Instead of linking to that old PR release about how great LotRO and DDO are doing thanks to F2P, please use this updated link.
F2P ALL THE WAY!
Instead of linking to that old PR release about how great LotRO and DDO are doing thanks to F2P, please use this updated link.
F2P ALL THE WAY!
Now Turbine emails me all the amazing deals they have going in the cash shop! Awesome!
It took longer to download your trashheap than I spent playing it, but yea, totally email me about buying more garbage, please.
F2P… ALL THE WAY!
Edit: Because I’m a masochist, wtf is a “Companion Mystery Basket”? Its only around for a ‘limited time’ so I need to know soon or I might miss out on something really awesome that I could only get thanks to the wonders of F2P.
Also anyone think 4200 turbine points for some XP Elixers is a good buy? Seems like it right, 4200 turbine points is like what, $5? I mean given how awful DDO is, I think paying Turbine just a little bit of money to play their game less is what the F2P industry calls a win/win?
The good: DDO still remembers my beta account, though not the characters. It also remembers my two box set accounts, though again not characters. Seems to have forgotten those were paid account, odd…
The bad: Everything else.
Before character creation I was hit with two cash shop references, and during character creation again 2-3 times. Once a character was created (with the same option the game had in 2005, because really, who has time to update something as trivial as your character (or the graphics in general, which look like DF1 at the lowest setting when DDO is maxed) when you have cash shop items to produce?), I was treated to a nice “buy this in the store to get ahead” loading screen.
The first NPC I talked to in the city? Buy some content. Wheee, glad you guys placed that guy first. Great first impressions and all that, right?
Moving past that beggar with his hand out, I found another NPC with an icon above his head and loaded into his mission, smashed left-click in what is still perhaps the MMO genres worst combat system, and got some reward after 5 minutes. During said mission I was also showered with magic items and other whatevers. Clicked finish and was loaded back into the city.
I will say this; DDO is still probably the best F2P MMO out.
First, can we stop linking to that 2011 LotRO announcement of how great it’s doing? Please link to the 2013 “still doing great” announcement. Same goes for DDO. Last I heard, Turbine was releasing a response to in-game protests about bending people over in DDO. Game is obviously still doing awesome thanks to F2P, right?
Next, has anyone ever called F2P ‘fans’ lazy gamers? What does that even mean? People too lazy to put in a credit card number to subscribe? People too lazy to get a job in real life to afford $15 a month?
What MMO players that don’t pay are, in the best case, are cattle. They are (hopefully) content for those who do pay, and in exchange those who are paying the bills get to enjoy a better experience thanks to the free-loaders. How often that’s the case I’ll leave up to you to decide.
Bringing up Wal-Mart is appropriate when talking F2P. There is a reason People of Walmart exists, while People of Macy’s or People of Whole Foods does not. People of F2P MMOs is a thing that should exist.
Walmart is in part successful because they have mastered logistics, keeping their costs down. If you want to call reskinning wings and reselling them to people in a F2P MMO ‘logistics’, the comparison continues to work. The other factor in Walmart’s favor is being so big that they can bend laws to suit them, which is very Zynga-like. The key difference being laws caught up to Zynga and destroyed them, while Walmart has enough lobbying power to prevent that.
The core of what Mike at Massively is saying is correct however; MMOs turn to F2P for financial reasons. The ‘why it works’ part is where the disconnect happens. MMOs that turn F2P don’t magically get better content-wise. DDO/LotRO are still the same flawed MMOs that failed as sub games, but now ‘enhanced’ with a cash shop that pesters you continuously to try and sells you content, items, fluff, and power. So why do these games sorta-work (again, looking for that 2013 announcement of still doing awesome) as F2P when they failed as subscription games? Because of the People of F2P.
