Honest Pay-2-Win

January 2, 2013

Quick note before I get to the topic for today: Is it just me, or is The Witcher 2 freaking hard? I have the game on Normal after doing the tutorial, and I’m getting my ass handed to me every second fight. It’s to the point that I’m mashing quick-save more often than the attack keys. More thoughts on the game later (very solid so far), but anyone else find it much harder than the original?

Today I want to talk about F2P games, specifically P2Win titles. At a high level, I’ve noticed that there are two types of P2W games; blatant and hidden.

Blatant titles are those that very clearly sell power in the cash shop, and most if not all updates revolve around new content being added that further pushes you into the shop to keep up or at least play at the highest tier. Korean MMOs like Atlantica fit the bill here, as do the slew of iPhone games with cash shops.

Hidden P2W titles will attempt to hide the selling of power, either by making the connection to power less obvious (cash = gems = energy = gametime = power, compared to the obvious cash = BiS item), or by making the power not absolute. The cash shop sells items, but they are not BiS (just second-best, and the BiS is nearly impossible to get). Or the cash shop sells ‘optional’ boosts (and without those boosts, you can’t get those BiS items).

What has surprised me is that I personally don’t mind the blatant P2W model. Not because I spend and win, but because not spending and still doing well is its own game, and a very enjoyable one at that. Plus there is a certain kind of honesty with the model; the devs don’t pretend they aren’t selling power, and you don’t get the smoke-up-the-ass PR releases that come from companies like Turbine.

When you are online with thousands of others, those who are also playing the “don’t pay but play” game also tend to band together, and this in turn gives you more ‘content’ or at least camaraderie.

Finally, when you do spend, it’s not because the game finally twisted your arm and made the ‘convenience’ items (hotbars, bag space, travel speed) so damn inconvenient to be without that you caved, but because you are have enough fun playing for free that spending a bit is justified and just gets you more of what you already liked (power), vs just filling in a hole left in to take your money.

So close, yet so far

July 13, 2012

Heroes 6 is a good game if you enjoy that style of gaming. Looks good, plays well, etc.

Sadly its dev history is a little… spotty (and was actually the trigger for this post, though I never mentioned Heroes 6 directly). Patch 1.5 was a long time coming, and while the balance changes were nice, it was a little light considering how long it took to produce.

Oh, and it also borked the game. Whoops.

No worries though, the 1.5.1 fixes the issue. And creates a new one. Whoops x2.

And as nice as town screens are, the fact that Heroes 6 shipped without simultaneous turns in multiplayer is atrocious. That it’s months later and the game STILL does not have them, or even plans to introduce them, is beyond words.

My frustration with Heroes 6 is similar to my frustration with Darkfall or Atlantica; all three are very enjoyable games that really do a lot of things well, but are made unnecessarily difficult to enjoy. Heroes 6 for its spotty support, Darkfall for its lack of updates, and Atlantica for its business model.

Is it really too much to ask for devs to make a solid game and not screw it up at some point?

Atlantica Online is now super ‘accessible’

July 6, 2012

Atlantica Online is not the game it was when I played it back in late 2008. It’s still got the combat system, and graphics, and all of that. It still has the same initial quest structure, town system, pops up, etc. But the game today is insultingly easy, and not just in the usual ways.

Yes, the monsters you now face seem much easier. They don’t hit as hard, they die faster, and, most shockingly, it seem that when you face a group of 5-6, only one or two will attack you per turn. This not only makes the whole thing easier, but it’s just silly. Wtf is the point of grouping 5-6 mobs together if only one or two are going to actually act and attack you?

It gets worse though. You now receive a ‘help box’ as you play, first at level 5, then again at 15, and once more at 25 (have not made it higher). Each box contains a bunch of gear, generally much better than what you have found so far, along with some cash shop ‘samples’ (7 day devil wings for example). In other words, you not only get ‘welfare epics’ to use on super-easy mobs, but the game makes sure you ALWAYS (again up to 25 so far) have them.

Finally, the two boss encounters so far have been a total joke. What was once a rewarding and ‘gatekeeper’ fight is now the same faceroll as any random mob group. No real special abilities, no need to actually go in with a plan, no defeat-and-grind-up-a-bit wall; just enter, faceroll, leave.

The changes have really crippled AO for me so far, because when the game is this easy, all of the other things just don’t matter. Who cares about crafting or consumables or party setup when no matter what you do, you are going to win easily? The quests and locations also fade into just another spot, as you don’t really develop that respect for a boss, or that edge from a particularly tricky combination of mobs.

