wallet [...]

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