Tricking someone into giving you a buck is easier than keeping them around full-time for 15, especially when you target that particular brand of player with flash over substance. The other major change is you don’t need people to stick around in the F2P model; the cattle are plentiful and you are only hoping to skin a few bucks off them before they leave. That’s basically the opposite of being successful as a sub MMO; as a sub you not only have to be good enough to attract initial attention, you only succeed if you prove that you are worth it long-term. As we have seen over the years, most developers don’t have the talent to pull that off. Selling a sparkle-pony is easy, providing lasting, worthwhile content is not.
That the MMO genre is currently in a major rut and F2P is popular is not a coincidence. Hopefully we get out of it ‘soon’.
A lot of funny stuff is happening in this post over at TAGN, please go check it out. My only major complaint is that Wilhelm was light on the actual insults. I’m going to try and correct that here.
I think the biggest gain from that post is my discovery of a new blog: Zen of Design. The title is a bit misleading though; I think it would be far more accurate to call the blog “Tales from a hotbar salesmen”. That aside, its great reading, in much the same way the comments section on Massively is ‘great reading’. Just quotes on top of quotes of goodness.
But before we get to that, a few quick points from the TAGN piece; has anyone ever considered that while you benefit from having multiple accounts in EVE, the real reason so many do it is because they really, really like the game? We talk all the time about what a huge insurmountable barrier $15 a month is, so what are EVE players telling you about their game when they happily pay $30, $45, or more per month, for months if not YEARS at a time? (I really only want replies to this from people who have an above-Tobold understanding of EVE, thanks).
On the chances of TESO or WildStar being successful; in a genre with F2P abominations like SW:TOR, B2P 3-week titles like GW2, and “I have nothing in common with my 2004 version” WoW, is it really that unimaginable that there are hundreds of thousands of players just looking to play/pay for 2005/6 WoW in 2014? I don’t mean an exact copy/paste job, but I’m not buying this notion that all gamers have evolved into something unrecognizable from 2005. Not saying that either TESO or WildStar will become that game, but if/when someone does, my bet is they will be successful (just not perfect-storm WoW successful)
Those points aside, let’s get back to my new favorite blog, shall we?
I’ll state this up front; the below is a little unfair. The writer is working for EA and SW:TOR, so perhaps a lot of this is just singing the company line rather than personal belief. That said, no one (I think) is forcing the guy to write this, so it’s fair game.
“It probably comes as no surprise that I have discovered religion about Free 2 Play in a big way. It’s very clearly the way that the future of the genre is going, and any new competitor that enters the space is going to face immense competition from the rest of us that now provide a pretty substantial amount of gameplay for free. Right now, WoW is the only successful subscription-only MMO in the west, and even they seem to be sticking their toe in the pool.”
Let’s do a real quick recap of SW:TOR and its initial aim:
1) It had a built-in audience thanks to its IP (Star Wars), the devs (BioWare), and prior games (KOTOR)
2) It had the biggest budget of any MMO, with the marketing power of EA
3) Its goal initially was to challenge WoW, a title that retained millions of subscribers year after year (until everyone with talent left the company, and the interns started doing updates/working on Diablo 3)
What actually happened:
1) The launch was a disaster, with ridiculous bugs (invuln dancing), high-res textures being held out, and countless PR embarrassments
2) Players were jumping ship at an amazing rate, thanks to the game being a shallow, sub-par sRPG on a tragically terrible engine that couldn’t handle more than 5 players in one area
3) The game was forced into the F2P minor leagues
4) The F2P model itself might be the biggest joke amongst all offerings, including the beyond-ridiculous option to buy hotbars. It’s so bad that when Massively put up a “it’s not that bad guys!” piece about it, readers were not sure if it was satire or not.
5) EA has been trying to distance themselves from the title ever since, downplaying its impact during financial calls and trying to redirect attention to its successful properties
6) The heads of BioWare threw in the towel shortly after SW:TOR crashed.
So, that is the basis of Damion’s new ‘religion’. Whelp.