I’m hoping that all of this is a result of extending AO’s ‘intro’ into the first 25 or so levels, and that the challenge and battle complexity comes back (if anyone is playing currently please chime in). Since the level cap is now 150 (it was 100 back then), perhaps that’s what happened. I really hope so, because if not, ‘accessibility’ has claimed another MMO.

Atlantica Online is on Steam, still sadly F2P

July 5, 2012

Atlantica Online is now on Steam, which triggered “hey let’s see if Atlantica is as good as I remember it”, with the bonus that I’m playing it with my wife this time.

I feel like Atlantica holds a very special place in the MMO genre. It’s a title any serious fan needs to experience, because it teaches an extremely valuable lesson: no matter how awesome your content is, the F2P model will ruin it. No game makes this as clear as AO does, and for that reason everyone should try it.

Side bonus; it’s an awesome game. I won’t rehash why, as I’ve done that multiple times here already. Just search for AO-tagged posts and you will find plenty of info and opinion.

This concludes the 2012 version of why I hate F2P. Goodbye.

Preying on the weak

January 26, 2012

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.

You should return those glasses to their rightful owner

January 17, 2012

Syp over at Biobreak has a post talking about the pre-2003 MMO market and todays, and how you can’t pay him enough to go back to that time.

First I find this odd, as looking at his About page, I’m not seeing pre-2003 MMOs on his list of games he has played extensively, but maybe that’s just an omission on his part? Maybe he is a pre-2003 MMO vet? Is he just hiding the fact that he was Dreadlord Syp?

Anyway, here is his list of reasons why the genre is better today:

The quest system, dynamic events, full voice-overs, customizable appearances, public grouping, hybrid gameplay (such as STO’s ground/space combat), genre blending, business models

The quest system of 2012 is Cataclysm and SW:TOR. I’ll leave it at that.

‘Dynamic Events’ are a buzzword today for games like Rift, which are painfully static. Dynamic events in games like UO or EQ, which were player-driven, were actually dynamic. And actual events. The killing of Lord British anyone?

Voice-overs – Yup.

Customizable Appearances – In UO you had more options for this than you do today in WoW. With more impact as well. The game also had customizable housing on a scale most games today can only dream about (or declare technically impossible, depending on how little the devs think of their player-base).

Public Grouping – UO had this feature. Only it was called “Talk to that played, see what they are doing, and do stuff together”. When this happened regularly, it was called a guild. And since people actually lived in those worlds, rather than just ‘progressed’ through one hub to the next, knowing the locals meant something. I’d be dying to hear how someone who has experience with that prefers the random dungeon finder instead, as relates to group quality and the overall enjoyment of grouping.

Hybrid gameplay – The genre is better now that we have a poor man’s version of Starfox that we have to pay $15 a month to play? Odd, I was under the impression that when I loaded up an MMO, it was because I wanted to play an MMO, and when I loaded up Starfox, it was because I wanted to play Starfox. That said, UO had chess, although it required two players, so I understand why it would not work today.

Genre blending – We sure are.

Business Models – I love Pay-2-Win enhanced games like Atlantica. That game would suck as a pure sub game. I also love an immersive experience like LotRO turn into a slot-machine. Finally how can you not love what accounts being free does to server communities (lulz what is that?). In all fairness this can work sometimes. LoL being F2P is cool. EVE having PLEX is nice. Games like DDO/EQ2/LotRO/AoC not shutting down but instead milking a few dummies is cool, I guess.

And finally on to his real argument as to why those who enjoyed the genre pre-2003 love it today.

Oh wait he’s done? I see. Fine, let’s move on to the horrors of pre-2003 games, shall we?

You think the quest grind is bad today? Try simply grinding mobs endlessly for no reason other than a lack of other options. Or the horrible death penalties. The lack of real support for solo players. The incredibly obtuse nature of game mechanics and stats. The lack of free-to-play resulting in fewer gaming options on any given day

What game was Syp playing where he was grinding mobs endlessly because he had no other options and that was it? Doesn’t sound like UO to me. Nor AC. Nor DAoC. EQ1 players? The original carebears? Is it you?

Death penalties – The funny thing about WoW-only players is they just don’t know better. Tell them that if they die they lose all their stuff, and their heads explode. Now Syp, I guess being a pre-2003 vet, (right?) knows better. So he knows why the death penalty in UO was awesome. Just how much gameplay came out of the penalty in AC (Darktide, the only version of the game that mattered). And how many of you original carebears have epic corpse-run stories? I don’t think I need to talk about dying in DaoC, do I?

