Subtraction by addition

September 3, 2014

One of the lazier strawmen in MMO blogging land is to dismiss the success of an older MMO by stating that fewer people play it today. I’m sure you have read some version of “If UO did so many things right, why aren’t more people playing it today?” on one blog or another. The overall ‘why’ is a pretty complex topic that I won’t fully get into today, but what I do want to talk about is the fact that MMOs can get worse.

Time is one factor. As the months and years go by, a game ages. Visuals that at release looked great might not be so hot anymore. A feature that was special at release might be common in most games a few years later. You don’t have the newest, hottest feature. Etc, etc.

All of the above however doesn’t have to happen in an MMO. You can upgrade your visuals. You can patch in new features. You can introduce whatever the newest technology trend is (super servers for example). Just because WoW today looks like a game from 2005, or EQ2 looks like something from 1999, doesn’t mean that’s just how things go. EVE today looks like a game released in 2014, and its technical backend is still miles ahead of everyone else. UO did an engine update. So did DDO. Plenty of other examples exist. That’s a major selling point of the genre after all; you aren’t just buying a game as-is today, you are buying into a service that will evolve and improve as time goes on.

Yet while the intent of every update is to make an MMO better, not all do so. Of course famous examples like UO’s Trammel, SWG’s NGE, or DoAC’s ToA are well known and deservedly hated, but all MMOs have had some update that has driven someone away. Now most updates are positive, but even if a change brings or retains more people than it drives away, someone somewhere is going to hate that you did X instead of Y.

And sometimes an MMO does just get worse due to updates. How many half-decent MMOs have become complete dreck because of a F2P switch? Remember when LotRO was all about staying true to the lore, or when loading screens weren’t an opportunity to spam with you a cash-shop ad? When EVE forced you into the captains quarters? Etc, etc.

So yes, even if I did love what UO was in 97, that doesn’t mean that the 2014 version with elves, ninjas, and god knows what else is a game I want to play. Due to updates, the passing of time, and a multitude of other factors, in 2014 I’m not playing UO. That doesn’t change the fact that 1997 UO did a lot of things better than MMOs today, including 2014 UO, and that today’s devs could still learn a lot from it, or other once-successful MMOs.

And hopefully, they learn the right lessons, and make the right update, to actually make there MMO better with each update. Seems to be a rare thing these days.


Turbine finally updates us on the continued success of their F2P conversions

February 13, 2014

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!


One last bonus of playing DDO for 15min

November 8, 2013

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?


15 minutes of DDO went about as well as expected

November 3, 2013

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.

Uninstalled.

I will say this; DDO is still probably the best F2P MMO out.


People of F2P MMOs

October 23, 2013

Nope.

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’.


Today’s Kool-Aid flavor is grape. Grape and failure

August 28, 2013

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)


EQN: The next big AAA disaster

August 5, 2013

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…)

Lighting

Lighting

Lighting

Lighting

Adventure

Lighting

Lighting

How do you like it? :mild applause:

Lighting

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)

Jazzed.

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.


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