(Talking about NVN and Marvel Superheroes) “It also means they get to avoid the stigma of ‘failure’ that comes from a hasty conversion. Perhaps the most painful part of transitioning SWTOR from subscription to Free-to-play was reading all of the commentary describing us as a failed game, when all of the internal numbers we had showed that F2P completely reinvigorated the game.
So wait, SW:TOR isn’t a failed game that was forced into F2P, but yet was reinvigorated by F2P? I was not aware something already successful can get reinvigorated. Usually we call that “more of the same”.
Which again brings up the question seemingly no one has an answer to; why is it that only failed MMOs go F2P? Why is it that failed F2P games don’t go subscription? Why is it that when a F2P game does really well (Allods, somehow…), it goes from F2P to subscription? Why is it that successful MMOs (EVE, WoW for now) stay subscription? If F2P is so awesome, so amazing, so “the future”, why is it only used when you either have a subpar MMO out of the gate, or you fail as a sub? Anyone?
Free-to-play is all about making the game accessible – getting more people into the front door. SWTOR’s success here is no fluke – DDO reported that their concurrent players increased 5x. For LOTRO, the number was 3x. If anyone wants to see the effects of Free to Play on logins, check this chart
Again, that “SW:TOR success” part cracks me up, as does including a link to DDO from 2009 (at the time of the F2P conversion) and LotRO from 2010. Damion, why have you not provided more recent links to DDO and LotRO success stories? It can’t possibly be because going F2P from subs is a one-time boost for a failing game that fades and you return to just being a failed game, can it? Based on those 2009 and 2010 stories, Turbine must be straight killing it today right? What’s that, Turbine has been in financial trouble for a while now? But F2P really saved those games, didn’t it? Just like it’s going to save SW:TOR, won’t it?
Whether or not the billing model of Eve’s economic-spreadsheet driven libertarian paradise is right for a fledgling mass market MMO remains to be seen. But I doubt it.
As I’ve mentioned before, if someone associated with SOE or SW:TOR tells you something is bad, put the house on that something working out. Easy money.
One of my mantras about being a free-to-play game is that, in order to call yourself that, your evangelists have to feel good about telling their casual friends, “Yeah, you can totally play for free!”
You sell hotbars. Your fluff piece about your F2P model over at Massively was ridiculed. YOU MIGHT HAVE THE WORST F2P MODEL IN THE GENRE. Dude…
And all of those delicious quotes off just one post. So, so much more to dig into in the days to come.
Edit: F2P ALL THE WAAAAYYY (out the door)
In case you don’t want to sit through the EQNext showing, here are the cliff notes:
“If someone should do it, it should be EverQuest. Again” (UO…)
How do you like it? :mild applause:
Hyper linear paths with specific animation events, insert buzzword: “ parkour ”
:Summing up the GW2 character system as something new. Classes with weapons = abilities, zzz:
Destroying pre-set levels in pre-set scenarios
Grail 3: the UO living ecosystem (maybe this one will make it out of beta?) “You will be making change!” read: players will butcher everything until it all stops spawning and the system is removed.
Grail 4: Public quests, now stretched out for 2-3 months. (side-note: guy almost slips up and says your alt could repeat the content if you make the same choices. Sorta goes on to correct himself)
Talks about Everquest Next Minecraft – a world of penises (at least until devs start deleting them)
More talk about having the players create content for the devs
(Final note: Do SOE fans just not know when to clap, or was the presentation just not all that… jazzy? Awkward silence city.)
One has to wonder what SOE scraped prior to going with what they showed. Game must have been nightmare fuel. Terror wondering aside, what they showed was… something. I almost typed ‘meh’ but that best describes the latest Elder Scrolls Online gameplay video (Short summary: watered down ES gameplay + some MMO aspects = generic game with ES skin on top). What SOE showed was really more classic SOE; delusion and a misguided sense of greatness from the studio that is still living off its one hit title (EQ1).
First, EQN looks EXACTLY like Kingdoms of Amalur / Copernicus graphically, which is nice; at least all that work found a home. It still looks like a knockoff Disney movie, but I’m sure the kids will find that appealing. Plus anything is an upgrade over EQ2, by far the ugliest MMO ever.