Solo players – What a horrible crime, that in a genre called massive MULTIPLAYER, we don’t cater to solo players. One can only imagine how horrible server communities and guilds were back when the only people playing were those who wanted to be social, who wanted to play something with others, who cared for group progression over personal. The horror! What would I do without little solo-Billy never talking and always being in his personal instance? Do you know how much worse my MMO experience would be without people like him… not around?

Game stats – I’m so glad the genre moved away from needing a website like EJ to play ‘the real game’, where groups are no longer formed based on gearscore, and that we no longer suffer with FOTM builds in games like Rift. That finally, we did away with obtuse things like being stuck playing a character in DAoC and making the best of it, rather than just re-spec’ing. That finally, rather than having to work towards a new build like we did in UO, you can just instantly hop from one solo-build to another. Amazing progress has indeed been made, and it’s clearly reflected in not just the games, but their communities as well.

Lack of free-to-play – Ah yes, the land of infinite quality, where only the best and brightest games dwell, and where only the finest of citizen reside.

I think I get where Syp is going with this. Now that I think about it, the 1997-2003 years were indeed horrible. Dealing with server communities, playing with tight-knit groups that stuck around longer than a month, building a server reputation, being judged not by my epics but by my personality. Just terrible, nightmarish days.

And remember all those awful days of Relic keep raids? Of invading Darkness Falls? Or all that time spent ‘grinding’ away in Minoc? Just talking to other players around your house because, damnit, you had no other options? Remember how painful it was to go into a dungeon in AC-DT, only for it to escalating into a server-wide brawl? Do any of you know how much time I ‘wasted’ fighting over a city in that game? How many people I knew by reputation, how deep the connections were? It was just awful man, awful. Not a single solo instance around, no ‘epic’ gear handed to me, absolutely no way to instantly teleport to a dungeon with some bots to go on an ‘epic’ quest to kill a god (for the 400th time).

Syp didn’t mention these things, but I will. You know what’s awesome about 2012? That thanks to $300m budgets, the games of today are bug-free (just don’t /dance), that they get prompt content updates (delayed until next week), look amazing (SW retro 2004 vibe is great), run great (just don’t turn on those now-gone high textures), have awesome server hardware (up to 10 people in one area) and they offer such a wide variety of things to do compared to games of old.

I mean look, when I’m tired of listening to those B-rate voices on my main solo-quest, I can go and do this side-quest. Solo. While listening to B-rate voices. In only one zone (sorry, planet) See? It’s awesome. So much better than being ‘forced’ to grind the same mob camp (one out of about a few thousand, if we’re talking UO) all day. Assuming I’m not a crafter. Or a shopkeeper. Or a PK. Or an anti. Or exploring. Or sailing. Or acting like an orc. Grinding mobs all day, yo!

Man I’m glad it’s 2012!

(Apologies for it not being Friday)

It’s only a problem if you can’t afford it

December 7, 2011

I find the discussion around gold ammo/tanks/accounts in WoT fascinating for a number of reasons, and the subject reveals a lot about gamers and their tolerance for different things, especially in a PvP game.

First let’s start with some facts.

It’s a fact that you can buy power in WoT. Shooting with gold ammo is better than shooting without it. It’s also a fact that you can buy accelerated progression in WoT in the form of gold tanks or account services. Finally, it’s a fact that the higher up in tiers you go, the higher the ‘recommendation’ that you spend money to continue playing gets due to how the repair cost system is set up.

I’ve seen fans of WoT argue against the buying-power aspect by suggesting gold ammo is rare, ineffective, or does not influence the outcome of a battle. All of this is interesting.

Rarity: So because, for example, only one in ten battles involves gold ammo, gold ammo is not really a problem? To me this suggests a few things. First, the care-factor for any one battle is very limited. Winning or losing a single battle is marginally important, to the extent that using gold ammo is ‘silly’ because why pay extra for something so trivial (winning)? This is further reinforced by the fact that gold ammo is most often seen in clan matches, which ‘matter’ more. The flip side of this is, of course, non-clan matches don’t ‘matter’ as much.

This then brings up the question: how rare is ‘rare enough’? If gold ammo prices were slashed, and gold ammo was used in 50% of battles, is it now a “buying power” problem? If the price is increased, and it’s used in 1/1000th of battles, is the problem ‘solved’?