As the cliff notes above point out, a lot of what was presented has already been done/tried. We know what happens when you allow players to full shape the world; the goons create a rain of penises (Second Life). We know what happens when mobs move around based on player actions; everything is farmed to extinction (UO beta). We know what happens when you sell the concept of a dynamic changing world without it actually changing long-term (GW2).
Now, can SOE take all of the above and make it work? Sure. Will they? Of course not, otherwise they would not be SOE. I mean, we are talking about the same people who included the ultra-lame “Do not stand in the red box” boss crap in their “we are awesome and totally new” trailer.
EQN will go in one of two directions IMO; it will either be somewhat close to DDO in terms of very linear ‘levels’, which will allow for solo or small groups to fully see the destruction, changes, and make it easier to hard-code all of the parkour bits. I think honestly that’s best-case for EQN; it won’t be the big bad sandbox SOE is trying to hype, but it could be a game that ‘works’ well enough for those looking for something like that.
The other direction is a fully open world that changes like GW2 changes; short-term and on a very noticeable and gameable loop, plus dev-driven updates that herd players from one content ‘hotspot’ to the next every few weeks/months.
This is the far more ambitious direction, and the one that will lead SOE to far more issues and broken gameplay than anything else. The presentation and ideas live in an ideal state; the reality of an MMO is you must always assume the players operate under a worst-case scenario. The dream is players will build great-looking castles that add to the landscape; the reality is players will blow the entire world up because they can and rebuild it as a giant penis. The presentation was very much a dream. If the game is also built around these dream-state expectations, hilarious disaster will follow.
Beyond that, nothing shown moves the genre in a good direction. Even if the parkour is amazing and works exactly like the dream-state sells, was anyone asking for that? Will it add anything to the genre besides a few new animations? Was the class/weapons/skills bit anything new, or even a side-step above the norm? The system is pretty meh in GW2, and THAT was a step back from GW1, so what exactly is SOE selling here? I’ve covered the destructible terrain already; that’s lose/lose for SOE. Give players true freedom, and they will bury you. Restrict it enough to keep the bad stuff out, and you likely restrict it to the point of non-factor.
The hardest part of making a sandbox is balancing the freedom you give to the players with creating an environment that is still enjoyable on a large-scale. Nothing that SOE showed suggests they get it, or have a good answer to any of the issues that come with such a design direction.
This post about blogging over at TAGN, along with the comments, is worth reading, even if you are only vaguely interested in the topic of MMO blogs. As the posts-per-day rate here has slowed over the last two months, it’s a topic I’ve thought about as well. This blog is almost 6 years old now (yikes), and I still don’t feel like I’m ‘done’ talking about the MMO genre. At the same time, something has happened to slow the content rate here, and not all of that can be pinned to changes in my RL (though that is a major factor). So what exactly is going on?
First, I don’t think the fad that is blogging is passing, if only because it never was a fad to begin with. Sure, blogging might have had its ‘time in the sun’ around the time the Warhammer hype machine was at its peak, but it was around before that and is still around after. So long as MMOs still somewhat resemble virtual worlds, they will be worth writing about.
What is happening is that the genre itself is changing, and right now the change is just not really giving us much to talk about. A little history lesson first.
When I was writing about WoW sucking before writing about WoW sucking was cool, a major reason for that was because Blizzard was shaping the genre, and the direction they were going in was not one I liked (or that works). I don’t really care about Blizzard/WoW now because they are non-factors. No one is building the next ‘WoW-killer/clone’. No one is taking a great IP (Warhammer) and driving it into the dirt thanks to the WoW taint.
Right now, everyone is basically in two camps. You are either in the EAWare camp, where you just believe MMOs don’t work, or you are in the indy camp, where you understand that MMOs work when they are virtual worlds rather than sRPGs with a login server, and that the market for THAT is not millions. There is no “let’s make a bigger/better WoW” camp, and so I no longer need to keep educating people about it. You’re welcome. When WoW goes F2P in 2015, it won’t be a surprise but rather confirmation of about a hundred posts I made in 2007/8. Feel free to look back and just leave a “damn, Syn right again” comment on each one. It’s the least you can do.
Where MMOs are going is both obvious and as uncertain as ever. It’s obvious because EVE is still crushing it and for good reason; it’s the definition of MMO design done right. If only someone had pointed that out in 2007… What’s really scary is that CCP might be doing its best work with the game right now, ten years in, so rather than decline like “all MMOs do”, EVE is still very much on the way up, with the only real question being just how high up it will go. I know I said the market is not millions, but CCP might prove me wrong in a few years.
The uncertain part is, spaceships aside, where does everyone else go? I think Darkfall: Unholy Wars is a much improved version of DF, and the patches Aventurine has been doing are hitting all the right areas, but the game and the company behind it have a long, long way to go before they reach anything close to current EVE/CCP status. The foundation is there, certainly, but the goal is so far away its borderline impossible to even think about right now. And much like EVE itself, DF doesn’t NEED 1m subs to be what it needs to be. The current population in the game is just right; fights can be found, but the world is not overcrowded to the point of game-breaking (as can happen).
GW2 continues to do what it’s doing, but nothing since the 3rd week has struck me as a reason to return. It’s just there, which since day one has pretty much been the issue with the game. Again, there is a reason Anet isn’t asking for a monthly fee, and it’s not because they are just that nice. Similar statements can be made about most other MMOs; it’s amazing SW:TOR has not been shut down, Secret World is what it is, and a few other titles are chugging along or milking the last bits for whatever is left (LotRO).
The genre is evolving and devolving at the same time. It’s evolving in terms of how games are made; Kickstarter being the biggest factor, but even having games on Steam vs requiring a box in a store is a big change for gaming, and MMOs in particular. A niche game for 50k gets made today if that 50k votes with their wallet strongly enough, while just a few years back this wasn’t the case.
It’s devolving in that we are returning to games based off what Ultima Online was trying to do (virtual world) vs what WoW became (sRPG). Designing your game for a target audience vs ‘for everyone’ is once again happening. Games with scale and longevity are being pitched. Catering to the lowest common denominator is once again seen as a negative.
The great unknown right now is whether the above will deliver or not. Will an MMO off Kickstarter release and be what it promised? Are all of the devs that today talk about “not being WoW” follow through, or are we just in another Warhammer cycle where people in white shades talk about bears but really just deliver a crappy knockoff?
And because all of this is unknown right now, we can’t really blog about it at length. The genre, and as a result, blogs covering the genre, are in a bit of wait-and-see mode.
One of my least favorite parts of blogging is presenting a topic and having people directly apply it to the now. The best example of this is talking about item loss, and having WoW players say it would never work because of how many runs it takes for Rag to drop his legendary weapon. “Losing that to a gank would make me unsub!” Derp…
Yesterday’s post had a bit of that, with people looking at Skyrim and just inserting thousands into the existing game and declaring that it would not be fun. No shit.
The challenge in blogging here is to write enough detail to set people down the correct path, without spelling out every single step and turning each post into a novel. Perhaps the post yesterday was my fault for not providing enough of that detail, but honestly I’d much rather blame the readers. It’s not me, it’s you people.
Blogging mini-rant aside, lets continue down that path.
In the MMO genre we often debate just what the ‘massive’ part means. From solo-instances up to EVE’s null-sec mega-brawls, just how many people are involved in something varies greatly.
I think scale matters. Those EVE battles are epic almost on sheer numbers alone, and that’s important. It’s a bit like watching a sporting event in a giant stadium versus at a local field. Simply by having so many like-minded fans around you, the experience is enhanced. It’s one of the core principles of the whole genre, and often justifies the otherwise simple gameplay (like harvesting for example).