Ineffective: If gold ammo is so similar to regular ammo, who buys it? Why do they buy it? Just for the lulz? And if gold ammo is as underpowered as some claim, why do clan’s use it? Furthermore, if level-of-effect is the issue, when does gold ammo really become a problem? There is a lot of space between “no effect” and “one-shotting tanks”, so where do you fall on the scale? 5% power increase is too much? 50% power? Anything above 1%?

No influence on the outcome: This is somewhat similar to the above, but not quite. If player skill, pure luck, pre-game random tank matching, the map, or anything BUT who has gold ammo is the factor in determining the winner, why again do clan’s spend money on gold ammo? Why is it even noticeable? If gold ammo has “never effected the outcome of a battle”, are all those gold ammo purchasers just idiots throwing money down a hole? And if they are, why are the ‘smart’ people who are not buying gold ammo talking about it beyond thanking them for the charitable donation? Plus if gold ammo has truly never influenced the outcome of a battle, shouldn’t gold ammo be buffed? Its crazy underpowered!

Would CoD or Battlefield players also consider gold ammo a non-issue in their games? If Riot allowed you to buy a few extra mastery points in League of Legends, would anyone even notice? I mean hell I’ve won LoL games with the completely WRONG masteries set, that’s how “worthless” they are! Surely, given how much of a non-factor such a minor purchase of power would be, we would see most tourney players in LoL not spend the cash for those extra mastery points, right? After all, LoL is more of a skill-based (twitch) game than WoT, so if anything the effect would be even LESS noticeable, right? Hello…?

As for gold tanks/accounts and their impact on repair costs, this is NOT an issue of buying power, but buying a way out of ‘bad’ game design. Repair costs that ‘force’ you to play lesser-tiered tanks to grind up cash unless you pay for a gold tank/account is, IMO, bad design (not letting you play how you want to play) driven by the payment model. I highly doubt Wargaming.net is not smart enough to ‘fix’ this ‘problem’, after all.

This part I have less of an issue with since in-battle it has no impact (gold tank power aside), and at the end of the day it’s just the cost of your “free to play” game. Some titles state up front they cost $15 a month, others don’t. Gamers should be smart enough at this point to not be fooled into believe the whole ‘free’ scam from 99% of what’s out there.

That said, LoL is a hell of a lot more ‘free’ than WoT in this regard. LoL does not have weak/bad design like repair costs, because of the fact that they don’t sell “stop walking over glass” stuff like premium accounts or gold tanks. Riot is able to collect enough money off reskinned sparkle ponies to not have to ‘force’ their players to pay up or suffer. Good deal if you can get it, sucks when you can’t. Most can’t, but then again most F2P titles are garbage.

The biggest gray area, and the least interesting part of all of this IMO, is the power level of gold tanks. It’s a fact they are stronger than similar base tanks, and it’s also a fact they are not as strong as a fully kitted tank. They lay somewhere in the middle (although closer to the top end than the bottom). They are far more noticeable than gold ammo because, well, GOLD TANK IN YOUR FACE. Hard to miss them, especially compared to how hidden gold ammo is.

The real reason, IMO, that gold tanks are brought up so often is because not only are they fairly powerful, they give you a huge advantage in terms of earning cash. The straw man is the power, the cash earning/savings is the real issue, because those without gold tanks are ‘forced’ to farm more cash to play at the higher tiers. This, I believe, is what breeds the contempt for them. It’s somewhat valid, if you ignore the whole “you knew what you were getting yourself into from day one” aspect. It’s not like gold tanks, repair costs, or gold ammo were patched in later, once everyone was hooked on a version of WoT where the wallet was not a weapon.

At the end of the day, what all of this reveals to me is that plenty of people are willing to pay for power, but only at a cost they are personally comfortable with, and buying power is only a problem when the cost gets too high for them. $7000 gem set in Allods = bad. $1 gold ammo in WoT = good. Unless that gold ammo is used against you in a noticeable manner and the results matter to you, at which point gold ammo = bad even if it’s just one penny above a cost you are okay with.

Furthermore, and far more disturbing, is that people are quick to ignore bad game design (repair costs) driven by the payment model if again the cost is ‘reasonable’ (reasonable of course being different for everyone). One-time gold tank for $35 = good. Per-month $20 character slots = bad. Unless of course the character slot is not that important, or you can get it on sale for $5. Oh and the gold tank IS a problem if its power level is too high. Too high of course being a personal opinion. Unless it’s the most powerful tank, then it’s just pure buying power, but again that only becomes an issue if you think $35 is too high a cost to buy wins.

Personally, I’ll just stick to games limited to selling pony skins, or charging everyone $15 a month and favoring those with more time. Way more ‘fair’. :)



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