That does not mean bigger is always better. There are some advantages to an instances 5-man experience versus an open dungeon for all. Don’t get me wrong, if I’m designing the MMO I’m going open dungeon and making that work, but that does not mean the entire concept of the instances 5-man is total fail.
Skyrim the MMO would be very much that 5 man experience. But rather than going half-way like DDO, go full-blast. The entire game is small-scale. You can even select the scale. Want to play all the content as a duo? Go for it. 20 man guild? It scales to that as well.
“Cool Syn, but that’s not an MMO” you say? Bah to that! Are you honestly telling me you would not pay $15 a month to play Skyrim on a Bethesda server with your buddies, and that subscription ensured you get Dawnguard-like content updates and fixes but more consistently? Of course you would. I’d even venture to guess a few hundred thousand people would.
And here is the thing; Skyrim has a silly amount of content, so clearly Bethesda can do what EA and SW:TOR seem so incapable of, and that would make the sub model work. Even the broken systems, like magic, would be ok since you are playing just with your buddies. Want to break the game and ‘win’? Knock yourself out. Or maybe because the game would have a team supporting it full-time, those things get fixed. Either way, it’s not a game-breaker like some have suggested it would be.
I’m sure there are a lot of details to iron out here, no doubt. But I think the base concept is solid, and again, I’m surprised we have not seen a more solid effort made in this space (but I’ll just go ahead and blame the WoW-blinders as per usual).
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.
“I think there will definitely be failures within the next 12 to 24 months. Many who are entering the market right now are doing it as almost a money-grab. But subscription is dead. [Star Wars:] The Old Republic was the biggest possible swing for the fences. There is no longer any argument over whether that can be done.” – Craig Zinkievich, COO of Cryptic Studios
Do you think Craig said/wrote the above with a straight face? And if so, do you think he really believes it? It would take a pretty epic level of stupid, but then this is someone from Crypic, so I’m kinda 50/50 on it.
On the other hand, Craig is right. The ‘argument’ that sub games can be done is indeed over, mostly because it was never an argument to begin with. Pretending WoW, EVE, Rift, etc don’t exist must be nice, but probably not helpful in terms of sanity. Maybe Craig will also consider the argument over once EA shuts SW:TOR down for good. Time for a new ‘6 months’ meme I guess.
“I suspect that if you’d launched Fallout 3 as a free-to-play title rather than paying $60 for the disc it would have had equal or greater success.” – Someone working on games not as successful as Fallout 3.
“Riot Games’ Brandon Beck sees the matter differently. As a co-founder of the company that created League of Legends, Beck is at the top of the West’s biggest free-to-play success story, and perhaps the most compelling example of a free game that rivals the experience of the very best $60 AAA products. However, he stops short of proclaiming a free-to-play Uncharted as inevitable – it’s an easy thing to say, but actually making it work would be a daunting challenge, with higher upfront costs than the typical free-to-play game.”
Great stuff right? The failures in the pack telling the ones who are successful how to do their job. How about instead of making F2P ‘awesome’ games like Star Trek or Champions Online, you make outdated and ‘dead’ model games like Fallout, Skyrim, or Grand Theft Auto? Maybe then you won’t get bought out?
This really hammers home a major problem in the industry today; devs think their shitty game doing poorly is not because they made a shitty game, but because ‘market conditions’ ‘payment model’ ‘timing’ ‘toothfairy’ etc. Try making a good game. I’m pretty sure more than enough people will drop $60 for it. Or if you want, try making a good game that is worth playing longer than a month, and I’m sure people will be willing to pay the measly sum of $15 a month to do it.
Or yea, keep making SW:TOR, Star Trek, Champions, WAR, LotRO, DDO, etc, and keep thinking it’s not the game sucking that’s the problem. The magic future where people pay for crap is coming.
Update: Magic future already came? Zynga made a lot of money selling trash games? Magic future is over now? Zynga is worth a buck? Damn.
So close Craig, so close.